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An Inexplicable Cord

By 31st March 2021June 1st, 2021No Comments

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Anita Khemka discusses her work with the hijra community in India, her friend Laxmi, and her artistic process.

Hijras have often been a source of curiosity and fascination. While generally born male, they are officially recognised as a third gender in India, being considered neither male nor female. Some members of the community undergo the ritualistic castration ceremony known as nirvana which is considered a rebirth. A hijra’s presence and role in society has been documented in religious and mythological texts. One of the prevailing myths is that their blessings as well as their curses can come to fruition. One can find them dancing at weddings and at the birth of a baby in return for money and gifts.

Sadly, this community of people face oppression, ridicule and persecution daily. Despite the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights Act 2019), many hijras live on the fringes of society and take to begging or sex work to support themselves. In the face of this oppression, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi (known as Laxmi) has embraced her hijra identity and become an activist campaigning for the equality and welfare of transgender individuals.

Contemporary Heroine Anita Khemka has spent two and a half decades photographing members of the hijra community, including Laxmi, with whom she has developed a strong bond. On the occasion of International Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31), she discusses her experience of working with the hijras and her friend, Laxmi.

Between The Lines: India’s Third Gender (dir.Thomas Wartmann, 2005) offers an incisive look into the hijra community of Mumbai, India, exploring their friendships, hardships, and sources of income. Joining the project to help Wartmann understand the community, Anita eventually appeared in the film herself as an on-screen documentarian. The film led to an ongoing personal and professional relationship between Anita and the transgender/hijra rights activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, whom she continues to photograph. The documentary can be accessed via communication with Thomas Wartmann.

Munna, Old Delhi 1996 © Anita Khemka / PHOTOINK

I start to feel like one of them and they can see that this change is not a flattery or fakery, but a genuine celebration and embracing of the hijra culture and the community.

Laxmi with her chelas Shaheen, Muskan and Raksha, Mumbai 2003 © Anita Khemka / PHOTOINK

At the Dargah Sharif, Ajmer 2010 © Anita Khemka / PHOTOINK

Interacting with a crowd that has gathered to seek her blessings at the Kumbh, Allahabad 2019 © Anita Khemka / PHOTOINK

all images ©️ Anita Khemka / PHOTOINK