Hindu and the Hijra in India: Effects of Colonialism and Globalization

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Hindu and the Hijra in India: Effects of Colonialism and Globalization essay

Colonialism and globalization are complex processes that have impacted culture in India. British colonialism in India not only resulted in direct control over the political environment, overtime it changed values and attitudes within Indian culture that impacted Hindus living in India and made life difficult for the once revered hijra community. Globalization has helped Hinduism spread to much of the world. Through globalization, the marginalized hijra community has been provided with better access to technology, educational opportunities and global platforms that allow them to exchange knowledge and raise awareness. MindEdge (2019) expressed how culture continues to change through time, and anthropology can be used to explore ways in which culture can shape behavior. Using an anthropological frame of reference, this research project intends to provide an understanding of Hinduism and the hijra community in India, present a comprehensive study of how colonialism and globalization has impacted Indian culture, and examine how Indian culture has changed through time.

Of the 7.5 billion people that reside on earth, 1.3 billion reside in India (Bureau, 2019). India is rich in culture and history. According to the most recent census data available, about 80% of India’s population practices Hinduism (Census 2011 India, 2019). Hinduism is known to be the world’s oldest existing religion originating in the Indus Valley. Early Hindu texts that have been preserved date back about 4,000 years. Since its beginning, Hinduism has continued to evolve. Hinduism is unique because it is recognized as an anthology of ideas and traditions. Many Hindus worship a single deity, such as Shiva or Krishna, but also find other gods and goddesses significantly important. Most Hindus believe there are many available paths to reach their god. Most Hindus believe all living things are sacred and adhere to a non-violent lifestyle that includes a diet free of beef and pork. The cow has great meaning for Hindus, seen as a patriarchal symbol associated with purity and prosperity. The Hindu in India celebrate many festivals throughout the year. Many of the festivals are associated with the changing of seasons. Hindu festivals are believed to make life grow in a positive upward direction.

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A third-gender is described in ancient Hindu texts such as Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Mal and Mundu (2018) describe a secret language that has developed over centuries among the hijra known as Hijra Farsi. There are many names for the third-gender peoples that reside within the Indian subcontinent. In India, the third-gender is widely referred to as hijra or eunuch, meaning neither man nor woman. According to Sibsankar (2018), an estimated five to six million people living in India identify as the third-gender. For centuries the hijra have been seen as bearers of good luck and fertility and today Indians still seek a blessing from a hijra although there is fear that a hijra also has the powers to curse.

Colonialism in India has had a tremendous impact on Hinduism and the hijra communities. During the sixteenth century northern India was under Mughal rulers that practiced Islam. Hijras were known to be guardians of the harems, generals, political advisors, were considered clever, trustworthy and played an important role in building the empire (Knott, 1998). In the following centuries, India saw trade interests increase from the Portuguese, French, Dutch and British. British colonial influence began in the seventeenth century which led to political control in the following centuries. During British occupation, British Christian missionaries were attempting to Christianize Britain’s colonies. According to Michelraj (2015), those visiting India from abroad were disgusted with the site of hijras and were astonished as to how royal courts could give such respect to this community.

Literature Review

India and the hijra community experienced a drastic transition from Mughal to British rule. During British rule many laws were introduced that segregated much of India. In 1869 the British introduced Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalized sexual activities that were non-procreative “against the order of nature” (Das, 2015). A few years later the British introduced the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871. According to Michelraj (2015), the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 was legislation enforced under British rule that targeted castes including the hijra by declaring that they were born with criminal tendencies. The profiling this legislation encouraged created tension between tribes, castes and religions. Hindus were not exempt. Many Hindu tribes and castes were targeted and listed as a danger to society. The Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 lasted until 1949 and Section 377 of the Indian penal Code remained in place until it was recently eliminated in September 2018 after a lengthy fight between progressive and traditionalist that began in the early 1990’s.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the Supreme Court of India ruled that transgender people should be treated as a third category of gender. Through participant observation, Hossain (2017) pointed out that individuals and groups have achieved political gain and sought global recognition when legal status as a third gender was given to the hijras. While many groups claimed to the international press that their efforts were responsible for this great achievement and turning of the tide, not much changed for the third-gender community. Even though the third-gender hijra under law were entitled to education and jobs, they have remained marginalized by much of Indian society. Hunt (2011) utilizes both a historical and sociological method of research to assert that legal rights regarding sexuality have had a lesser influence on less affluent rural communities and rural India remains rooted with many conservative values that existed during colonialism.

