Every human clan is separated along community lines in order to function successfully and keep anarchy at bay. The hijras are no exception. The majority of them live in jamats (Urdu for “gathering of elders”) and function as economic and social units.

The guru, or teacher, is the leader of the jamat. On a daily basis, she instructs the chelas (disciples), exploits their labor, and manages their activities and financial transactions. She is revered as a spiritual mother and protector of the hijras, who have severed all links with their families in most cases. As a result, in order to survive, they must form a clan that resembles a family.

The guru is also responsible for grooming a particularly capable chela to succeed her. If she dies without having trained a successor, the panch, or chiefs of the seven hijra gharanas (households), gather to choose her successor. If a hijra guru dies before a successor is chosen, the leaders of seven hijra gharanas (households) meet to choose one. The leaders in charge of the selection are known as Panch.”

The hijras must labor as beggars, performers, and prostitutes outside of the hijra house and are expected to work within the jamat as well. Balancing both worlds can be difficult and costly, as hijras are expected to give the guru 50 to 100 percent of their wages in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, and security. Despite the disadvantages listed above, the hijras prefer to live in a jamat because of the sense of community and security it provides.

A ceremony is held to initiate a chela into the jamat of a particular guru. In the presence of hijra gurus from seven houses, the ambitious chela is forced to sit on the floor. By placing a modest quantity of money in a plate containing betel leaves, one of them claims her as her own. The reeth (or re-christening) ceremony is done after the chela declares her acceptance as a follower of that particular guru. The chela is required to change his masculine forename, surname, and gotra (lineage) to a feminine name. After that, the chela is expected to pay a significant sum to the guru who has accepted her into his jamat. Following that, the hijra leaders instruct the new initiates on important dos and don’ts. Within the limitations of her new household, she is instructed on how to dress and behave. Within the hijra subculture, there are various rules to observe. For example, a chela should never call a guru by her name, wear her attire, or speak to her in a disrespectful tone of voice. Certain additional regulations apply to this subculture. The loose end of a hijra’s saree should be kept under control, as it is considered unlucky if it touches anyone. There are guidelines regarding how a hijra should serve water to visitors; she is not to hold the tumbler containing the water at the brim or in the middle, but rather fold her hands in a Namaste (traditional Indian greeting) and balance the tumbler on top of it.

One of India’s most secular sub-divisions is the hijra house. Hijras from many castes, communities, races, religions and other backgrounds coexist under one roof. She forgets her own faith after being initiated into the hijra cult; the hijra is the only jati (or caste) she knows today. This type of sorority is uncommon in India, which is plagued by riots and communal strife.

The hijras consider their guru to be their mother, and they endeavor to live in harmony with her jamat. However, frictions are unavoidable where human beings coexist. When a hijra wishes to change gurus due to significant conflict, she may be taken by another guru based on whether the prospective guru considers her to be a good worker or not. In such circumstances, the new guru receives a payment equal to twice the amount paid to the first guru at the time of initiation by the hijra. It is a debt that the chela owes; she is required to repay the amount that the guru has invested in her once she has begun to earn enough to support herself.

For a variety of reasons, the hijras prefer to live in a well-organized group. It’s a safety net to lean on in the event of illness or old age. Being a member of a jamat ensures that a departed hijra is given a respectable burial in Indian society, where a ceremonial funeral is viewed as vital regardless of race or religion. Unlike the popular (and quite revolting) belief that the departed hijra’s body is whipped with slippers before being cremated, she is given a respectful burial, depending on the faith she was born into. A Hindu hijra is therefore burnt, whereas a Muslim hijra is buried. When the funeral procession enters the streets, all of the hijras don male clothing, a method meant to keep the general public from learning that the deceased is a hijra. This is most likely the only time in their lives when hijras assume male clothing instead of their preferred feminine attire.

I have been a story writer since 1998 and have published many novels/novellas in both English and Japanese. Protagonists of the following fictions are Hijras – including ordinary males who turn into Hijras over the course of the story:

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