Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 35, June 2014

'Relations that give us the strength to Live':
Relatedness Among Kinnars in Madhya Pradesh, India

Jennifer Ung Loh

  1. This article focuses on forms of relatedness that are established and maintained between kinnars in Madhya Pradesh, India.[1] Kinnars are considered by Indian society to fail to fulfil normative gender roles expected of both men and women and, often as a result of rejection by their natal families, come to form their own kinship networks. I explore kinnar forms of relatedness through which kinnars provide support and affection for one another, focusing on shared living spaces and the development of familial relationships, including relationships between kinnar communities and the children who join them. Investigating modes through which kinnars create kinship is significant, given the social ostracism experienced by many kinnars. While relatedness between kinnars might be seen to mirror heteronormative kinship structures and appear as a ‘fictive’ form of kinship, an exploration of how relatedness is created among kinnars can add to existing scholarship that focuses on local practices of kinship and how kinship that is actively formed through choice and repeated behaviours is privileged above that which is the result of biological connections. A study of kinnar forms of relatedness provides a rich example that supplements existing studies of alternate families, providing a conceptual framework for thinking through relatedness among social groups that is not based on heternormative practices, and adding to a discussion of kinship that cannot simply be described as biological or social.
  2. Relatedness or kinship, Janet Carsten argues, conceived in its broadest sense, is 'simply about the way in which people create similarity or difference between themselves and others.'[2] Inevitably a sense of relatedness and the ways in which people form relations with one another are marked by other forms of social experience, such as class, race and gender. In fact, such experiences have significant consequences for any social group, in regards to what, how and why relations are formed between members. In this article, I explore systems of relatedness that are created among kinnars (or hijras) in Madhya Pradesh, Central India,[3] focusing on how relationships are developed and maintained between kinnars and the value that is placed on such forms of relatedness in their lives. In particular, I discuss shared spaces for living and the relationships that are formed between group members, including relations between gurus and celās ('disciples'); mothers, daughters and sisters; and both kinnar and non-kinnar children and their caregivers. Examining how forms of relatedness are developed between kinnars adds to scholarship on kinship and communities, particularly by providing an example of a form of kinship that cannot be designated as purely biological or social, challenging mainstream understandings of kinship. Given kinnars' social marginality, a study of the ways in which relatedness is created within kinnar communities is significant in offering an example of how relatedness functions among vulnerable social groups, which in turn broadens an understanding of the importance of relatedness and modes of belonging in our daily lives.
  3. Investigating relatedness among kinnars provides insights into the value and meaning of kinship in everyday experience for a social group that exists on the margins of Indian society. Kinnars often experience social exclusion and prejudice based on their non-normative gender presentation and sexual orientation. The term kinnar is an alternative for hijra; both terms refer to individuals of non-normative sexual orientation or anatomical form. Use of the term kinnar is preferable among individuals in Madhya Pradesh, although individuals across India identify with a range of terms, occasionally using different terms in different contexts, including hijra, transgender (used in many metropolitan cities), and aravaṅi or tirunaṅkai (used specifically in Tamil Nadu). There is a variety of practices, beliefs, and anatomical presentation among those who identify as kinnars. According to Vinay Lal, the hijras are described in variously scholarly and popular literature alike as:

      eunuchs, transvestites, homosexuals, bisexuals, hermaphrodites, androgynes, transsexuals, and gynemimetics; and as if this multiplicity of terms were not enough, they are also referred to as people who are intersexed, emasculated, impotent, transgendered, castrated, effeminate, or somehow sexually anomalous or dysfunctional.[4]

  4. The majority of kinnars identify as female, often performing stereotypically feminine behaviour and choosing to adopt feminine clothing and speech patterns. Due to a non-normative display of gender, often accompanied by non-heteronormative sexual practices, kinnars and hijras remain marginalised from and stigmatised within mainstream society and thus occupy a low social status. Their status in contemporary India is derived, in part, from the colonial treatment of hijras. Despite enjoying a position of relative privilege during the Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal Empire, where eunuchs were valued within courtly practices, many hijras' social practices were criminalised during the colonial era and their gender read as deviant. Colonial legislation, including the Indian Penal Code (1860) and the Act for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and Eunuchs (1897), criminalised same-sex sexual practice, emasculation, forms of gaining income, and practices that ensured social reproduction, attempting to eradicate hijra communities. Historical discrimination has played an important role in the contemporary marginalisation of hijras. Kinnars are often rejected by their families and are forced to leave their natal homes, entering a kinnar household as a celā (disciple), under the instruction of a guru (teacher). Usually relationships are broken between family members and kinnars; it is only in exceptional cases where kinnars maintain relationships with their natal families. As a consequence, kinnars form their own social spaces and develop relationships with one another, to provide love, support and care. Forms of relatedness are developed constantly to fulfil both individual and group needs, taking on the supportive role that natal families provide in the South Asian context.
  5. Field research on kinnar identity in Madhya Pradesh revealed that kinnars' forms of relatedness and communities were important modes through which identity as a kinnar subject was constructed. My research was conducted among kinnars in the eastern part of the state, focusing on kinnar groups in Rampur, a major city in Madhya Pradesh and third largest in terms of urban population, and other neighbouring towns and cities. My research primarily focused on kinnars who had successfully contested local elections in decentralised, democratic bodies, such as municipal councils. I was concerned with how kinnar identity was constructed through political rhetoric in order to portray kinnars as more effective and honest alternatives to experienced, professional politicians, seen as corrupt and incompetent. Seven kinnars were elected between 1999 and 2009, serving as municipal corporators or local councillors, as mayors of towns and cities, and one as a member of the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly. A key element of this project was considering how kinnar identity is constructed in contemporary India, by both kinnars themselves and non-kinnars. Conducting such research provided the chance to visit various kinnar households. I spent eight months in the field, visiting different households but spending time in three in particular. Most kinnar households are located in lower socio-economic areas and wards of towns and cities; each household was located within mixed communities (that is, there were not just kinnar households located together) and local people knew that these were houses in which kinnars lived. Given that the focus of my research was on political participation, I interviewed non-kinnars for my research as well, but I focus below upon interviews conducted with kinnar individuals. Most interviews with kinnars were conducted in their households, which gave me the opportunity to study forms of community and relations between members of each house. I also attended a sammelan, a regional gathering, in Bahrana, which an estimate of 3000 kinnars attended over the course of twelve days, from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh. I attended the last four days of the sammelan, during the daytime, when non-kinnars were allowed into the household. It became evident that an important mode through which kinnar identity is constructed is within shared households and through individual and communal relationships, and I draw upon my fieldwork findings in the discussions below.
  6. A study of 'kinship' among kinnars can supplement traditional analyses into the study of 'kinship.' Kinship, traditionally conceived in anthropological enquiry, is recognition of the relationship between individuals based on descent or marriage, in which people are said to be consanguineal (blood) or affinal relatives.[5] Further, Linda Stone notes that kinship is also 'an ideology of human relationships,' which involves cultural ideas relating to the nature and meaning of human beings' biological and moral connections to others, stating that a 'kinship system' encompasses the rules, rights and obligations defined by a particular society, including ideas about reproduction, relations between kin or groups of kin, linguistic classification, and norms relating to marriage, descent, and residence.[6] However, such a definition of kinship is rooted in Euro-American assumptions based on the primacy of ties derived through procreation, as pointed out by David M. Schneider.[7] Schneider critiques the anthropological analysis that has defined kinship in relation to that which results from the act of procreation, arguing that western kinship studies have distinguished between and separated the 'social' aspects of a relationship from the 'biological.' Kinship studies presume a universality of the value of procreation; Schneider rejects a definition of kinship in these terms, since other kinds of kinship not deriving from procreation may be afforded a similar value in other cultures. However, as Carsten argues, Schneider defines other forms of kinship as 'social' rather than biological, deeming them not to be 'kinship' as previously described.[8] While Schneider rejects the validity of kinship as a cross-cultural category, based on the definition of kinship as rooted in biological essentialism, Carsten argues that we need an anthropological redefinition of 'kinship' so it is 'less bound by analytic assumptions and more open to indigenous diversity.'[9] She deliberates that instead of rejecting 'kinship,' a more productive avenue would be the study of how people define and construct notions of 'relatedness' and the values and meanings attributed to them. As she writes,

