“Here in Bangladesh, no gentleman wants to sit beside us in a bus, but they sit in India. They address us mashi (aunty), and they feel that sitting beside a hijra is a blessing. People in India take it easy but people in Bangladesh do not accept easily.”
This is what a young hijra leader named Bindu told in her interview given to LOSAUK. In general, hijras are more respected in India than in Bangladesh.
Who are these hijras?
Hijras are a group of transgender people in South Asia. From ancient times to the present, transgender people have existed in communities all over the world. However, the story of hijras in Bangladesh is untold and unknown to many. They have the same human rights as anyone else. They have right to life, to education, to health, to social security, to work and right to participate in cultural life. Yet, they are discriminated in the society because of their physical shape. Moreover, the rate of discrimination is high in the employment market, education, health care and entering in social and cultural places.
Empowerment of Hijras
A movement for the rights of hijras was launched in Bangladesh in 2007. A non-governmental organization named LOSAUK started this movement from Khulna with the support of KIOS Foundation, Finland. Gradually, this movement spread to two divisions and covered sixteen districts of Bangladesh. It was a great challenge for LOSAUK. Nevertheless, with seven years of continuous support from KIOS, LOSAUK worked for the rights of the hijra and strengthened their movement. The hijras were empowered through this movement, and now they have full ownership of the movement.
The hijras advocate for changes in the attitudes and behaviors of the people and particularly their family members to eliminate discrimination. They also demand changes in the way the state regards them! The state should fulfill its obligations to protect and promote their human rights. In addition, hijras would need skill training facilities and the possibility to earn their own income. In case such developments took place, the hijra communities, their parents, relatives and others close to them would benefit.
In 2013, the Bangladesh government recognized hijras as the third gender. At the same time, the government made promises to provide hijras with special benefits and access to services. In this connection, a hijra leader Panna added:
People were not willing to accept us. Although discrimination still exists, now we are increasingly accepted and considered as full members of society, and we have a voice that is heard. I can sit beside the deputy commissioner of the district, and I can talk to him. I can now speak on human rights issues. I render my thanks to all concerned initiators of our movement.
The Struggle continues
Still, the struggle of the transgender community in Bangladesh has not ended. They have got his far through building a strong movement as well as successful advocacy and campaigning efforts. They have made their culture into a strong weapon and used it to fight for their rights. They feel empowered, though they have not yet reached their desired position.
The major problem still lies in the attitudes and behavior of the people. Interaction between people and different communities is important for erasing the prejudices and discriminatory attitudes both in the political and the social sphere. LOSAUK continues, side by side with the hijra community, in order to secure full respect for all human rights.
LOSAUK is a non-governmental development organization located in Khulna, in the south-west coastal part of Bangladesh. The organization was founded in 1987.The vision of the organization is to see Bangladesh free from poverty. LOSAUK works for bettering the lives of transgender (Hijra) community, people with disabilities as well as socially neglected communities, children, unemployed youth, rural artists and underprivileged woman and adolescent girls.
KIOS has collaborated with and supported LOSAUK since 2011 to improve the human rights situation of the hijra in Bangladesh. In 2009, LOSAUK had already raised the issue of the rights of the hijra in the Bangladeshi Parliament and from thereon had brought the matter to the attention of several Ministries. In 2014, LOSAUK made an appeal to the High Court to demand the government to fulfil its promises in creating better welfare for hijras. The matter is still pending.
For further information contact:
Dr. Nazmul Ahsan Ph.D, Chairperson, LOSAUK
Khulna, Bangladesh. Cell: +8801711345386
Text and pictures by LOSAUK.
The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy of KIOS.
This article is part of celebrating KIOS 20 years and sharing voices from our partners in the Global South.