Kerala will hold an exclusive day-long transgender athletic meet, a first in the country, at the central stadium in the state capital on April 28.
The event reflects the state’s policy to stop the social stigma and ostracism that the “hijra” – the word covering most Indian languages to refer to eunuchs and transsexuals – has been facing since British colonial times.
At least 100 athletes, representing the southern state’s 14 districts, are expected to participate. The majority of participants will be hijras, who identify neither as male or female, but as members of a third gender – a group comprising transvestites, transsexuals, and castrated men.
“We are excited. The event is expected to reveal fresh talents. Talent is generally suppressed in the community and this is an opportunity to showcase it,” said transgender athlete Sreekutty, who had competed and won in the boys section of a district-level meet.
Hijras have been around in India since ancient times, often assigned the most sensitive task of guarding royal women. But their social marginalization happened during the British rule when they were labelled a “criminal tribe”.
Over time, hijra became an insulting word and members of the community were forced to eke out meagre incomes from ceremonies, begging and sex work, and became the target of vicious attacks.
Kerala took the initiative in 2015 to formulate a transgender policy, aimed at ending the discriminatory treatment and bringing the hijras to the mainstream.
The state set up a transgender justice board to deal with their complaints, and a separate column, called intersex, was introduced in the birth and death registration form. Also, it was made mandatory for all government buildings to have separate washrooms for the third sex.
The efforts have paid off to some extent as S Shyama, a transgender woman, enrolled for her PhD last week after completing her postgraduate course.
Still, members of the community feel society has yet to open up.
The athletic meet, organized by the state sports and youth affairs department, is a step to complement the reforms initiated to give respectability to hijras.
The state sports council and organizations have pledged support to the event.
“Such sporting events will bring some semblance of acceptability,” another athlete said.
Athletes will compete in six categories – 100, 200 and 400m sprints and 4x100m relay, shot put and long jump. Each athlete can participate in at least three events.
“We are planning to make it a big event. We have included many from the third sex in the organizing committee to make it a successful event. Many athletes have started training in district sports councils,” said Sanjay Kumar, the director of sports and youth affairs.