Interview with Hijra film makers.

By Darren Marples.

Edited by Tom Wiese.

I managed to catch up with a film maker who is in the process of setting up a documentary about the Hijra folk in India.

Hijra-Trans sex workers getting ready for work

Could you please introduce yourself:

I’m Ila Mehrotra Jenkins, I’m the director of the documentary HIJRA. I grew up in Delhi and I’ve been based in Britain for the last decade. During this time I’ve been working in British television, specifically in documentaries and current affairs with the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV. HIJRA is my first feature documentary.

Most people will not know who hijra people are who read our article, due to culture differences. How do the hijra differ from Western Transgender? Could you please explain?

Hijras are the oldest ethnic transgender community in the world. Hijras are known as the ‘holy hermaphrodites’ from ancient Hindu scriptures. The scriptures say the hijras have the power to bless and curse, and even today that belief is very prevalent.
Tradition holds that a hijra must leave their biological family and society to live within a hijra family and earn a living through their blessings. Through the centuries, the hijra community has grown to absorb very large numbers of trans and non-binary people, particularly from the lower sections of Indian society. Paradoxically, while hijras are considered ‘holy’ in society, it is a matter of grave shame to manhood to have a hijra within one’s family. Unfortunately, young trans-hijras are often excluded from their biological families to live amongst hijras. They continue to bless in exchange for money in India today, but a very large number of hijras are forced to beg and do sex work to survive, excluded from education and mainstream society. As in many parts of the world, hijra people in India face extreme violence, marginalisation and abuse; but unlike in many countries, while facing extreme ostracisation, transgender people can find a precarious acceptance in society as “sacred” figures.

What are the rights both legally and socially of the hijra community in India?

In 2014, the Supreme Court of India recognised transgender people as a Third Gender and a socially and economically backward class entitled to reservations in education and jobs, and also directed union and state governments to frame welfare schemes for them.
This tabled bill was then passed in 2018 in a much watered down and heavily amended version that provides the equal recognition and protection only in theory.
Although homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 2018, in reality, hijras continue to face massive discrimination, marginalisation, violence and abuse, as societal prejudice is very widespread.

Hijra- Trans activist – warrior, Rudrani

How important is the making of this film for yourselves and society understanding and what do you wish to achieve in the making?

We hope to share the stories of hijras. One such astonishing activist for the hijra community is Rudrani Chettri. Part of this film includes her and the hijras she helps, and through this film we hope the world will hear the voices of the trans-hijra community. Further, we hope for the film to raise support of Rudrani’s work and help with increasing acceptance for trans-hijra identities, in the way they wish to be defined.

What can other cultures learn from the hijra?

The hijra trans community inspires others to have the courage to live beyond restrictive gender norms. While they have faced severe discrimination hijras have also thrived as a welcoming community to those who choose to live a transgender identity.

Hijra blessing at a temple.

How can others support you?

We are currently asking for financial support through our crowdfunding campaign:

These funds would allow us to continue making the documentary, and will help get us into production for two crucial shoots. We’d ask you to please support us and share the project widely and support Rudrani’s work for acceptance, love and respect for the trans hijras in all their human complexity.
This film will spread the word about the struggle these incredible people face, encouraging international solidarity by documenting the hope and force of will they display, and reaching out to the wider community on their behalf.

6th September: A Very Unknown Mysterious Story

6th September: A Very Unknown Mysterious Story is the debut short story by Bangladesh based writer Salman Aziz, who goes by the name AKA$H. The short story is a prequel to a yet to be published novel that simply wets the appetite for future servings of Aziz creative streak.

Above: Salman Aziz

The story is based on real life events in Bangladesh surrounding the tragic suicide of a teenage boy. Aabrar Rahman: Aabrar tragically took his own life with an overdose of sleeping pills, which on the surface appeared to be a desperate attempt to ease his pain and depression. The wider reason for his suicide remains unknown because his personal diary was lost by the irresponsibility of the investigating police, leaving a dark web of unanswered questions.

The story details how Aabrar killed himself and how things went badly wrong as the truth is realised by his own family that he leaves behind. Disturbingly, some people took advantage of his death and so many interesting things slowly begin to unravel.