      If we accept that both the definition and meaning of kinship are culturally variable, then we must certainly reject a universal definition of kinship in terms of procreation. But this does not mean that we cannot compare how people conceive of relatedness and the meaning they attribute it in different cultures. It seems to me that if we are to reject kinship in the sense which Schneider criticizes, then we would do better to adopt a term to characterize the relatedness which people act and feel. I would call this kinship.[10]

  7. The term 'kinship' is thus redefined to consider how people conceive of relatedness and its value. In addition, Carsten problematises the distinction drawn between the biological and the social, asking whether such a separation is culturally specific. In her research on 'relatedness' in Langkawi, Carsten points to the central place of siblingship, which is formed through similarity of attributes and shared bodily substance. She argues that in such a conceptualisation of relatedness, it is 'not clear whether any such distinction as social-biological is used,' but rather, that relationships of kinship seem to involve what 'we would regard as both.'[11] If relatedness is created through both acts of procreation and shared living in Langkawi, where relatedness in the form of blood is believed to be acquired through gestation in the uterus and, after birth, through feeding and shared spaces, is such relatedness biological or social? Carsten determines that it is ineffective to point to some acts as social and others as biological, revealing the 'unsatisfactory nature' of such a distinction.[12] The term 'relatedness' thus suspends the opposition between 'social' and 'biological,' and gestures to 'an openness to indigenous idioms of being related.'[13]
  8. Investigating indigenous practices of relatedness can illuminate problems with distinguishing social and biological aspects of kinship and delineating certain aspects as kinship and others as not. While kinnar-forms of relatedness are categorically not based on the primacy of ties borne through procreation, their forms of relatedness cannot be said to remain simply as outside the domain of kinship. When considered together, Carsten's redefinition of kinship, which encompasses how people define and construct relatedness, alongside the futility of distinguishing between 'social' and 'biological,' provides a framework in which kinnars' practices of sociality and affection can be deemed kinship, and both social and biological. Moreover, such a study of kinnar forms of relatedness can supplement studies of indigenous kinship, particularly by pointing to a further way in which relatedness is formed which cannot be delineated as social or biological. Kinnars actively create forms of kinship in response to cultural norms and practices, but their practices should not be labelled as purely 'social.' Kinnars signal their identity as one with which they were born, presenting kinnars as 'belonging' together through a shared cultural identity. Such an identity is presented as both social and biological, where a shared identity is sanctioned and reiterated through ritual and everyday practices of living. As with relatedness among siblings on Langkawi, this presentation of kinship challenges previously held assumptions in which social and biological aspects are separated, suggesting the need for a space, or definition, which acknowledges the problems of separating both concepts.
  9. Kinnars invest energy and emotions in the creation of specific forms of relatedness and I want to consider two ways in which kinship is actively created. First, kinship is enacted through shared living spaces, similar to how the 'family' operates in Indian society. Living spaces provide the settings for intimate relations in which people share space, habitat and food, in close proximity. Kinnars' practical experiences in these shared household spaces illustrate one element in their relationships in which kinship is actively produced. Second, I explore how relatedness is developed through relationships that are chosen and maintained by kinnar individuals. In kinnars' narratives, chosen forms of relationships are privileged over 'natural' (or biological) systems of kinship, from which kinnars are excluded. Kinnars form various types of relations that they see as kinship, based on familial connections between 'sisters,' 'mothers' and 'daughters,' and mothers and children. The formation of such relationships, based on shared kinnar identity, reveals a dynamic process in the construction of relatedness, as well as pointing to the value that such relationships have in kinnars' lives. An investigation of both shared spaces and chosen relationships adds to the discussion of specific ways in which kinship is made, rather than given, demonstrating the adaptive and transformative nature of kinship in a particular location.

