An oasis of peace for the 'third gender'

After several decades of struggle for equal rights and recognition, the transgender community in India has got the Supreme Court’s backing with a favourable judgement.

The apex court has ruled that transgenders, now, will be identified as the ‘third gender’ and accorded benefits given to Other Backward Classes (OBC). 

But just take a stroll through the pages of Delhi’s history and you will realise that even as long back as the 15th century (much before even the Mughals arrived), transgenders or hijras had rights and opportunities equal to anyone else. 

Some rose to positions of commanders and generals and even directed the course of history.

Residents of Mehrauli, south of Delhi, are well familiar with ‘Hijron ka khanqah’ – the pristine white mausoleum of powerful hijras from the Lodi dynasty (15th C). 

Though very scant information is available on the identity of those laid to rest here, the fact that they had a mausoleum of their own tells us of their import and status in the echelons of the Lodi Empire. 

History tells us that eunuchs were often employed in the harems, in the service of the queens and princesses, of Islamic dynasties. 

They were the protectors of these women, fulfilling an essential role of guarding them where men were considered too dangerous to deploy. 
 
At the same time, some accounts say, that when enemies invaded, these ‘protectors’ bore the responsibility of killing the women, so as to rescue the honour of the empire under threat.

Many eunuchs earned a name through responsibilities not in the harems but in the actual army. 
 
The best example being Malik Kafur, the famous transgender general of Alauddin Khilji (late 13th century). Kafur was originally seized by Alauddin’s army after the army conquered the city of Khambhat, Gujarat. Kafur rose quickly in the army. 

In 1305 Kafur defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Amroha and led two campaigns 
in south India between 1309 and 1311 - the first against Warangal and the second against Dwar Samudra, Mabar and Madurai. 

The booty from his Warangal conquest included the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond.

Elsewhere in India, there is a ‘Hijron ka masjid’ in Agra built by Akbar in honour of a eunuch saint Yatim Shah. 

Yatim Shah is said to have brought rain in the time of drought through his prayers alone and performed several such acts of miracle for which he is revered to date by the locals, especially eunuchs. 

Back in Delhi, at ‘Hijron ka khanqah’ in Mehrauli, you will find eunuchs from across the country visiting the mausoleum. 

They come here, pray to the souls of their ancestors, seek blessings, and treat it, rightly, as an oasis of spiritual bliss in the middle of the maddening city called Delhi. 

It is open to all of course. The clean, whitewashed tombs and the green serenity surrounding them are a source of calm, not just to pilgrim eunuchs but all.

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