Hijra is a culture-specific identity found in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. It is often cited as a separate identity from man and woman, and also separate from the concept of transgender.[1] In most cases, Hijras are individuals who were assigned male at birth and have a feminine presentation,[2][3] but may also include individuals who are intersex.[1] Hijras may or may not undergo surgery to transition.[3][4] Some Hijras may prefer to use the term khwaja sira, common in Pakistan.[5][6]

During British rule of India, Hijras were criminalized and discriminated against as part of the Criminal Tribes act of 1871. They were decriminalized in 1952, but stigmatization against Hijras continued for some time afterwards.[2] In 2014, Hijras gained official government recognition as a separate gender in India.[1][4][7]

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Religion and beliefs[]

Most Hijras are assigned male at birth or intersex and participate in a ceremony to remove their genitalia in worship of the Hindu goddess "Bahuchara Mata".[3] Many Hijras are expected to perform songs, dances and blessings at both Hindu weddings and births. To many Hindus, a Hijra's blessings to a baby will transfer fertility, prosperity, and long life on the child. Hijras are granted immense religious power, seeing as they have donated a part of themselves to one of the holy Hindu goddesses. With that power, it is believed that a Hijra can also curse a family if they refuse to offer payment for the blessings or are disrespectful.[1][3][4]

There is evidence that Muslim hijras also incorporate aspects of Hinduism. Despite this, the hijra do not practice Islam differently from other Muslims. For example, in Hyderabad, India, a group of hijras who converted were circumcised, seen as the marker of male Muslim identity.[8]

General history[]

Historically and culturally, Hijras are based in Hinduism, and they perform solely for Hindus; however, not all Hijras will follow orthodox Hinduism, and may instead be of Muslim or Christian faith. Some Hijras follow the beliefs and principles of both Hinduism and Islam and may base their community around the Hindu goddess Bahuchara Mata while also taking an Arab or Islamic name and observing Islamic traditions such as Al-Hijra, or Ramadan.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "The Hijra Community and Decolonizing Gender" on <>. Published 2021-06-24 by Asian Indian Family Wellness SEWA-AIFW. (Archived on 2022-02-02)
  2. 2.0 2.1 "A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures" on <>. Published 2015-08-11 by PBS. (Archived on 2022-04-24)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 "The Third Gender and Hijras" by Rhude, Kristofer on <>. Published 2018. (Archived on 2022-03-26)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "A Journey Of Pain And Beauty: On Becoming Transgender In India" by McCarthy, Julie on <>. Published 2014-04-18 by NPR. (Archived on 2021-10-02)
  5. "Exploring the History of Gender Expression" by Urquhart, Lanna on <>. Published 2019. (no backup information provided)
  6. "Meet the Khwaja Sira: Pakistan's Transgender Community" by Hafeez, Somaiyah on <>. Published 2022. (no backup information provided)
  7. "India’s hijras find themselves further marginalized amid the pandemic" by Phillip Baumgart and Shariq Farooqi on <>. Published 2020-07-17 by Atlantic Council. (Archived on 2022-05-05)
  8. Reddy, Gayatri (2008). "Hijras, 'AIDS Cosmopolitanism' and the Politics of Care in Hyderabad". doi:10.1037/e618052011-025.