Shushila, the Hijra


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This is a portrait of Shushila which I took a few days ago inside her guru’s house in a little city located nearby Varanasi (Benaras) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Shushila is 35 years old, she was born in an Hindu family of the same town, she studied at school untill the age of 16 and she joined an hijra community when she was 17.
She didn’t become hijra (Hindi: हिजड़ा, Urdu: حجڑا), nor she was forced to be so, she was born like that as an hermaphrodite and therefore she is considered as a member of “the third gender”, neither man nor woman.
Like most of the hijras, she refers to herself linguistically as female, and wears women garments.

Becoming an hijra is a process of socialization into a “hijra family” through a relationship characterised as chela “student” to guru “teacher”, leading to a gradual assumption of femininity.
Typically each guru lives with at least five chelas; her chelas assume her surname and are considered part of her lineage.
Shushila’s guru is Sunita, a Muslim hijra, who has been teaching her to perform religious ceremonies at weddings and at the birth of babies, involving music, singing, and dancing.
Hijras are intended to bring good luck and fertility and they are most often uninvited to Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Jain family’s and even to Christian’s for Christmas.
Hijras are said to be able to do this because, since they do not engage in sexual activities, they accumulate their sexual energy which they can use to either bestow a boon or a bane.
It is said that hijras’ curse brings bad luck or infertility.

One day Shushila will become the guru of her community after Sunita’s death.
Sunita decided that it ill be like that and Shushila will follow exactly what her guru said, she will carry the same teaching with younger hijras.
It is nice to see that in this community Muslims and Hindus are living together and respecting their beliefs, their religion.

As I was asking, she told me that she was happy with her life, she said that in her society she wouldn’t have been able to do anything else so she was enjoying her life as an hijra.

I took many pictures of her, I said that I wanted natural poses, I was trying to show her soul like I did with her guru’s portraits.
With Sunita we tried to make her laugh as she wasn’t used at all to be in front of a camera and finaly I like this one which is far away to what I wanted.
After showing her she said she was happy of the result.

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