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In Session: Considering Gender in South Asia
1: A Deceptive Case of Hijras in India : hijra representation in the Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Roy
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom
Representation of hijras and their social marginalization in postcolonial India is linked with colonial history and has remained in dialogue with the state since then. However, they have come to occupy a deeply active place in the Indian political space, since early this century, with the rise in international funding, growing activism and revisions in government policies. Supreme Court’s decision in 2014 followed by the parliamentary bills is representative of the political spur regarding the ‘third gender’ in India. These uprisings have marked a progressive shift in the ways hijras are represented in literature. Arundhati Roy's novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, is the most recent literary example representing hijras. It not only gives voice to hijra characters, but also responds sharply to the contemporary Indian politics surrounding non-binary people. However, the novel seems to succumb to the dominant ideology at various places. For instance, hijras literally exist on a graveyard in the plot. How positive then are these representations? Do they too fall in the trap of ‘illusion’ by representing hijras as central figures and yet never challenging the system? Indeed, queer representation is inseparable from the rise of neoliberal agendas in the Indian subcontinent. This paper, hence, while looking at The Ministry, critically engages with the recent parliamentary bills which seem to bring hijras and other non-binary groups back into the mainstream of the society, while their agenda remains to ‘rehabilitate’ them according to dominant social or gender norms.