Although the story is based on true life events the characters are totally fictional and yet Salman Aziz has created a fantastic dark thriller that will keep you hoping for more from a talented mind.

 

 

Soon to come: full interview with Salman Aziz

Buy your copy:

6th September: A Very Unknown Mysterious Story is published by Smashwords Publishing.

The book is available on all online retailers and online book shops. Price $0.99 (e-book only)

 

Learn more:

To find out more about Salman Aziz and 6th September: A Very Unknown Mysterious Story, please visithttps://www.smashwords.com/books/view/737406 to read his Author Biography.

 

To follow the author:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/OfficialMrAkash

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/OfficialMrAkash/

Instagram-https://www.instagram.com/OfficialMrAkash/

IMDb-http://www.imdb.com/name/nm8857432/

Blog- https://officialmrakash.blogspot.com/

Google+-https://plus.google.com/+AKASHOfficial

Nigeria human rights, reflective poetry & the thoughts of a Nigerian gay male. 

By @Akpa_Arinze

In 2009, a Ugandan MP, David Bahati, drafted a bill named Kill the Gays. In late 2013, this was called the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014, and was passed as law in parliament. This Act changed the previously held “imprisonment” sentence, to the death penalty. In 2014, the Nigerian government also criminalised homosexuality, and many other African nations took it upon themselves to follow in the footsteps of these two countries.

I was in the undergrad school for my BA and was also facing labelling. Some of my mates (male colleagues) took it as fun to say “He behaves like a woman – he is gay”.

Because of the tension in the country during this period, there was no gay person I knew that was ever “so gay” (going with people’s views on who is gay, and who is not). Every one of them went into hiding. Many took to fake lifestyles, pretending to be who they were not. Society became vigilant. Everyone seen acting as the law stipulated was caught and sanctioned. To be gay in Nigeria within this period was to be stoned, ridiculed, brutalised, or beheaded.

During this time, I sought comfort in several works of poetry. I loved the work of Jericho Brown, Francine J. Harris, Kaveh Akbar, June Jordan, Danez Smith, Roxanne Gay and Ocean Vuong. I admired their courage in the documentation of the “goings-on” of the society – the hostile attitudes towards gays and transgender, or any member of the ‘Rainbow Family’.

The want or need to belong drives people to social places. It can also drive gay men to clubs – though some of these clubs are hidden in Nigeria. I witnessed the death of friend when police raided one such club. I then came across this poem by Danez Smith – The 17-Year-Old & The Gay Bar:

this gin-heavy heaven, blessed ground to think gay & mean we.

bless the fake id & the bouncer who knew

this need to be needed, to belong, to know how

a man taste full on vodka & free of sin.

At once, I thought of all the things the gays I know in Nigeria do to stay hidden and be who they are – everything that had backlashed – that had claimed their lives in the process. All of this, because someone somewhere thinks that homosexuality is “sin”, but whose definition are we using? Words given meaning by fellow human? Like the way “heterosexual” formerly meant “perv”?

As a child, I fancied my sisters’ clothes – I’d never wear any clothes but theirs. I’d walk in my mother’s shoes, tied her head scarf, and paraded myself in the village as a grown woman. Other times relatives mistook me as a new person in the family and would ask my mum when she gave birth to another girl. Other times too, I’d be caught and made to remove the attire. It was fun for a child of eight through twelve, but then I was sent to a high school that was bent on instilling morals into young ones by threatening the students with hell.

Bring back to life the son
Who glories in the sin
Of immediacy, calling it love.
God, save the man whose arm
Like an angel’s invisible wing
May fly backward in fury
Whether or not his son stands near.
Help me hold in place my blazing jaw
As I think to say, excuse me.

Jericho Brown’s poem (above), Prayer of the Backhanded, makes me weep every time I read it. It haunts me as I try decoding the meaning of every figure of speech encountered. What prayer is the next gay man facing execution saying? How does God approach it? I know the things that will kill a man like me (either in Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe or any other country of the world criminalising LGBTQIA+) – this thought alone makes me sweat.

I grew up in a religious home, which meant that every one of my footsteps must be ordered in the way of Jesus, as written in the Bible, but not as he might have lived the said life. I have found myself in arguments about whether gays are God’s children or not. I’d shriek and shriek to no end sometimes.

