Harkening the loud claps : the representations of Hijras in Bollywood, Indian Anglophone literature and life writings from 1990 to 2020

  • Rukhsar Hussain

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Since the 1990s, there has been a noteworthy shift in the way hijras are perceived and represented in India. They have become hyper-visible in Indian literature, cinema, media and other digital spaces, and have been unanimously categorized as the quintessential third gender and also as transgender. The reasons for this increased presence in hijra representations are many, including globalisation and international funding for NGOs. Interestingly, the 1990s has also marked a time of deep political unrest in Indian political and social life. 1990s saw the rise of right-wing conservative politics, which was based on an exclusionary model of Hindu nationalism, as Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the second largest political party in India. BJP won the national election in 2014 and continues to remain in power since then, under the governance of the current Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi. The last two decades have also seen a rise in populism in India which has made lives of marginalised communities at a further risk. Within these political tensions, hijra representations, as well as their legal rights, have increased. In this thesis, I aim to look at these contradictions by studying creative representations of hijras. I argue that creative representations offer an expansive space to understand hijra existence in India post 1990s. Based on my analysis of hijra representations in three mediums – Bollywood cinema, anglophone literary fiction and hijra life writings – I manifest the ways in which Hindutva ideologies have been deployed alongside hijra presence in these cultural forms. Hindutva ideologies label certain hijra subjects as legitimate while others are “relegated as dangerous and excluded from the gates of the Indian nation-state” (Dasgupta and DasGupta 2018, 3). Those who are deemed as ‘dangerous’ are the ones who cannot tap into the narratives of a progressive India. These mainly include hijras who are uneducated and belong to ‘othered’ castes and religions or/and are from rural areas. As these exclusionary narratives are represented or reflected in the highly creative and imaginative modes, a better understanding of hijra experience in contemporary India emerge. Furthermore, the selected mediums, though highly different from each other in terms of their production, purpose, audiences and circulation, are embedded in discussions of gender, sexuality, religion, caste and nationalism. Therefore, these representations provide an understanding of hijras through intersectional experiences which offer a critique of Hindutva ideologies. I situate this thesis in conversation with area-specific queer theorists and contribute to the broad genre of queer of colour critique. By looking at hijra representation in differentgenres and in their intersection with caste, class, religion and nationalism, I move away from studying hijras as an isolated community (like most previous studies have done) to understanding them as a community rooted in region-specific cultural discourses. Hence, my thesis will open new ways of conceiving hijra subjectivities and provide a better understanding of hijra existence in the contemporary India under a conservative cis heteropatriarchal regime. My thesis will also be the first major book-length comparative study of hijra representations in fiction, film, and autobiography
Date of Award20 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorChurnjeet Mahn (Supervisor) & Yvette Taylor (Supervisor)

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