    Sharing spaces
  10. Shared living spaces provide one example of the active process in which relatedness is constructed; as Carsten writes, the house provides 'a locus for everyday understandings and practices of kinship.'[14] People live in close proximity to one another, sharing everyday living experiences and the resources contained within the household: this is the conventional arrangement for most families in the South Asian context. The nuclear family arrangement is still relatively uncommon: kinnars' household units thus mirror common domestic arrangements in India, in which individuals contribute to the household in economic, social and domestic terms. Carsten argues that kinship is made in and through houses and that what is 'created and learned in houses also takes us beyond the house,' in terms of shared understandings, bodily practices, and shared memories of its inhabitants.[15] Shared space allows for an internalisation of the principles which shape its inhabitants' relations with one another, across gender and age, and which are related, in some form, to wider social institutions in which the house is embedded. A study of the shared space of the kinnar household can turn our attention to the role of houses in creating a sense of kinnar identity and kinship, as well as provide an understanding of the conceptual understandings and practices in which kinnars share, as members of a group distinct from 'outside' social institutions. Social, gender, and kinship norms are developed, performed, and internalised within such a space and it is important to investigate part of the process through which kinnars live as a distinct group and maintain their relatedness, given the marginalised status of kinnars in Indian society.
  11. Kinnars in Madhya Pradesh normally live in shared houses containing a few to twenty or so members, depending on the size of the space available, although household numbers will vary according to individual household circumstances. In my research, most kinnars lived in houses that were stand-alone buildings, rather than apartments or shacks, although clearly some kinnars do live in the latter or in makeshift shelters on the streets, especially poorer kinnars or those who live on their own outside of a household. Most kinnars belonged to established households and thus their housing reflected this fact. Houses tended to have between three and ten members. Kinnar houses are located across India based on territorial division, often located in poorer or lower socio-economic areas within cities and towns. If there is more than one household in a town or city, they will not necessarily be located close to one another. This may be because kinnars divide up territory into sections, over which a particular group will claim the right to perform badhāī, the traditional form of work performed by kinnars. This entails giving blessings at weddings and ceremonies for new-born babies: kinnars perform this traditional form of work based on their claim to have generative power over fertility.[16] The size of the area that a particular household will control, in which they perform badhāī work and collect 'dues' or alms from local businesses, will depend on the number of households sharing the overall territory. A small town may have a single household, which would oversee the whole town, but larger towns and cities may have hundreds of households, who would split up territory between them. Households are fairly stable with the result that the division of territory is well established; new households with claims to previously allotted territory will be seen as encroaching on that territory by established houses. One function of sammelans is to resolve such disputes.
  12. Each household exists as an independent unit and functions to sustain its members, containing celās, gurus, and a nāyak, the household leader (who is also a guru). The nāyak may control multiple households. All members contribute to the household in terms of earnings and running of the house, sharing in economic, social, and domestic duties. The household plays a significant role in providing protection, shelter, and nurturance for its members, and opportunities for work, including badhāī or collecting dues from the household's territory. Kinnars give a portion or all of their earnings to their gurus, some of which in turn is put towards the running of the household. Since both badhāī and collecting dues are forms of work undertaken in groups, celās may not receive any earnings, as it is put towards their upkeep. Kinnars share in domestic duties, such as preparing food, cooking, cleaning and taking care of their guru or elder household members. Kinnars eat meals together and dietary requirements, such as a vegetarian or halal diet, will be taken into account. In one small household, I noted that one kinnar cooked the majority of the meals, taking into account the guru's preferences. Interestingly, all the meat bought and consumed was halal, despite none of the household members identifying as 'Muslim,' although many other kinnars came to share meals in this house. Sharing meals, domestic spaces, and opportunities for work creates a sense of a shared life among household members. Moreover, the role of the house is significant given the likelihood of kinnars severing ties with their natal kin.[17] Living on the streets is dangerous, exceedingly so if kinnars live on their own, which some do out of choice or due to rejection from other kinnars.[18] One kinnar from a small town in Madhya Pradesh remarked that she did not want to live by kinnar society's rules, and that she did not like the city kinnars' bad behaviour, alluding to sexual practice;[19] other kinnars told me that she had rejected belonging to a kinnar community and that they too had rejected her.[20] Kinnars living on their own or on the streets are at risk of social and sexual violence, alongside facing the hardship of being unable to make a living and enduring social marginalisation: becoming a member of a household provides a basic level of protection through belonging to a social group. The household provides shelter, subsistence and protection, providing the basic amenities associated with natal family units, in which kinnars rarely share. Sharing in a domestic space therefore provides an important mode in which relatedness as kinnars is created, providing safety and security alongside a place in which kinnars can feel they belong.
  13. Kinnar households offer the place in which kinnars learn how to belong to the wider kinnar community, in terms of learning and sharing common gender expressions, ritual practices associated with badhāī and religious worship, and knowledge about the social group. Kinnar houses are enmeshed in historical processes and within wider institutional frameworks, as spaces to which kinnars retreat, away from social frameworks in which they often struggle to belong. Households provide a mode of support to individuals who are considered outsiders of mainstream society, teaching initiates to be part of a social group which shares the same cultural identity. Monika Böck and Aparna Rao discuss Hirschfield's concept of 'natural resemblance,' pointing to a shared cultural repertoire (of myths, locality or shared language and cultural traditions) as well as shared behavioural practices (such as lifestyle or worship) as elements that might be constitutive of kinship.[21] Kinnars relatedness is informed through a shared understanding of myths and cultural traditions, alongside behavioural elements, including gender performance and religious practices, all of which are learnt, internalised, and reiterated through the shared space in which kinnars live and share their lives. For example, a discussion of shared (and syncretic) religious practices can offer a lens through which to comprehend how a shared cultural understanding informs kinnar identity and how it is internalised through shared space. The social liminality of kinnar identity might allow for an appropriation of various religious symbols, as part of the process through which kinnar identity is negotiated. Kinnars share in a stock of myths and religious symbols that inform their 'religious' identities; most kinnars in Madhya Pradesh identify as 'Muslim,' although they simultaneously worship a Hindu goddess, Bahuchara Mata, and draw upon myths and narratives associated with Hindu texts, including those related to ascetic practice. Identification does not necessitate adherence to a singular tradition; many kinnars in Madhya Pradesh seemed comfortable drawing upon a shared cultural understanding of kinnar religion, which amalgamated elements from both Muslim and Hindu traditions. The shared space of the household allows for the development of religious narratives, such that individual practices inform collective practices and vice versa. Providing a shared cultural repertoire and accommodating individuals' belief systems is necessary for households, given that individuals join them from various caste and religious backgrounds. Previous cultural identities cease to maintain their traditional significance, demonstrated through the occurrence of various caste and religious identities living within the same household. In Shantinagar, one guru explained that she had two celās, or disciples, in her household. One was Brahmin, a higher caste, and one was Ahirwar, a Scheduled Caste in Madhya Pradesh. She was Kori, another Scheduled Caste. She explained that kinnar households were multi-caste, also drawing upon different religious traditions.[22] In her home, the guru had both a room that functioned as a Hindu temple and another that she said she would pray in as a Muslim. Thus, kinnar religious identity in this particular space drew upon different religious traditions according to the needs of the practitioners in the household, allowing for a shared cultural understanding of kinnar religion, alongside individual specificity.[23] Kinnar religiosity thus negotiates traditional discourses, in order to gain respect and legitimacy for their identity; one way in which this is practiced is through shared cultural spaces of households in which a sense of religious identity, as a kinnar, is developed.
  14. A further realm through which kinnar relatedness is enacted is though the wider organisation of lineages. There are seven lineages to which kinnars across India belong.[24] Initiates enter a lineage, usually through affiliation with their guru, and members of a household tend to belong to the same lineage. Each lineage maintains a distinct character: the rituals and practices, kinnars note, are almost the same from house to house, although they say each has been established separately and supports its own members. Kinnars were reluctant to give details about lineages, or khāndāns in Madhya Pradesh, including their names. One kinnar named five khāndāns: Gangarwala, Lallanwala, Chaklawala, Lashkarwala and Bhendi Bazaarwala. She stated that Gangarwala, the house to which she belonged, was the largest and most dominant in the country.[25] Kinnars' reluctance to share inside information with outsiders is a common strategy through which they protect the social group from further judgement or recrimination. The position of households within a wider system provides a greater structure for communities that might remain marginalised as a result of location. The lineage structure—although only certain lineages, and certain households within those lineages—allows households to keep in touch with a wider community of kinnars, particularly regarding issues that affect kinnars at local and national levels. Regional and national gatherings, or sammelans, occur frequently in different locations, to which different groups are invited. One kinnar noted there were over ten gatherings that she knew of in Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring states in 2011; each was to be held in a different location, given that an individual and her household will arrange the event for their guests. It is a costly occurrence that requires detailed planning. A sammelan is often held to commemorate the event or anniversary of a guru's death. For example, the sammelan in Bahrana was held to commemorate Dinkar guru's death, who had died many years previously, and was organised by Sarita guru, one of the senior kinnar leaders in the district. Sarita said that no sammelan had been held for fifteen years in Bahrana, although by the time of the sammelan in July, she had already attended three others in Madhya Pradesh.[26] A sammelan also provides an opportunity to make and formally acknowledge new relations and resolve problems between different groups, such as those regarding territory. Solving disputes is crucial for maintaining peace between different groups, given the territorial claims made by different households and the mobility that kinnars have in moving between households, lineages and across states. A sammelan thus provides a chance for the extension and renewal of ties of affiliation, in part developing the forms of relatedness maintained by individuals and their households.
  15. Households and lineages, as shared spaces which kinnars inhabit and structures through which they interact, thus supply a modality in which kinnars forms of relatedness are developed. The structures and spaces fill the gap left through the severance of natal ties, offering a cultural space in which understandings and practices of being a kinnar are learnt by individuals. The sharing of resources, work and habitat is part of the active process of the development of relatedness among kinnars, as well as providing the space in which specific relationships can develop that fulfil a greater emotional need. I now turn to discuss these relationships, as the second aspect for consideration in understanding kinnars' relatedness.

