Tuesday, July 20, 2004

I was showered with abuses


It was Wednesday, July 14. The nightmare began around 10:30 in the morning when a group of nine eunuchs descended on our second-floor flat in Jodhpur Park ostensibly to “bless” my brother’s two-month-old son.

True, we had anticipated a visit from them (as happens all the time) since Pokey, my nephew, was born. But now I know, to my cost, what such visits mean for a family, who often suffer mutely at the hands of these extortionists.

Aware that they could get nasty at times, I was on my toes from the moment they perched themselves outside our flat, with the locked collapsible gate standing between them and us. I wanted to deal with them from the start, but my mother would not let me, knowing full well that I have a short temper.

In the beginning, they seemed perfectly okay, blessing my sister-in-law who approached them with my mother. The mask soon dropped when they demanded Rs 11,000 from my mother. It is common knowledge that eunuchs come calling when a child is born in a family. They go away when you hand them some cash. But Rs 11, 000! We would have to pay the money, they yelled. “Most couples now have only one child, so we won’t be able to visit you again, as we did in the past,” they told us.

They even promised to give a receipt for the amount, so other groups of eunuchs wouldn’t bother us. As my mother and sister-in-law bargained, they reduced it to Rs 10,000. I had heard that some families living in Jodhpur Park had forked out Rs 13,000 to 18,000 to eunuchs. I always wondered why they paid up. I soon found out. I decided to step in as my mother and sister-in-law were soft targets. Standing behind the safety of the locked gate, I started haggling, bringing the amount down to Rs 6,000. They agreed, seemingly without rancour.

Then, our cook made possibly the biggest blunder of her life. Before my mother could intervene, she unlocked the gate to hand over some rice and flour they had asked for along with the money. Soon, all hell broke loose. Stepping into our apartment, the eunuchs (some of them carrying Nokia phones) started swearing at me. Some even threatened to “rape” me.

Before I could protest, the biggest of them, who appeared to be the leader, seized me by the collar and molested me. I felt pure hatred and revulsion. As if this was not enough, they lifted their saris and danced suggestively, clapping wildly.

It went on for what seemed like eternity. My father and brother were out at the time. They hurled the choicest swear words at us. Though the commotion was audible enough, none of our neighbours came to our rescue. When I tried to call the police, they snatched the phone from me. Some of them even tried to enter our bedrooms. I screamed. My mother, a diabetic, was panicking by now. So was my sister-in-law. There was a moment when we even feared for our lives. We had no option but to pay. They were paid Rs 10,000 in cash. No sooner had they stepped out than I realised that they had not given us the receipt they promised.

I opened the gate and called after them, demanding the receipt. The leader — that hefty, menacing eunuch — stopped. He held up that paper, tore it and ate up the bits. “You have been very troublesome. So we will not give it to you. Now you have to pay other groups of hijras as well,” he told us, smirking. Something snapped inside me. I could not control myself any more. I rushed towards the leader. Holding the eunuch by the edge of the sari, I looked the leader in the eye and clamoured for the receipt. I was showered with abuses. But finally, he wrote the amount, signed the paper and handed it over. It’s hard to describe how violated I felt at that moment. It was like getting raped and paying for it.

I was agitated when I arrived at work late that day. On the way, I thought about the efforts being made by NGOs to protect the rights of the eunuchs in India. But what about my rights, I thought indignantly. I wondered what legal course I had to bring these extortionists to justice.

When I narrated the incident to my colleagues, most were incredulous. Some were supportive, some derisive. “You should not have paid and should not have opened the locked gate,” they said. Some said the eunuchs should not be allowed to get away with it, as it would only embolden them. Some suggested that I go to the police.

Having the eunuchs blessing the newborns is an age-old superstition in our society. But I don’t see why we let them arm-twist us this way. Isn’t it for us to decide whether or not to pay? After the incident, my brother, a lawyer, lodged an FIR with the police. But an official at the Lake Police station told him he himself had paid Rs 5,000 to the eunuchs when his child was born to avoid trouble. The police admitted they are helpless. Who do we turn to, then?

As I relive the horror every night, I sometimes remember Mahesh Bhatt’s film Tamanna in which Tiku Hijra, the real-life eunuch saved the life of an abandoned girl child. Sadly, the heroic deeds of the Tiku Hijras get overshadowed by the misdeeds of an Asshi Hijra or a Chana Hijra who raided my home last week.


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