It’s important to understand identity politics in India and what it means to have legal recognition as a third-gender. Das argues, “while the categorization of the third-gender may be necessary to facilitate government policies for the community, one has to look beyond law as a legitimizing tool” (Das, 2015, abstract, para. 1). Das is referring to a homophobic post-colonial India that uses nationalism as a way to push conservative agendas. After centuries of colonial rule, India has gained independence and become a decolonized state which has created a strong sense of patriotism and national pride among Indians. Through historical research, Purkayastha (2014) examined the roots of nationalism in India, how it gained momentum, and why it was problematic. Purkayastha (2014) suggested queer India has become disempowered by nationalism and the most effective rhetoric is that same-sex love is a colonial import foreign to “Indian” culture. Although it has been argued that same-sex desire is against Indian values and it is a Western phenomenon, Navarro-Tejero (2019) provided reference to ancient Hindu texts that describe same-sex relationships such as the “fourth-centruy Kamasutra, the classic Hindu saga, the Ramayana, and in the medieval Persian and Urdu poetry” (Navarro-Tejero, 2019, Sex Between Women & Indianness, para. 6).

Through in depth discussions and interviews with 51 hijras, Mal and Mundu (2018) insisted the routine violence that the hijras experienced continued to be reinforced by institutions such as family, and the abuse and discrimination has continued to be supported by the legal system. Stief (2017) suggested that by identifying gender roles within a culture, one can observe how sexuality and gender vary considerably cross-culturally. Shah & Shah (2015) addressed the family and gender dynamics in India by documenting the story of a male child that was supposed to inherit his families property but chose to move out and become a hijra. As a result, the mother told her son who was now a hijra to never return home because the family was worried that their two youngest children would have trouble marrying if the community found out their family was involved in such a scandal. The mother made it clear that the uncle would kill his nephew who was now a hijra if he returned. Historical research by Stief (2017) suggested a young male who is nonconforming is more likely to later identify as a homosexual in adulthood. One can conclude that the boys traumatic childhood experiences and his early resistance to conform to the traditional family dynamics contributed to him taking on the new gender identity as a hijra.

Centuries old marital and kinship rules play a part in why much of India is not open to alternative sexual identities and same sex relationships. Arranged marriages are common among Hindu’s living in India. Netting (2010) described a deeply imbedded Indian tradition of arranged marriage where a virgin bride would be sent to live with her husband and his parents, and the brides parents would send the family a dowry at marriage. Netting (2010) pointed out precolonial family systems that included matrilineal kinship, polyandrous unions, and marriage of cousins have been replaced with colonial ideology of patrilineal kinship and premarital virginity. Through participant observation and a series of interviews, Netting (2010) was able to link a rise in self-chosen partnerships to an influx in education and globalization. Quantitative data provided by Netting (2010) showed that more than half of the couples that were surveyed in the study were not traditionally acceptable: ten were from different castes, three from different religions, and one of the same sex.


The above information demonstrates the impact colonialism can have on a country and what it can do to its cultural identity. As MindEdge (2019) pointed out, nothing positive is to be gained by a country that has been colonialized. Colonialism has reshaped Indian culture that has historically been inundated with enlightenment, gratitude and love for all beings. Colonialism has divided India and created new networks of hate. India is now considered to be the largest democracy in the world, but the political environment following British occupation has continued to struggle in finding the proper recourse to provide rights to the disenfranchised.

Century old traditions in India are still deeply imbedded in much of society. Netting (2010) asserted Hindus believe people have a responsibility to preserve the patriarchal family line by marrying and producing children, but new routes to love and happiness are being explored by a more educated and informed generation that want to make decisions for themselves as they have seen others do around the world.

Globalization will continue to impact the Indian population exposed to the global economy. India has a population that is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years and move ahead of China to become the most populated country in the world. As India continues to see a rise in their middle-class, technology and communications will connect rural India with the rest of the world.


Observational and historical research has enabled anthropologists to observe how colonialism and globalization has impacted the Hindu and hijra communities in India. An interdisciplinary approach has provided an understanding of the short and long-term psychological impacts colonialism and globalization has had on India.

In March of 2019, I interviewed members of the hijra community in Delhi, India. Soniaya, who was looked up to as the mother of the household stated, “When you’re a social outcast you’re not treated fairly. It is not possible to be hired for a decent job even if you have the required training and experience”. Soniaya and the other members of the household opened up to me and discussed their childhood and how rape started for most of them between the age of eight to ten years old. For all of them, it was their own family members and neighbors who instigated the sexual abuse. Today, much of this community is forced into prostitution and a life of begging on the streets. The community members I spoke with suggested that educating India’s youth was the best way to fight ignorant propaganda being used by Indian nationalists.

British colonialism directly impacted norms, values and politics within much of India and created social tension for the hijra who were once revered by Hindus prior to British occupation. Globalization and access to technology may not be the cure for hate in India, but it has the potential to educate and inform many of its citizens which will result in creating more awareness and opportunities for a community that has been marginalized for over a century.


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  3. Hossain, A. (2017). The paradox of recognition: Hijra, third gender and sexual rights in Bangladesh. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 19(12), 1418-1431.
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Hindu and the Hijra in India: Effects of Colonialism and Globalization. (2021, Mar 25). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/hindu-and-the-hijra-in-india-effects-of-colonialism-and-globalization/