    Forming relationships
  16. In many kinnars' narratives, individuals express a desire to join a kinnar group once they had come into contact or heard about them, feeling that these were people 'to whom they belonged.' Having joined a group, many kinnars form various relations between members of their own and extended communities, based on relationships between 'sisters,' 'mothers' and 'daughters,' and mothers and children.[27] Kinnars privilege chosen ties as creating a sense of family and kinship, as opposed to ties produced out of biological circumstances. The notion that biological bonds are indicative of 'real' kinship is unsettled through such narratives, akin to narratives from LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) individuals which focus on 'real' kinship as that which has been created outside of their natal families. Kath Weston's work on gay American kinship demonstrates that interviewees emphasise the lasting qualities of friendship, the 'families we choose,' in opposition to biological families.[28] Her work challenges 'procreation' as constituting kinship, since biogenetic substance does not equate to kinship. A rejection or refusal of individuals by their families reveals the 'impermanence' of biological kinship ties, usually assumed to be permanent or 'natural.' In contrast, it is chosen and lasting ties that demonstrate 'real' kinship, such as the friendship and support shown by partners and friends, refusing the link between biological connection and permanence.[29] Kinnars highlight the choice made in forming relationships, contrasting the lack of choice experienced through rejection by their natal families. However, kinnar kinship relations can also be broken, in opposition to gay American narratives in which chosen ties are shown to last, where 'real kinship' is proven through permanence. I want to consider what and how familial relationships are formed between kinnar individuals. Weston suggests that gay American narratives reverse the dominant heterosexual discourse by emphasising the impermanence of 'natural' kinship and the permanence of chosen kinship. However, permanence is not an inherent aspect of relationships; in relation to kinnars, the impermanence of kinship relations appears equally important, revealing active participation in choosing, forming and maintaining various relationships, for as long as it serves both parties. Yet, the development of relatedness between kinnars reveals the value placed on the need for relationships, and a discussion of the way kinnars define and construct forms of relatedness is important in understanding the role of kinship among kinnars.
  17. Individuals join kinnar groups in various ways. Babies or young children are given to kinnar groups; some join as pre-pubescent adolescents, realising that they fail to conform to heternormative gender roles; others join when they are older and sometimes even after marriage. Kinnar groups cannot ensure their survival in a procreative sense and thus encourage individuals who are interested or seeking guidance to join them. Some individuals experienced a same-sex sexual encounter and then had informal interactions with kinnars who were sympathetic to their situation.[30] In contrast, academic and popular literature tends to focus on 'recruitment methods' used by kinnars, including forcing parents to hand over 'intersexed' babies, coercing young and curious boys to join, and the kidnapping and forced emasculation of children and adults. The former methods are expressed through hearsay about kinnars; the latter method is often reported in newspapers across the country.[31] While individuals do join kinnar communities in various ways, the over-emphasis in popular cultural narratives about methods of aggressive recruitment seem to be exaggerated products of the social imagination regarding the 'corrupt' practices deemed likely of kinnars. While popular literature in particular focuses on the coercive elements of recruitment practices, ethnographic research implies that many kinnars chose to join a household of their own accord, due to non-normative cross-gender characteristics.[32]
  18. Social and familial relationships are developed between kinnars and appear in various forms. The primary relationship is between a guru and her celā and is central to the organisation of kinnar communities. The relationship between the two is hierarchical, based upon responsibilities and duties, both social and economic. The relationship can be contrasted with familial relations maintained out of choice, but alongside obligations between guru and celā, care and nurturance are significant aspects of guru-celā relations.
  19. To join a kinnar group, an existing member of a community, the guru (teacher), must vouch for the initiate and the initiate must swear allegiance to the guru. The initiate is known as a celā, or disciple. Kinnars have an affiliation with a specific household and lineage through their guru, although kinnars may live in a household apart from their guru (who might have several households under their control). In turn, celās will take their own celās and become gurus. An economic transaction binds the initiate to a particular guru, resulting in the relationship being maintained with an aspect of obligation.[33] Celās are reliant upon their gurus, since gurus provide a place to live, food, an allowance or presents, and manage their free time, including time outside the household. In return, celās look after their guru, perform household chores, and learn to be part of the kinnar community. Celās learn ritual performances, such as badhāī work, from senior household members; those who are skilled performers are worth more to the guru in terms of potential income, as the guru receives the majority of any celā's earnings. In one household in Rampur, a guru and three celās performed a badhāī song; the guru praised one celā for playing the drum skilfully, which was her role in badhāī performance. It was clear that her skill was prized by the guru in terms of ability and potential income. In addition, a guru decides which celās perform badhāī,[34] thus, it is important to maintain the guru's favour. Those whom the guru is displeased with are less likely to succeed in the household and within the social group, in terms of respect and upward mobility.
  20. A further responsibility of the guru is to care for the celā during emasculation, known as the nirvan operation. Some kinnars undergo this operation since being a 'real,' emasculated kinnar signals status and respect among kinnars and provides a measure of honour in regard to the outside world. Emasculation, legitimised by anatomical deficiency, is taken to be a marker of authenticity: both Reddy and Nanda argue that one becomes a 'real' hijra after the operation.[35] Emasculation reinforces the rhetoric of ascetic practice and the production of generative power, which in turn justifies kinnars' badhāī work. It is a dangerous operation with a difficult recovery, where the celā is entirely reliant upon other household members and their guru.[36] The guru cares for the celā and hosts the post-recovery celebrations. The social and economic burden on the guru is matched by the celā's loyalty and, as an irreversible procedure, guarantees the kinnar will stay within the community.
  21. Given the important role that the guru plays in initiating her celā into the household and wider social group, many celās remain with their gurus, even when they experience hardship or suffer indignities. The guru-celā relationship has aspects of both obligation and nurturance; moreover, the relationship is socially beneficial for both, as evidenced by the need among kinnars to have a guru for guidance and protection, and celās for social and economic benefit. Two different gurus explained that celās were like 'daughters in law,' in comparison to 'adopted' kinnars or non-kinnars, who were seen as daughters or sons.[37] Unlike a relationship born simply out of love, as that which is presumed with a child, the positing of the celā as a daughter in law reveals the more complex relationship that is developed between guru and celā in which both affection and obligation play different roles.
  22. Other relationships also play an important role in kinnars' lives, maintained out of choice and energised through care and affection. These relationships are far from obligatory and are developed or broken according to the needs of the participants. Modelled on relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters, and parents and children, familial relationships are formed between kinnars, sought out of emotional needs. Reddy writes that the Hyderabadi hijras called these relationships 'bonds of love,'[38] a phrase which points to the desire to care and be cared for.
  23. Relations are often referred to as those between mothers and daughters, or between sisters. For example, bahin is used to refer to one who would share a sister relationship by the speaker, or dīdī for an 'elder' sister (not necessarily referring to age but to connote seniority). As an extension of terms of respect, many elder kinnars in Madhya Pradesh had suffixes added to their names, such as būā (father's sister) or mausī (mother's sister), which kinnars might also use for one with whom they share an aunt-niece relationship. Furthermore, relations between a mother and daughter are extended: for example, a mother's 'mother,' or grandmother, would be referred to as nānī (maternal grandmother) or dādī (paternal grandmother).[39] Such relationships do not appear to have a connection to the guru-celā relationship: a guru would not become a celā's mother. However, two gurus who are close might consider themselves 'sisters,' so a sister's celās might be seen as nieces. Alternatively, that kinnar might form a mother-daughter relationship with some of the other's celās.
  24. Forming 'familial' relations establishes relations and alliances between differing households and across different regions, in turn constructing relationships between different kinnar groups across the country. In actively forging ties of affiliation, kinnars extend their networks and strengthen kinnar 'society' through linking different households and lineages. The importance of such ties is indicated in the instance of relations being maintained after the death of an individual, if the relationship was still formalised. For example, when a sister dies, the living sister remains an 'aunty' to the deceased's daughters. Maintaining relations after death ensures that allegiances remain between households and individuals, in the same way that natal families conceive of biological kin relations.
  25. The process of enacting or breaking relations follows set patterns. Rituals regarding the establishment of relations are formalised publicly at sammelans. Participants announce and enact new relations (both guru-celā and familial) in front of the nāyaks and those present, as well as break relations. New relations are formalised through specific ceremonies and are recorded by the nāyaks in accounts that detail the relations formed at that specific sammelan: one guru observed that each sammelan keeps a list of the relations that are performed so they are recorded, but that there is not one singular list.[40] Kinship ceremonies are formalised through the nāyaks, who discuss the conditions and terms of the relation being proposed. Gifts are exchanged between those who wish to establish a relationship, such as clothing or materials, food items and money, although these are not controlled by the nāyaks. The formalisation of the ceremony is enacted through specific rituals. One significant ceremony performed at a sammelan is that producing a relationship between a mother and daughter, the bhāt bharai.[41] This is the same as the dūdh ('milk') ceremony described by Reddy.[42] Having declared their intentions to form a relationship, both 'mother' and 'daughter' offered non-cooked rice, fruit and money to one another. A milk pouring ceremony is performed to cement their bond, where the milk is symbolic of the relationship between mother and child, performing the act of breastfeeding a child.[43] Milk is poured from a cup held over the mother's breast for the child to drink; a ceremony at the Bahrana sammelan was enacted between mother and son, although one guru explained that a girl kinnar would be described as a daughter. A social fee is also paid to the community: the guru said the fee at the Bahrana sammelan was 2100 Rupees, which is given to the community.[44]