…men when they cannot change anything

Jet themselves indoors and feed on what is left

Of a magic mushroom and watch the world dance

Like a bereaved widow –

Before I had the courage to choose who I was, people already defined it for me – the sexuality question was all over me. I saw myself fighting this often in my teens and finally, in my current 20s. In Nigeria, you are either gay or straight, no one knows of pansexuals, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, asexuals, etc. No one cared, everyone who is conceived of not being straight is bundled and thrown into this “gay” frame, and persecuted as expected. Families disown their children or wards or whatever. Anyone who comes out is reported to the police or sent to be stoned by the mob outside. I used to think I was asexual because I wanted to stay away from all of this. I like my life peaceful. I stayed this way for years before finally admitting that I am pansexual. Which leaves me explaining to people that “I am not so gay, neither am I so straight”. No one listened to that, so, I joined the other young Nigerian creatives to make some people hear it, and keep hearing the story until everything is changed.

Everyone fights for something, but I don’t see myself fighting for anything – I’d lived six years of my life in denial and lying to myself. This, of course, led to excessive drinking and engaging. I had failing health, but I lived an unhealthy lifestyle. I stayed out with friends of all types to keep sane of whatever thing that was happening. This experience is better captured in:

Fellow young angels and I

Hallucinated upon Angel Dust –

We saw the world coming to an end

In 2013 before it ever did –

We all believed in the powers of resurrection –

Two angels leapt off the 3rdMainland Bridge

And now it is my turn to show the city of Lagos

How disco lights flicker

Every one of us – young as we were, had something to hide from, think about, and forget. So, some mornings, it wouldn’t be news whenever I heard any of my friends had died – I always knew the cause of death.

In 2016, I came online for the first time, to show my support to the loved ones of the victims of the Orlando Club shooting. With millions of people, I condemned the act and ever since have been active in the decriminalisation of gay people. We are all humans. Let love lead.

In 2017, a gay poet friend of mine won a Brunel Prize for Poetry, and young Nigerians took to the media to slander this award, and ever since, have targeted the LGBTQIA+ advocates. Another poet was kidnapped, another friend was shot, another in the police custody, another disappeared – me? My phones never stopped beeping with threats, and on three occasions, I was beaten with my devices confiscated and run over a motorcycle. Other times, hungry youths have come asking me for money, or else I’d be reported for supporting gays.

This is the Nigeria I live in. This is not the Nigeria we want, or the future we dreamed. My poems, or that of the poets I mentioned earlier may not do that much, but let them teach, as well as inspire people to embrace love. How much dead do you want to witness before you start accepting what you cannot change?

​​​The Nigerian View on Pride. 

A part of a new series exploring lgbt issues in other countries. 

By @IMarkphilip

For Nigerians (or Africans), it can be difficult to understand the concept of LGBT pride as some western countries see it (for some it is like a religion). The governments here directly push us LGBT+ people down dark alleys and into hiding, and in these countries being gay is seen as a curse.
So then, why be proud?
Regardless of how society sees us it is of great importance that we at a certain point – or month as the case may be – get to celebrate who we are and what we stand for. But in the same way, it is saddening that most Nigerians misunderstand the concept of pride. Even more disappointing is the fact that most Nigerian LGBT+ people suffer from internalized homophobia, and they do not see the importance of understanding the concept of PRIDE.
But should they really be blamed? When they live in a world where it is shameful to be LGBT+. They are in sexual crisis, denial, depression and in a worst case scenario can be suicidal. According to a human right advocate, those in this circumstance are “getting to fight the core tenet of their belief system which entails disregarding almost everything they know and learnt while growing up”.
So what is Pride all about?
To commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, June was established as the official LGBT+ Pride month, but its significance and meaning to the community has since dramatically broadened. One of the most obvious elements of the Pride month include the events that are thrown in major cities all across various countries and continents. Pride events, which for short is called Pride, are the manifestation of our community’s obvious existence.
However, Pride is only visible in countries with LGBT+ (legal) protection, but to residents of Africa (except South Africa), and some parts of Asia and Europe, it is a bedtime story.

