Umesh V and his colleagues at The Mobile Store on 24th Main Road, JP Nagar 2nd phase shell out around Rs. 1200 to Rs. 1500 a month, from their own pockets. The reason? Hijras come to their shop every day, demanding money, forcing them to pay anywhere between Rs. 10 and Rs. 50 per day. “In a day, they come around four to five times. In a group there are around three or four of them. If you do not give them money, they use bad words or attack us and pull our clothes,” says Umesh who has been facing this problem for the past year and a half.

Umesh’s complaint is echoed by several other shopkeepers in JP Nagar who are facing ‘extortion’ by hijras. Known as the third gender, a hijra or eunuch is a transgender person, biologically male, who takes on the role of a female. Hijras usually dress as women and do not necessarily have genital modifications.

The store manager of JP Nagar-based The Home Store, C K Chengappa says, “These people come from Tamil Nadu. I know it because they speak Tamil. They just make money and go. They have even made about 25 grand (Rs.25,000) in one time when a new hotel came up in the area. We end up giving around 200 to 300 rupees a month. We write it in our accounts.” Chengappa says this problem has persisted for about two years now and his superiors in the Delhi head office ask him why they do not fight back.

In Café Coffee Day, right next door to The Home Store at Aurobindo Circle, waiters part with their tips when hijras come begging. Café in-charge Sathya N C says they give around Rs.50 per week. Even they complain of being attacked if they refuse.

Karthik V who manages the Genesis Fitness Forum, a gymnasium on 24th Main Road, JP Nagar 2nd Phase says he never says no to the hijras who come begging to his gym. “They come weekly twice or even five times. They come in groups. I never say no. They take advantage of this and inform their friends. So more people come. During the aerobics session, they come, they remove their clothes. They do a lot of naatak,” Karthik says. “I give them money if they are regulars. They eat paan paraag. During the kids session, they do dirty things. They dance in front of the mirror.”

He goes on to narrate an incident during a kids’ session at his gym when a group of hijras approached the gym. “I immediately closed the shutters. I told my people upstairs to also close the shutters. They started breaking the shutters. I had to give them Rs. 250, only then did they leave,” he says. Karthik called up the cops that day who just told him to give them the money. “They say, even if we come we can’t do anything,” he says. Members at the gym have even written complaints pertaining to this in the Suggestion book, says Karthik.

In a juice shop close to Genesis Fitness Forum, Karthik says the hijras created a ruckus one day because the owners refused to give them money. “They removed their clothes. The juice shop guy called all his people from the other branches of his shop.” Workers at the juice shop, who did not want to be named, say that the hijras misbehave with their customers, often threatening to drop their clothes.“They come in big gangs and their behaviour is hopeless,” they say.

Chengappa says they have made attempts to refuse money.“One of my staff told them to get out once. They just took off on him,” he says, adding,“I now hear they carry blades with them.”

The hijras: give us jobs, we are denied dignity

But hijras complain about the lack of recognition by the government towards their community. Bangalore is home to more than one thousand hijras. Around 600-700 of them work with Sangama, a sexuality minorities human rights organisation for individuals oppressed due to their sexual preference. Sangama’s head office is located in JC Nagar. Says 25-year-old Akkai, a kothi (in the South Asian context, a male homosexual who is feminised and takes a passive/receptive role in sex), who works with the Information Division of Sangama, “Government should take responsibility and provide them with proper jobs and education.”

Hijras explaining their side of the story

Hijras explaining their side of the story (pic: Vaishnavi Vittal)

Akkai says she knew two hijras who worked as receptionists in a company but were eventually forced to quit because of discrimination in the workplace.

Twenty-eight year old Kokila, a hijra who works with Sangama, says the only options for hijras are begging and sex work. “We are poor, part of the lower class of society. We do not have jobs. This is the way we can feed our stomach,” she says. Kokila says there are both good people and bad people in their community. “There is a mistake on our side also. Sangama is here to empower them. During our meetings, we tell them not to force or harass shopkeepers,” she says.