In early August, 20-year-old Harendra Jatav of Mainpuri was married to 19-year-old Sulochana from Hardoi district. To his horror, he discovered that his wife was a eunuch. The village panchayat ordered a medical examination, and doctors reportedly confirmed the suspicion of the young man. The bride was sent back to her parents.
In another incident at Jabalpur, A woman approached police with a complaint that her husband is a eunuch and alleged that she was kept in dark about it during her two month long engagement. The groom assumed that once married, she would accept her fate and stay as his wife to save the family honour.
Such incidents indicate the desperation of families and individuals to obscure an alternative sexual status by marriage, even when it means ruining another person’s life. Why are people tempted to go to such extremes?
The legend of Bahuchara is a rare tale in Hindu mythology that recognizes this dark secret.
Bahuchara was a young woman married to prince. The groom did not consummate the marriage and rode away on a horse every night. His apathy appalled and intrigued Bahuchara. She decided to follow him and find out the truth for herself.
The legend says that since she did not have a horse she rode a giant male rooster. She saw her husband behave like women in the jungle (Perhaps a homosexual alliance). Bahuchara confronted him and demanded why had he not disclosed his status to his family and ruined her life?
The prince apologized and said his family had forced him so that children could be born.
Bahuchara accepted on a condition that men like him be her followers and dress up like women. Baruchara’s temple is located near Mehsana in Gujarat. She is believed to be the patron of impotent men, Eunuchs, hermaphrodites and homosexuals. This system provides safe haven to people with alternate sexual identities. Away from public humiliation and ridicule. It also protects the rights of hapless people from being tricked into a marriage devoid of sexual satisfaction.
The tale of Bahuchara shows that patriarchy is deeply ingrained in the Indian society. The biggest duty of a man is towards his forefathers or ‘pitras’ to give birth to children and liberate them from the cycle of birth and death. For this, he has a biological obligation to make his wife pregnant.
When a person is unable to fulfill his duty to impregnate his wife, due to physical or mental reasons, he is derogatorily termed as ‘kliba’, ‘kimpurusha’ or ‘napunsak’. All of them mean ‘not a man’.
A transgender or homosexual does not fit in this plan. There is no recognition for a homosexual in Indian mythology; it is considered a mental or emotional quirk. In rare stories that hint at homosexuality, men are often turned into women or vice versa by divine intervention.
Recently there was an advertisement by Vicks called the “Touch of Care”. The ad follows a young girl Gayatri, as she makes her way to a boarding school on a bus. Gayatri talks about her adoptive mother Gauri.
Gouri Sawant is a 35-year-old transgender who adopted Gayatri four years ago at the age of six. Gayatri was born to a sex worker who died of AIDS. In her own story, Gouri disclosed in an interview that she was born in Pune. Her father was in the police, Her mother died when she was around nine years old. She was born a boy but always thought of herself as a girl. Felt trapped in a male body. Gouri happily accepted the life of a Hijra than acting out like a man that she felt she was not.
In India terms like Hijra or khosra are used to address eunuchs, hermaphrodites, trans-sexuals and cross-dressing homosexuals altogether. They live in separate communities dressed as women as guided by their patron deity Bahuchara.
The legend of Bahuchara ensures that such people stay out of the family system and clearly recognized. She demands the impotent men to castrate their poorly developed genital organs, live as celibates serving her. They depend on alms bestowed by the householders during weddings and childbirth. They are invited to sing and dance to invoke the Goddess and usher in fertility to newlyweds and childless couples. They are also invited to bless newborns.
When the eunuchs bless children, they check the child’s genitals. If they are normal they congratulate the family and demand charity. If the children are neither male nor female, they take them away. Families might be tempted hide their state and get them married as normal men or women by deceit. It’s Bahuchara’s wish that such children are brought to her care. The Eunuchs bring them up in their communities.
We might look at the Hijras with contempt, fear, curiosity or aversion but the truth is that the community exists at the fringes of the society. Their existence ensures a healthy ecosystem, free of deceit. They fulfill a very important duty of recognizing deviations and accepting them for what they are.