NUISANCE employed by third-gender people, traditionally called hijras, or intersex people, as a means to extort money from people on the road, from households and from shops in markets and vendors in market places is no rare a scene to come by. Members of the community approach people in public places, clapping hands in an aggressive attitude, and seek money. Refused, they often hurl abusive words and use the threat of curses to extort money. They storm into households, having newborns and holding weddings, and demand a high amount of money. They collect extortion money from shops to make their living. While all this annoys people, there are more to it which people traditionally overlook. New Age in a report on Thursday quoted a member of the community saying that as they have no other way to earn their living, they continue to do so. The Planning Division’s Social Science Research Council says that 90 per cent of the members of this community are involved in collecting money from people while many of them are in prostitution.
But what the community members, recognised by the government as the ‘third gender’ in 2013, do do that as they are still denied their basic rights. An official count shows that there are about 11,000 members of this community across the country. Traditionally, they were employed in the courts of rulers, both Hindu and Muslim, and they have always been on the social landscape seen as agents of fertility. They attended births and weddings and blessed the occasions in exchange for money. The British colonial government in 1871 made a law criminalising the entire section of the community and they could be arrested on the spot. The effect of the law and the associated discrimination spawned so much so that in the post-colonial era, they were locked out of most professions, which forced them to go begging and extorting money, often with intimidation and threats. The government recognised them as ‘third gender’ on November 11, 2013 and the Election Commission in its voter roll update that began in July 2018 created a third option for the gender. The social welfare ministry is reported to have been providing the members of the third-gender community with employment training and, on completion of the training, Tk 10,000 in financial support for their rehabilitation. But the situation on the ground suggests that the measures may not have helped the community much, probably because of awareness creation, in which the government has failed, and the indolence of the people and agencies responsible for the implementation of the scheme.
The government, under the circumstances, must put in efforts so that members of the third-gender community could lead a normal life. While the government must ensure their basic rights and provide them with means so that they could earn their living from various trades, it must create awareness of them in society.
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