  26. Relations can last as long as those involved wish but must be broken publicly by the participants. There may be a penalty involved that is paid to the nāyaks, which is of monetary value; the same guru who commented on the fee of forming relations said the fee was the same—2100 Rupees—for breaking a relationship. The participants have to be present at the sammelan and say publicly that they wish to break the relation. The penalty is then enforced, which is paid to the community, and the dissolving of the relation recorded in the sammelan lists.
  27. Familial relations provide emotional support for kinnars and demonstrate the value of relationships in kinnars' lives that provide love and affection, particularly important given their isolation from mainstream society and rejection from natal families. A further type of significant relationship is that which is developed between kinnars and their children. These children include children who are kinnars and children who are not. Research into the role of children in the kinnar community is scant. Although it is acknowledged that kinnar communities include children, few instances of academic or popular literature have dealt sufficiently with this topic, aside from the mention of children as being part of communities, hijras longing for children, or hijras' recruitment methods to coax children away from their natal families. However, a study of the place and role of children is significant in providing a fuller understanding of how kinship ties are developed among kinnar communities, since kinnars—given the impossibility of conceiving and bearing children—state that they raise them as they would raise their own children.[45] I met one kinnar child on several occasions at one of the households in Rampur and there were at least a dozen children present at the sammelan in Bahrana. Although I did not speak to children directly, their presence was important and a topic with which kinnar interviewees were happy to engage. I met three kinnar interviewees who had adopted numerous children, who were both abandoned non-kinnar children and children who had been given to kinnar households. All three were established gurus who could afford to raise them, and had strong opinions as to how they would be raised, each attempting to offer them the best opportunities they could.
  28. Two types of children join kinnar communities: abandoned children from poor and often lower-caste families and children who are also kinnars. Often, abandoned children are taken in and raised by kinnars, with the aim of educating them and marrying them off after they are grown. One guru (in Ahmedabad) told me the story of how she had adopted two non-kinnar children: one baby boy who had been born from an unmarried Bangladeshi woman who worked in her household, but who had died soon after childbirth, and one girl whom she had found abandoned. The baby girl was abandoned in a box of rubbish: the guru took her to the police but they could not locate her parents. She thus came to adopt both children.[46]
  29. All members of a household can help to raise the child, although they are 'adopted'[47] in an informal sense by an individual who acts as a mother figure, perhaps the kinnar who found the child, if abandoned, or a more senior and 'maternal' member of the household, if a child is given to a group. It is common that children—particularly kinnar children—will spend time in different households in order for kinnars to share child-care duties. One guru in Madhya Pradesh had adopted several children, but she told me that she sent them off for a few months at a time to live with her celās, who wished to care for the children. She noted it was good for the children, as well as being beneficial for her in not having to look after all of her children at the same time (she said she had three children at that time).[48] An important role that kinnars see themselves performing is giving the child a good start in life, training them in moral and formal education. Kinnars stress that children must gain an education in order to avoid illiteracy, which is a common problem among kinnars, many of whom leave formal education at a young age. One guru even said that she hired teachers to teach her kinnar children (perhaps saving them from the experience of attending formal education),[49] which contrasts with the approach of the guru in Ahmedabad, who said that she sent her adopted (non-kinnar) daughter to a costly playgroup at a local school.[50]
  30. Kinnars also spoke about raising their children with good values and are determined to give their children the best start they can. Such a position might stem from experiencing illiteracy and poverty, as well as providing a safe home for children who were abandoned or rejected by their natal families. Children appear to be well-loved and cherished, in return, kinnars get the chance to become parents. Upon reaching adulthood, children who were abandoned will be married off and live outside of the household, whereas kinnar children remain where 'they belong.' Many previously abandoned children who had grown up and left their household appeared to have strong bonds with their kinnar community, despite being married and living elsewhere. On a few occasions at Anjali guru's house in Shantinagar, there were (non-kinnar) girls present, whom she described as her daughters. She said they were married, but that she had raised them.[51] She also had adopted sons, whose wives would help out in her house, as normal daughters in law in South Asian households; all the sons and daughters had been adopted, either from poor families or because many had been orphans. The presence of strong bonds between kinnars and their non-kinnar children demonstrates one way in which kinship is created among individuals, through the sharing of space and affection. Children, no matter how they come to join kinnar communities, become members of their household and of the wider kinnar community. They share in their living spaces, in daily activities, in ceremonies and in their lives. Both types of children are seen as kin, but in the case of kinnar children, they are said to 'belong.' When interviewing kinnars and non-kinnars about kinnar children, one word that came to be repeated often was that kinnar children 'belonged' to kinnar communities. People believed in a notion of a shared kinnar identity, such that kinnars would be open to raising children who were like them, and accept them 'as their own,' as interviewees put it. I therefore want to turn to consider how one concept of relatedness, that of 'belonging,' has been developed conceptually between kinnars and kinnar children, when the parties are not biologically related.
  31. As noted above, it is difficult to discern how any individuals join a kinnar community. It is even more complex in relation to kinnar children (as opposed to abandoned children). A commonly held belief in India is that kinnars have the 'right' to claim a child who is 'born a kinnar,' that is, a child who has intersexed or ambiguous sexual organs.[52] However, one guru explicitly told me that even if they come to know that a kinnar child has been born, they do not ask parents to hand them over, but wait for them to make the decision.[53] Kinnars explain that they come to find out about a kinnar child in various ways: at a birth ceremony, or through a hospital where the child is born, or at a later date if people suspect that the child might be 'a kinnar.' The 'right' to claim kinnar children is a widespread belief, although it is in direct contradiction to kinnars' narratives. They state that parents bring them the child due to the shame and stigma they think they would receive if they raised the child. Kinnars indicate that parents know that kinnars will raise the child 'as their own,' as well as feeling that the child belongs with them because it is also a kinnar. One guru suggested that upper caste and class families give away their child because of a stronger sense of shame and embarrassment of having a kinnar child associated with the family, whereas many lower-caste families, especially in rural areas, will dare to raise them.[54]
  32. The notion that the child 'belongs' to kinnars or that kinnars will raise the child as one of 'their own' is worthy of investigation. The hereditary or intergenerational transmission of traits is an established concept among various communities in Indian society, such as caste or religious identity.[55] People mutually determine one another, such that 'personal' identity is established only within a network of connections: each person is formed through their family and community identity. Kinnar identity might contradict this viewpoint, given that identifying someone as a kinnar moderates other facets of identity. Blood, natal, caste, ethnic and religious aspects are diminished through the statement that a child 'belongs to the kinnars.' Kinnar identity is seen as a marker that certain people have, an identity under which people can be collected, based on the 'sameness' of that identity. Such sameness is illusory, given the heterogeneous individuals who inhabit the term kinnar. At the same time, a shared cultural repertoire has been created in which kinnars share. The statement that 'kinnars belong together' posits kinnar identity as the most significant facet of identity and presents it as the reason why kinnars should be together, despite clear differences among kinnars across a broad range of other 'biological' or 'social' identity categories, including caste, ethnicity and religion. Such a narrative, based on mainstream discourses, thus denies biogenetic and social connections produced through procreation (such as blood or caste) between parents or kin and the child, and foregrounds kinnar identity (whatever that is assumed to be) as the primary aspect of identity. What might be termed 'biological' kinship conventionally—the substance resulting from procreation—is here denied, although the 'new' relatedness between kinnars themselves cannot be distinguished as 'social' in opposition, given rhetoric presenting kinnar identity as 'natural.' Kinnar identity is thus conceptualised as both a 'biological' and 'social' identity: a product of biological processes and an identity that is socialised and made cultural.
  33. The logic of belonging is not only claimed by kinnars, in order to legitimate the entry of children into their households, but is shared by parents and wider society. This view could be simultaneously distressing and comforting for parents, who might feel that they should and must give up the child. Giving up a kinnar child is justified by stating that they belong to 'their own community,' the community of kinnars, rather than the community into which they were born. This logic gives parents and wider society a means by which to deny the child's sameness from their natal kin, by positing the sameness of kinnar identity as more significant. The sameness of kinnar identity provides the foundation for relatedness among kinnars, an 'overriding' social and biological form of kinship which binds kinnars to one another, above other markers of identity. Kinnar kinship is thus constructed as both social, as it is constructed through social forums and legitimised through ritualised, reiterated practice, and as biological, as an 'innate' identity with which people are born, and that can be identified as an aspect of identity that supersedes other identity markers such as natal blood ties, caste, religion and ethnicity. Thus, a form of relatedness has been developed and is maintained conceptually by both kinnars and non-kinnars: at worst, to justify the social exclusion of non-normative bodies and behaviours, and at best, to serve the 'best interests' of the child, although both points of view work to mutually constitute one another. Here, relatedness—the presumed relatedness between kinnars based on sameness of identity—cannot be interpreted simply as biological or social: kinnar kinship is both 'biological,' based on the (presumed) 'sameness' of form (in the sense of ambiguity and non-normativity), and 'social,' based on shared cultural identity, mythology, practices, behaviour and cultural traditions, despite variation among individuals. Further complicating the distinction is the place of individuals such as adopted and abandoned children, alongside adults who become kinnars later in their lives, or men who feel they 'belong' within kinnar communities to escape heteronormative gender practices such as marriage and procreation. It is only when kinship is understood as processual, through the sharing of space, affection and practices that serve to constitute a notion of group identity, that heterogeneous forms of kinnar identity can be conceptualised.

