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Delhi's special people, then and now...

THE MURDER of two eunuchs within a year in Raghubir Nagar has escalated the war among the hijras of Delhi. Zareena was the first to be killed and then her mother, Neelam. Feuds among the eunuchs are nothing new. Earlier it was the hijras of Turkman Gate and Ajmeri Gate who were constantly at strife over turf rights as few of them lived in colonies outside the Walled City then.

Chaman Guru was the most important clan leader who, besides being fabulously rich, was well known for philanthropy and also for enforcing her hold on the territory she had demarcated for herself. The money she had was inherited from her guru and from the affluent people who had befriended her during her youth, when she was regarded as beautiful. That was until Sona and Chandi came on the scene. Whenever the two walked down Matia Mahal street, they attracted the attention not only of the wolf-whistling passers-by but also of the shopkeepers, much to the annoyance of Chaman Guru, who even finds mention in William Dalrymple's "City of Djins".

Those were the days when disputes among the eunuchs were settled by an exchange of abuses and punches, accompanied by brisk clapping. The belief until then was that when hijras died they were buried secretly at midnight and so hardly anybody saw their funeral procession.

It was even rumoured that their bodies were interred in their own houses. Now the saying, "Hijron ka murda aur Kahishton ki barat kissi ne nahin dekhi'' has ceased to hold true because the eunuchs killed in violent incidents in Delhi over the years have been buried in full public view and some Kahishts are not averse to taking out wedding processions in keeping with present trends.

It is interesting to note that eunuchs are graded among their community as to their worth. Some have to do the shopping, a role which Chhoti Hijra performed to perfection, right from buying vegetables to procuring masalas chicken and mutton. It may surprise many to know that the eunuchs' main meal in the evening - like that of the dancing girls - is lavish and even visitors can partake of it because there's enough and more to spare for everybody. Some eunuchs are good cooks and their services are utilised in the kitchen. Those who are sluggards have to do the washing, despite their "ooee re'' exclamations of wedding nights mimicry.

The good looking ones bring in more money, for even if they do not excel in singing and dancing, they are much sought after, like Neelam's heir Sonia, who speaks three European languages. These passive homosexual, like the others of their tribe, have to undergo an ordeal at initiation time. Those born neuter and those who are hermaphrodites, which means their organs are under developed are known as khwaja-serais and held in esteem. But those born male are castrated and undergo cosmetic surgery, like Neelam, who had operations costing Rs.20 lakhs in Singapore for breast and hip implants and an artificial uterus. However, not all can spend so much, hence, they seek the services of local doctors.

The initiation of a eunuch is very painful because sometimes castration leads to severe infection and death. After being castrated the initiate is impaled on a wooden peg, which is kept soaked in oil. This exercise is repeated several times during a three-month period. After that the new entrant takes `her' place among the gay.

Eunuchs may be Hindu or Muslim but they are a tolerant lot who perform pilgrimages to religious spots of both communities, including the Haj. That's why the main suspect in the Neelam murder cast is known as Geeta Haji.

Cases of eunuchs falling in love with men are well known but there are also cases of their falling in love with women. About 300 years ago, a eunuch called Dildar Khan fell in love with a girl of Ajmeri Gate, where Dildar also used to reside. This hijra was employed as chamberlain in the Moghul court in the Red Fort and wielded some authority like others of the clan who guarded the royal harem. Angered by Dildar's nocturnal visits to the girl, her brother hid on the terrace one night and when he saw Dildar in a compromising position with his sister, he struck him with his sword and then the girl, killing both on the spot.

Eunuchs have been known since the time of the Mahabharata - remember Shikandi? China, Rome and Egypt also had eunuchs in high positions. Cleopatra was introduced to Julius Caesar by her chief eunuch, wrapped in a carpet. The Grand Eunuch of Cairo was held in esteem even by the Romans. The Eunuch of Ethiopia, who was the treasurer of Queen Candace, was converted by the Apostle Philip. Alauddin Khilji's general, Malik Kafur Hazardinari, was a eunuch. Shah Jahan, in his last years of captivity in the Agra Fort, was much troubled by a eunuch on the instructions of Aurangzeb.

Even now eunuchs are not just the bawdy lot they look. Many of them own land and houses, enjoy the status of guru and move about in swanky cars. Sometimes they form romantic alliances, live as `wife' with the man of their choice.

Poking fun at them can invite not only a rebuke bristling with the choicest epithets, but also a stinging slap. The saying goes: Hijra ka chanta kha kar bada mard bhi pani maang jaata hai - after being slapped by a eunuch, even a well-built man asks for water. Once Choti Hijra slapped the Negroid Yakub and sent him sprawling to the drain below the butcher's shop.

So beware!

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