Transindia – A Documentary by Meera Darji

transindia

From the USA Today newspaper:

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday issued two directives moving the Pentagon closer to allowing transgender men and women to serve openly in the military.

First, Carter ordered the creation of a Pentagon working group “to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly,” Carter said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

Earlier this year, it was announced that TV and Film actor Taye Diggs, who can currently be seen playing a San Francisco PD Homicide detective in the TNT television series Murder in the First, has agreed to perform in the live theatrical production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. This production won the 2014 Tony for Best Musical Revival. Mr. Diggs will take over the role of Hedwig on July 22nd at the Belasco Theater on West 44th Street – the epicenter of New York’s theatrical zone known as Broadway.

Then there’s the near constant coverage of Caitlyn Jenner in the supermarket tabloids and the gossip press and media.

We are all aware of the success of the TV series Orange is the New Black, as well as the award-winning TV series Transparent.

All of the above are references to transgenders in the news and in the media, as well as in the arts. But what about the transgenders who you don’t read about. The ones that are living their lives not only here in the States, or in the European Union, but in other places in the world.

UK filmmaker Meera Darji has recently completed her Documentary Short called Transindia. It is a moving documentary that explores the Transgender community (Hijras) in Ahmedabad, India. The Hijras, long ago, in the days of the Mughal Empire, were accepted in society, where they earned a good sense of respect.

The days of the Mughal Empire were followed by the era of the British Raj, when Britain had colonized India. During this period, in 1871, a law was passed. Section 26 of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 – basically classified all Hijras as criminals. The nuts and bolts of the act basically allowed that any Hijra, appearing in public places or streets, either dressed or ornamented as a woman, who plays music, dances, or performs any public exhibition, could be arrested without warrant, and would face either 2 years of imprisonment, or fines, or both.

This law remained on the books until 1952 when the Indian government repealed the 1871 Act. That law was replaced by Habitual Offender Act, which can be described as something similar to the Sex Offenders Registry that exists in the US.

It was not until 2013, when the Indian Supreme Court, finally recognized the Hijras as the Official Third Gender. However, under the long years of regulatory practices, and negligence in society, the Hijras have become ostracized and intuitionally disenfranchised.

Meera Darji, from Leicester in the UK, packed her cameras and film gear and set off for India earlier this year. Including Meera, their crew numbered six. They set out to discover and record the lives within Ahmedabad’s Hijra community.

Transindia Trailer_20150714191710_1

The film was recently shown at the Coventry University Degree Show, and per agreements with some film festivals, the film has not been made available to the public just yet. Meera has sent me a link in order to review the film. So let’s have a look at it.

These Hijras, dressing as a woman might, are neither men nor women. All were born as males, and later as adults, they would undergo a castration ceremony. For them there is no halfway point. They are not cross dressers, nor are they part-time hijras.

Meera’s film is all live action and there are no scripts or actors. This is reality in the truest sense. Meera has an interviewer who basically is off-screen and the questions have been edited out. What we get are the answers brimming with honest and raw emotions.

Besides the Hijras themselves, there are interviews with the mothers of two. While these women, the mothers, can walk freely in society, hold jobs, or go to a restaurant if they choose to, many have been estranged from their families.

But they have steely resolve – I don’t care what my family thinks; as long as my child is happy is all that matters…says one of the mothers.

The Hijras themselves do not have the same choices. They say, in the same way that you have rights, we too want these rights.

But they are shunned, cannot get jobs, cannot go into any restaurant they want as they are turned away. They support themselves as they live on the fringes of society, chiefly by begging. Meera’s documentary chooses to discuss their difficulties rather than show them. Meaning she has chosen to highlight the better moments of these hijras lives. We see their joyful dancing and chanting within their community. But the difficulties are not overlooked.

We hear of their childhoods and the difficulties they experienced daily – from the bullying and the teasing they receive as school children, to the near constant harangue – you were born as a boy, why not act like a boy, and dress like a boy. Then there’s the snide remarks they hear as adults as they simply walk through the city. They receive taunts calling them gay or lady. But for them, the choice they made, that is, the path they had chosen, is simply irreversible. The choice they made was to do what they wanted which also meant they would not experience marriage and the joys of being a parent.

First let’s hear from Vanita, once called Vasik. She is the one in blue and white in the image at the top.

I’ve always loved dancing, wearing sarees and dresses. Everyone would say – Why are you doing all of this as a boy? Since I was young, I always liked to hang out with girls, talk with girls, sit with girls in class

The other Hijra is called Sania (above right with the white and black scarf), would say – Just like you, we were born to our parents. We did not fall from the sky

We lived in a village. I went to an all-boys school. My mother got an infection and lost her leg, so she couldn’t work. So I had to start work. I’ve worked in tea stalls, food stalls, hotels, and company offices. I’ve also used my body… for sex work. I needed the money and we were struggling to keep the house running.

But for Sania, it started far earlier.

When I was around 10, I started to notice hormonal changes – in one way I looked like a man, but inside, my thoughts and feelings were all of a woman, and I wanted to live my life as a woman. But I was scared of society.

And having left the so-called society to join a Hijra community, it wasn’t always easy. Sania talked of the challenge of her mother’s disagreement with the choice made. And the result was that Sania, her present name, was told to leave home, and there was no contact with her mother for three years.Taking up residence as a disciple, the Hijra communal life was not always easy. The Guru would beat them and harass them.

I didn’t like this life. Neither male nor female, where can I go?

Director Meera Darji has chosen to completely avoid any of the sexual natures of the Hijras. She has also chosen to avoid any editorialized personal commentary. While nothing has been white washed or sanitized, the film maker remains neutral. The life of the Hijras is neither glorified nor made to be more, or less than it is.  We are not being lectured or told to offer acceptance to the subjects. Meera presents her subjects and stands clear. Any conclusions that you may or may not reach are based on what you take from this film.

Transindia Trailer_20150714191729_3

This documentary clocks in at just 30 minutes. The film is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The subjects are in one sense strange and exotic, yet they are people just like the rest of us. They take pride in their homes, and in their appearance. The film maker and her crew are graciously welcomed. Meera has used many transitional images (Ahmedabad city scenes and the nearby locales), which are in their way beautiful – but keep in mind, we are not visiting India’s major tourist attractions. These neighborhoods are old and run-down.

But for Meera Darji and her crew, as well as we viewers, the Hijras offer many smiles, as well as some tears, as they tell their stories. All told, this is an excellent piece of film making. I’ve suggested to Meera that she submit this film for the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival.

For more information, photos and to have a look at the trailer, please visit Meera’s website for the film;

http://www.transindiafilm.co.uk/

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