    Producing kinship
  34. In this article, I have focused on how relatedness, or kinship, has been created among kinnars through the discussion of household structures and familial relationships. I have explored the shared spaces in which kinnars live, which provide security and stability for their members, alongside work opportunities, arguing that shared living spaces provide an important arena in which kinnar identity is learnt and internalised, through a shared cultural repertoire and shared behaviours and traditions. I then considered what and how different forms of relationships are developed between individual members of communities, including relationships between gurus and celās; mothers, daughters and sisters; and between kinnar and non-kinnar children and their caregivers. Kinnars have negotiated heteronormative structures and forms of relatedness to address their own communities' needs, placing particular importance in creating kinship in their everyday lives, perhaps as a response to the harsh ways in which they have been treated by their natal families. Rather than adopting a universalist reading of 'kinship' as the product of procreative relations, I have adopted Janet Carsten's approach in theorising 'kinship' as how people define and construct 'relatedness' within a particular social group and the value given to such relations. The term she gives to the relatedness people 'act and feel' is 'kinship,' and it is in this sense that I have considered how kinnars care for and become attached to one another, within households and through chosen relationships.
  35. Carsten's work draws attention to how kinship in indigenous locations and in practical, lived-out ways might blur distinctions between the 'biological' and the 'social,' where local practices could be defined as both. Kinnar relatedness is configured through the sharing of space and culture (the 'social'), alongside the assumption of a shared ambiguity in reference to anatomical form, or gender and sexual practices (the 'biological'). Kinship among kinnars, I have argued, can be better understood through a framework that approaches the creation of relatedness as both biological and social, so that it is not simply seen as 'fictive,' in the sense of distinguishing it from 'real' (biological) kinship. The separation of biological and social simplifies the complexities inherent in the formation of relatedness, by positing that some practices and aspects of kinship can be separated from others. All relatedness is constructed, where connections based on biology are enmeshed in social processes in which we learn how to belong. Biology does not dictate relatedness in and of itself (as seen through the denial of multiple aspects of identity of kinnar children, including natal blood), with the result that a feature of 'real' (biological) kinship must also be the development of relatedness in time and through reiterated practices. Studying kinnars' kinship thus reveals the processes through which kinship is constructed, demonstrating that a distinction between biological and social is problematic, and moves us towards modes of enquiry that consider the entanglement of both aspects and processes.
  36. Considering elements as not 'biological' or 'social' is therefore more productive in conceptualising how kinship is created, and the value that it holds among kinnar communities. Daily practices, relating to living spaces and the formation of relationships, create a sense of commonality and community, which provide an important support network for individuals who have been cast aside by their natal families. Kinnar kin networks provide an emotional framework in which kinnars can feel loved, cared for and supported. Moreover, the impermanence of kin relations may be a significant factor in exploring the active role played by kinnars in creating a family and kinship. 'Proper' or 'real' relations are not only dictated as relations which last, but more importantly those which are chosen and maintained, emphasising an active element in the formation of kinship relations.
  37. Through the maintenance of space and chosen families, kinnars continually create modes of relatedness. Kinship is actively formed through cohabitation, the sharing of culture, and the formation of relations between individuals. Such kinship is not fictive, but is real and necessary. As Anjali guru put it, 'These are the relations which give us the strength to live,' pointing to a crucial way in which the meaning of kinnars' lives are justified. Potentially, kinnars could lead isolated lives, but the creation of a sense of similarity and relatedness provides stability and security, two experiences that are missing from many kinnars' social experience. And kinnars, like other human beings, desire kinship, intimacy and love, especially as a result of the experience of being told they are different and rejected by from their natal families. Kinnars adapt existing cultural structures to make sense of and give meaning to their relationships and lives, creating a sense of similarity with one another and difference from others. Studying kinnars' forms of relatedness, therefore, can provide an example of the transformative possibility and crucial value of kinship.


