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IT was a hot summer afternoon in the south Indian city of Secunderabad , where I did my fieldwork among hijras, better known as India’s “third sex” (Nanda, 1999) or “eunuch-transvestites” (Vyas and Shingala, 1987). I was sitting near the railway station with Sujata, one of my hijra friends and talking about her future as well as the future of hijras more generally, when she said proudly, “Within this kaliyug [current cosmic period], hijras will become kings and rule the world. That is what [the Hindu god] Rama decreed thousands of years ago when he blessed us.” “When is that time going to come?” I asked. “That time will come very soon. You see, that time will come very soon,” Sujata replied. Perhaps “that time” in Sujata’s reckoning is now. Although hijras have not become kings, they are rapidly gaining visibility in SOCIAL RESEARCH, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Spring 2003) “Men” Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation, and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics* GAYATRI REDDY *Research for parts of this paper were made possible by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Association for Women in Science. Earlier versions of the article were presented at the University of Illinois, Chicago; University of Iowa; American Anthropological Association meetings in Washington, D.C.; and the Society for the Anthropology of Religion meetings in Cleveland, Ohio. Comments and questions from those audiences were helpful in developing the article. Comments are also gratefully acknowledged from Sita Reddy, Bruce Knauft, Vijayendra Rao, and Serena Nanda, as well as from the journal editors and reviewers of this article at Social Research. the South Asian political sphere. For the first time in Indian politics , hijras are standing for and winning election to local, state, and even national office, and are being actively courted by mainstream political parties for these positions. And they are entering the public imagination as hijras, explicitly highlighting their identity as gender-neutral, asexual figures. As one of their campaign slogans reiterated, “You don’t need genitals for politics; you need brains and integrity” (Karp, 1998). Apparently, as the newspapers declared, hijras are “the new emerging force in Indian politics” (Hindustan Times, 2000), heralding the “reign of the middle order” (Outlook, 2000) or, as my hijra friend Sujata noted, a new, divinely ordained era of the Hijra Rajya (kingdom). How is this recent event of significance in analyzing marginalized minorities? The answer, as anyone familiar with these metonymic figures of Indian “sexual difference” would assert, is that hijras have long been social pariahs in India, stigmatized explicitly on the basis of their apparently transgressive gender identification and their location beyond the domain of procreative sexuality.1 Their recent election to office is significant because it heralds a “new chapter of enfranchisement in the history of India’s eunuchs,” as one news columnist noted (Jacinto, 2000). In this article, I explore hijras’ emerging position as the “third wave” (Mishra, 2000)—their path from pariah to model minority as it were—in the Indian political landscape, and the potential for their electoral participation and subsequent victory to reformulate not only their place in society but also prevailing constructions of citizenship, sexuality, and politics in India. While I am clearly not disputing the emancipatory potential of hijras’ political gains in recent elections, I am questioning the automatically presumed relationship between hijra marginalization and their social emancipation by virtue of electoral participation . To gain political status, hijras explicitly highlight their social marginality on the basis of sexuality, religion, and kinship. But as I argue in this paper, it is these very mobilizations of marginality that, far from remaking normative institutions, reinscribe 164 SOCIAL RESEARCH their hegemonic importance, thereby undercutting hijras’ emancipatory and subversive potential and allowing for their incorporation within existing frameworks of political and moral authority. In other words, this paper is a cautionary note, arguing that hijras apparent increase in political visibility and social status could be illusory and could ultimately serve to remarginalize them within the new social order. In the end, if, as their campaign slogan contends , “you don’t need genitals for politics,” neither it would seem, does the permissible lack of genitals herald a radically...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 163-200
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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