Representation of hijras in postcolonial Indian fiction

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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's Roy 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? Are they really progressive or are they merely a reflection of what is happening in the real world? 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. Government policies and laws have become essential to hijra experiences in postcolonial India without which any writing or reading on 'hijras' makes no real sense. Therefore, this paper, 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. Identities which do not disturb the ‘normalised’ narrative of the state are recognized as the ‘third gender’ by the current right-wing government. Their inclusion, far from suggesting acceptance from the state, becomes a macrocosm of how the state actually 'includes' queer subjects within its system only to create an illusion.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2020
Event2nd Doctoral School Multidisciplinary Symposium 2020 - Online via Zoom
Duration: 26 May 202028 May 2020


Conference2nd Doctoral School Multidisciplinary Symposium 2020
Internet address


  • Hijras
  • South-Asian sexualities
  • third gender


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