    [1] Research for this article is based on observations I made of kinnar communities during Ph.D. fieldwork conducted during 2010 and 2011 in eastern Madhya Pradesh. While there are similarities and differences across India in the way kinnar households function and the relationships that are developed between kinnars, in this article I focus on certain ways in which relatedness is created between kinnars in order to supplement scholarship on kinship within hijra groups, rather than providing a comparative analysis of differences between kinnars in Madhya Pradesh and kinnars and hijras in other states. I have adopted alternate place names for cities and towns which may be identifiable from the discussion or context.

    [2] Janet Carsten, After Kinship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 82.

    [3] According to transliteration conventions used in R.S. McGregor's Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary, Oxford and Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993, the correct spellings are kinnar and hij?ā. I adopt kinnar and hijra (without diacritics) for easier reading. All other Hindi terms are transliterated according to McGregor's conventions. When discussing specific authors, I use their transliterations unless otherwise noted.

    [4] Vinay Lal, 'Not this, not that: the Hijras of India and the cultural politics of sexuality,' Social Text vol. 61 (winter 1999): 119–40, p. 119. In addition, in this category, Serena Nanda includes 'women who do not menstruate.' See Nanda, 'Hijras: An alternative sex and gender role in India,' in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, ed. Gilbert Herdt, New York, N.Y.: Zone, 1994, pp. 373–418, p. 380; and Neither Man nor Woman: the Hijras of India, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1999, p. 18. Nanda's definition points to hijras' inability to fulfill normative procreative roles.

    [5] Linda Stone, Kinship and Gender: An Introduction, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997, p. 5.

    [6] Stone, Kinship and Gender, p. 6.

    [7] David M. Schneider, A Critique of the Study of Kinship, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1984.

    [8] Janet Carsten, The Heart of the Hearth: The Process of Kinship in a Malay Fishing Community, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997, p. 290.

    [9] Carsten, The Heart of the Hearth, p. 285.

    [10] Carsten, The Heart of the Hearth, p. 290.

    [11] Carsten, The Heart of the Hearth, p. 291.

    [12] Carsten, The Heart of the Hearth, p. 291.

    [13] Janet Carsten ed., Cultures of Relatedness: New Approaches to the Study of Kinship, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 4.

    [14] Carsten, After Kinship, p. 36.

    [15] Carsten, After Kinship, p. 37.

    [16] Such power is legitimised through their ascetic practices and sexual purity. Although many kinnars practice asceticism, some engage in sexual relationships or perform sex work, so claiming asceticism may be theoretical rather than practical in many cases. However, many kinnars espouse rhetoric that emphasises their creative asceticism, which justifies their ritual power to perform badhāī work. Moreover, denying sexual practice is important, since admitting to such practices would reinforce their social exclusion in the eyes of mainstream society. Variation in levels of sexual practice differs according to locational (metropolitan or rural), hierarchical, and generational circumstances. Many kinnars who are older and more established in their communities deny that they and others have sex, perhaps to set an example to younger kinnars or to raise the status afforded to kinnars by mainstream society. Other younger kinnars have boyfriends or 'husbands,' or may engage in sex work, perhaps due to economic necessity, but might still deny such practices when asked. Kinnars in Madhya Pradesh strongly denied sexual practice, although I interviewed younger hijras in Mumbai who admitted that they had sex (Personal Interviews, with Suraj, July 2011, Mumbai). I found that particularly older kinnar leaders in Madhya Pradesh stressed the purity of kinnars' bodies and practices, frowning upon the behaviour of younger kinnars, including dressing 'provocatively' by wearing low-cut or tight clothing. At the sammelan I attended, one guru from a rural area, Sharada, condemned such behaviour, particularly the day after a procession on the streets of Bahrana in which younger kinnars (from Delhi and Jabalpur) had worn tight clothing and danced provocatively. She gestured towards a group of these individuals, saying that such behaviour was 'not of their culture,' even though she noted it might be fine to act like this in metropolitan cities (Personal Interview, with Nivedita, July 2011, Bahrana). Nivedita's comments suggest a disparity in point of view regarding sexualised behaviour in relation to both generational and hierarchical concerns, and urban or rural location.

    [17] This is the experience of most kinnars. The rhetoric of renunciation in relation to sexual practice extends to other social ties, including an absence of marital relations and the severance of natal family ties. Gayatri Reddy notes that although many hijras are abandoned, they invoke a discourse of renunciation in order to more closely associate with the sannyāsī self–image. See Reddy, With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 150. Whilst many hijras in India sever ties with non-hijra kin, Adnan Hossain points to the reverse experience among hijras in Dhaka, Bangladesh, many of whom perform hijragiri (collecting alms and performing badhāī) away from households where they maintain wives and children. See Hossain, 'Beyond emasculation: being Muslim and becoming a hijra in South Asia,' Asian Studies Review vol. 36, no. 4 (2012): 495–513, p. 500. However, hijra here is defined as all men who 'publicly transgress normative masculine ideals.'

    [18] Some individuals prefer their independence, away from the strict social rules of their gurus and household. Those who choose independence often acknowledge it has lower honour, both in regard to the kinnar community and general society. See Reddy's discussion of hijras under the water-tank in Secunderabad, With Respect to Sex, p. 161. Other narratives indicate that social stigmatisation may be caused by other reasons, for example, falling out with other hijras or misbehaviour.

    [19] Personal interview, with Farhana, April 2011, Rampur.

    [20] Personal interview, with Rakesh, April 2011, Rampur.

    [21] Monika Böck and Aparna Rao, Culture, Creation, and Procreation: Concepts of Kinship in South Asian Practice, New York; Oxford: Berghahn, 2000, p. 25.

    [22] Personal interview with Anjali, March 2011, Shantinagar.

    [23] For further discussion of religious practice, see Reddy, With Respect to Sex, and Jennifer Ung Loh, '“Borrowing” religious identifications: a study of religious practices among the Hijras of India,' Polyvocia: SOAS Journal of Graduate Research vol. 3 (Spring 2011), online:, accessed 24 March 2014.

    [24] There is some uncertainty over the number of lineages due to different states having different numbers of houses, which go by different names. Nanda names seven houses: Laskarwallah, Chaklawallah, Lalanwallah, Bendi Bazaar, Poonawallah, Ballakwallah, and Adipur, with slight variation according to region (Neither Man nor Woman, p. 39). Reddy also names seven lineages: Lashkarwala, Sheharwala, Lallanwala, Bhendi Bazaar/Bullakhwala, Dhongriwala, Mandirwala, and Chatlawala (With Respect to Sex, p. 237, n14). Reddy notes that the exact number of lineages and their names in different cities is debatable, so an exhaustive list is not possible.

    [25] Personal interview, with Farhana, April 2011, Rampur. The regional variation in names is evident in this example: one kinnar from Delhi named its gharānās (literally 'family' or 'lineage'), which she translated as 'varieties' or 'cultures,' as Rai, Sujani, Kalyan, and Mandi. She noted that gharānās contain differentiations, for example, she is of the Nafajgarh group, one of the four groups within the Rai culture (Personal interview with Sonia, July 2011, Bahrana).

    [26] Personal interviews, with Sarita, March and July 2011, Shantinagar and Bahrana.