LGBT+ Pride is the positive stance against discrimination and violence towards Gay men and women,  Bisexuals, Transgenders, and others under the Rainbow Flag, to promote their self-affirmation, dignity, equal rights, increase their visibility as both a social and cultural group, and celebrate sexual diversity and gender variance.
Pride as opposed to shame and social stigma, is the predominant outlook that bolsters most LGBT+ rights movements throughout the world.
To many Nigerians being different isn’t what they would ideally choose. I suppose it is a human’s first line of defence to try to move with the crowd. Face it, no one wants to purposely be different from the conventional ‘norm’ of society.
My initial concept of Pride was quite traumatic and disheartening. I saw Pride as an avenue to meet people and have a quick corner shag, then party afterwards. More disheartening is the fact that a bunch of ‘misfits’ had to match semi-nude and in speedos, this was my personal perception of Pride. A couple years after my first experience I realised that sex is an expression of sexuality, and a form of empowerment and choice, but I still failed to grasp the full concept of Pride.

Fast forward to the present and my concept of Pride evolved not because I had any formal lectures, but because of my personal research, and Hollywood inclusions. In the spirit of Pride, and due to my initial misconception of Pride 7 Shades of Us had the intention of sharing the views of a couple of my gay and straight friends whose identities would be kept a secret.

These questions were asked to them;
1. What do you understand by LGBT Pride?
2. Would you participate in a Pride Event?
Carter:
Q1 A day or period where people party hard, get laid and do all kinds of crazy stuff.
Q2 NO.
Odin:
Q1 It is one of the essential ways of promoting LGBT+ visibility. Reminds the world that we actually do indeed exist, and we here to stay. It is just like Black history month… A period to reflect on how far we’ve come as a community, and how far we are yet to attain.
Q2 Attending one in Nigeria would not be obtainable with the existing law, but sure, let’s see what the future holds.
Sira:
Q1 The day we celebrate who we are and what we stand for.
Q2 Depends on the country.
Pius:
Q1 People of the gay community publicly telling the world they are queer when it matters.
Q2 No.
Gray:
Q1 Bunch of people celebrating the fact that they are gay, but instead it is just an avenue to hook-up. Its purpose has been watered down to just sex, drugs and parties. I do not feel it is a freedom march any longer, but a sex walk.
Q2 No, but might watch from a distance to checkout hot boys, come on who doesn’t like hot boys!
Dr Psycho:
Q1 Being asexual it would be difficult to explain, but I feel it is a celebration of LGBT+
Community; its past, present and future. It calls for everyone in the world to join hands and celebrate regardless of your sexual orientation or behaviour.
Q2 Yes.
Bobby:
Q1 Pride brings LGBT+ Community together to celebrate their lifestyle, advocate for equal rights, share experiences and network.
Q2 Not in Nigeria.

Kenneth:

Q1 I see gay Pride as an event which celebrates the fact that we can now gather in a public place, celebrate and enjoy everything that makes us who we are, forcing the world around to look at us, to see that we are human too and that we love just as strongly as they do and that we deserve to be acknowledged as who we are without fear of persecution.
Q2 Yes of course.
Pachy:
Q1 I am a heterosexual guy, do pardon if I get it wrong. I perceive the LGBT+ Community as
the most sexually active group so it should be some form of sexual event.
Q2 No, I am straight.
Joshua: (straight)
Q1 Period where the LGBT+ Community publicly celebrate and out themselves.
Q2 The heterosexual individuals do go round parading, I do not see the purpose for such event.
Renegade: (straight)

Q1 No idea.

Q2 It should not exist in the first place.

Chris:

What is Pride?

Q1 Why do we feel the need to flaunt our sexuality? As a proud “bisexual” person, I am still yet to grasp the importance of Pride.

Q2 Definitely. I would attend to support the community, but I do not need anyone’s approval to be happy. Just as much as a couple understood what Pride was all about they still failed to understand that allies (heterosexual men and women) can too participate in a Pride March. The misconception of what Pride means to some can be traced to the fact that they see homosexuality as an escape for sexual escapades, but that is not so. However, these views cannot be used to generalise what Nigerians define as Pride (a proper and more detailed survey is encouraged).

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