    [27] I have chosen not to address relationships between kinnars and men from outside of kinnar communities, known as 'boyfriends' or 'husbands.' Although sexual practice is explicitly renounced, many kinnars desire companionate relationships, based on love and affection. 'Marriages' are often more than sexual and are idealised and seen as a long-term commitment, despite emotional and physical abuse in many cases. See Gayatri Reddy, 'The bonds of love: companionate marriage and the desire for intimacy among Hijras in Hyderabad,' in Modern Loves: the Anthropology of Romantic Courtships and Companionate Marriage, ed. Jennifer S. Hirsch and Holly Wardlow, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2006, pp. 174–92.

    [28] Kath Weston, Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991.

    [29] Carsten, After Kinship, p. 115.

    [30] Satish Kumar Sharma describes the institutionalisation of the hijra role as a 'continual process of socialisation' with three parts: overcoming one's 'identity-crisis,' development of identification with hijras, and finally locating oneself in a hijra home, accompanied by learning how to behave as a hijra. See Sharma, Hijras: the Labelled Deviants, New Delhi: Gian Publishing House, 1989, p. 59. Although this process seems prescriptive, many individuals sought answers or help from hijras, seeing the hijras as accepting them, especially given the intolerance or denial shown by their natal families.

    [31] See A.P. Sinha, 'Procreation among the eunuchs,' Eastern Anthropologist vol. 20, no. 1 (January–April 1967): 168–76; and Sharma, Hijras. For an example of reports in contemporary newspapers, see 'Youth alleges forced castration by eunuchs,' in OneIndia News, 18 November 2008, online:, accessed 1 July 2012.

    [32] For example, see Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman, pp. 116–19, and Reddy, With Respect to Sex, p. 187ff.

    [33] Nanda writes that the guru pays a sum of money to the nāyak/s on behalf of the initiate (Neither Man nor Woman, p. 44), whereas Reddy notes that it is the celā who pays their guru, which increases twofold every time she changes her guru or house (With Respect to Sex, p. 157). One kinnar told me that switching houses and gurus is not uncommon, but the old guru will demand compensation from the new one to cover loss of earnings and whatever goods the celā takes with her.

    [34] Work (badhāī or collecting dues) on territory belonging to a particular household is regulated and non-affiliated and 'fake' (men who dress as kinnars to make money) kinnars are punished for their encroachment. See Shuriah Niazi, 'Identity crisis for India's eunuchs,' Asia Times online, 3 January 2008, online:, accessed 18 March 2010.

    [35] Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman, pp. 24–26; Reddy, With Respect to Sex, p. 83. For a contrasting opinion where there is no distinction between emasculated and non-emasculated hijras, see Hossain, 'Beyond emasculation.'

    [36] For a detailed account, see Nanda, Neither Man nor Woman.

    [37] Personal interviews, with Sarita and Nivedita, March and July 2011, Bahrana.

    [38] Reddy, With Respect to Sex, p. 165.

    [39] Since the majority of kinnars identify as female, it seems inconsistent that certain terms refer to the paternal family as opposed to the maternal. Although beyond the scope of this article, kinnars do use both feminine and masculine speech patterns. For an excellent discussion of gendered language use among hijras, see Kira Hall, 'Hijra/hijrin: language and gender identity,' Ph.D. dissertation, Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1995.

    [40] Personal interview, with Nivedita, July 2011, Bahrana.

    [41] The 'rice' ceremony: bhāt means 'rice' and bhranā to 'fill something in.'

    [42] Reddy, With Respect to Sex, p. 165.

    [43] For a discussion of the importance of 'substance' and South Asia, see Böck and Rao, Culture, Creation, and Procreation, and for 'substance' in relation to kinship, see Carsten, After Kinship, pp. 157–73.

    [44] Personal interview, with Nivedita, July 2011, Bahrana. Sinha refers to the 'doodh-bhaat' ('rice and milk') as an initiation rite which the initiate (jankha) must undergo to become a full hijra. See Sinha, 'Procreation among the eunuchs,' p. 173. It is unclear whether the 'mother-master' is a guru or a mother figure or both. In contrast, A.M. Shah writes that a guru is regarded as 'mother' and the initiate is the 'daughter,' collapsing the distinction between guru-celā and mother-daughter relationships. See Shah, 'A note on the hijadas of Gujarat,' American Anthropologist, New Series vol. 63, no. 6 (December 1961): 1325–330, online:, accessed 23 February 2010, p. 1328. Thus, according to this 'fictional kinship,' all hijras have sisters, aunts, and cousins. Kinnars in Madhya Pradesh insisted that guru-celā relations were separate from mother-daughter ones.

    [45] Kinnars often desire to bear children, despite acknowledging the impossibility of fulfilling such a desire. Although identifying as closer to women than men, kinnars acknowledge that they are not women, in part, marked by an inability to bear children.

    [46] Personal interview, with Affaan, July 2011, Ahmedabad.

    [47] Böck and Rao point to adoption as permanently assuming major responsibilities of 'natural parents,' distinguishing it from the temporary care of 'fostering.' They describe Esther N. Goody's five aspects of parenthood (bearing and begetting; nurturance; training; sponsorship into adulthood; endowment with civil or kinship status), writing that each can be split from the rest and made the object of delegation, sharing, and transfer. See Böck and Rao, Culture, Creation, and Procreation, pp. 15–16. Aside from the first aspect, kinnar adopters perform the other four aspects of parenthood. See Esther Goody, 'Some theoretical and empirical aspects of parenthood in West Africa,' in Marriage, Fertility and Parenthood in West Africa, ed. C. Oppong et al., Canberra: Australian National University, 1978, pp. 227–72.

    [48] Personal interviews, with Anjali, March 2011, Shantinagar.

    [49] Many kinnars leave formal education at a young age; I only met a couple of kinnars who had completed formal education (primary and secondary school). Most drop out of school as a result of leaving their natal families, or due to emotional hardship faced through teasing, bullying and condemnation of their gender practice by classmates and other school members.

    [50] Personal interviews, with Anjali and Affaan, March 2011, Shantinagar; and July 2011, Ahmedabad.

    [51] Personal interviews, with Anjali, February and March 2011, Shantinagar.

    [52] One celā spoke about a young kinnar living with her, who she described as having 'marks' (cihne) of 'both' sexes. Although interviewees were vague about what ambiguity is necessary in order to classify a child a kinnar, it appears that sexual organs deemed as birth to be 'abnormal'—the organs do not look 'as they should'—is all that is required for such an ambiguity to arise. The celā's guru mentioned that on occasion a child raised as a kinnar will develop into a woman. She would then be married and leave the household (Personal Interviews, with Radha and Nivedita, July 2011, Bahrana).

    [53] Personal interview, with Anjali, March 2011, Shantinagar.

    [54] Personal interview, with Anjali, March 2011, Shantinagar. Another guru gave me an example which explains this point, telling a story about a lower-caste couple from a small village who had a kinnar child, but hid that fact from their local kinnar household (of which her celā was in charge). They raised her as a daughter. After they had two more children, who were also suspected of being kinnars, the local villagers persuaded them to 'see what was best' for the children. The guru suggested that the villagers might have thought it was a curse to have so many kinnar children; they persuaded the parents to bring their children to the kinnar household. She noted that in the past, when the first child was born, it would have been the kinnars' right to take the baby, but said this was not the case nowadays. All three children were adopted by her celā (Personal Interview, with Nivedita, July 2011, Bahrana).

    [55] Böck and Rao, Culture, Creation, and Procreation, p. 6.


Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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