Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 Y-SASM Conference Programme

“Engendering and Degendering South Asian Studies”

Program Schedule 

Thursday, 19.05.2011 Venue: Festsaal, Luisenstrasse 56

06:00 pm
Welcome Note:
Michael Mann, Professor for Culture and History of South Asia at the Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University

“Rethinking a dubious category: Representational activism and new mobilities among 'Muslim women' in India”

Nadja-Christina Schneider, Junior Professor for Mediality and Intermediality in Asian and African Societies at the Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University

07:30 pm

Friday, 20.05.2011 

Venue: Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University, Invalidenstrasse 118, R. 315

09:30-10:00 am
1. Jana Tschurenev (ETH, Zürich): “Intersectionality: Gender and sexuality, empire and nation in modern South Asian History”

10:00-11:30 am
Panel “Gender and Development in South Asia”
Chair: Manuela Ciotti, IGK 

1. Ingvild Jacobsen (Norwegian University of Life Science, Aas): “Women's security in a post-conflict context (Pakistan: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan)” 

2. Evgeny Kochkin (Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg): “Gender bias in educational expectations of children from Indian rural areas” 

3. Farhat Naz (University of Bonn): “Caste system making women visible and invisible in community based water management: a case study of rural northern Gujarat, India”

11:30-11:45 am
Coffee/Tea Break

11:45-1:15 pm
Panel “Gender and Politics”
Chair: Nitin Sinha (ZMO) 

1. Patrick Hesse (Humboldt Univeristy): "Liberating Women, defending Tradition: Communist perspectives on gender emancipation in the mid-20th century” 

2. Mirella Lingorska (University of Tübingen): “Female ascetics in the Hindutva” 

3. Shahnaz Khalil Khan (Humboldt University): “What accounts for the absence of a concerted Muslim women's movement in J&K?”

1:15-2:15 pm
Lunch Break

2:15-03:45 pm
Panel “Gender and Work - I”
Chair: Prabhu Mohapatra, IGK 

1. Srimayee Dam (University of Calcutta): “Gender dimensions on 'role-changing': An integrative approach” 

2. Julia Grünenfelder (University of Zurich): “The discursive constitution of the 'Pakistani Working Woman'” 

3. Devika Sethi (JNU/Göttingen): “‘Girl Clerks’, ‘Lady Officers’ and ‘Officers’ Wives’: Women’s Employment in the Indian State”

03:45-04:00 pm
Coffee/Tea Break

04:00-05:00 pm
Panel “Gender and Work - II: Capitalizing Bodies, Capitalizing Work”
Chair: Anne Griffiths, IGK 

1. Lisa Caviglia (University of Heidelberg): “A feminist geography of sex work in Nepal: Bridging spaces, transnational movement and the body as capital and investment” 

2. Sneha Banerjea (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi): “Wombs to-let: Subversive 'work' or exploitation under capitalist patriarchy?”

5:00-5:15 pm

5:15-6:30 pm
Film and Discussion: “The Women's Centre” (2006)
A short documentary by Jesper Nordahl about a Sri Lankan women self-help centre.

Saturday, 21.05.2011
Venue: Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University, Invalidenstrasse 118, R. 315

9:00-10:30 am
Panel “Sexual Identities”
Chair: Michael Mann, Humboldt University 

1. Manju Ludwig (University of Heidelberg): “The inconsistencies of discourse: The colonial archive on sexuality, sodomy and 'unnatural' behavior in 19th century North India. 

2. Cora Gäbel (University of Tübingen): “Homosexuals, prostitutes or transgender? The Hijras in South Asia” 

3. Kathryn Lum (European University Institute, Florence): “Equal before God, yet invisible among the Sangat: The discourse on sexuality in Sikhism”

10:30-10:45 am
Coffee/Tea Break

10:45-12:45 pm
Panel “Producing Norms of Conjugality”
Chair: Heike Liebau, ZMO 

1. Prabhat Kumar (University of Heidelberg): “Household events' in the late 19th century Bihar” 

2. Razak Khan (Free University, Berlin): “Purdah politics: Narratives of princely zenana women” 

3. Anja Wagner (University of Heidelberg): “Women, men, couples: Towards a unified ethnography of gender” 

4. Fritzi Titzmann (Humboldt University, Berlin): “Gender and mobility: A case study on Gujarati matrimonial media”

12:45-1:45 pm

01:45-03:15 pm
Panel “Gender: Representation and Performance-I”
Chair: Heiko Frese, University of Heidelberg 

1. Maritta Schleyer (MPI, Berlin): “Sufi heroines: Gendered emotional styles and female agency in Khwaja Hasan Nizami's writing” 

2. Aishika Chakraborty (Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Calcutta): “Gendering performance: The contemporary intervention in Indian dance”

3:15-3:30 pm
Coffee/Tea Break

3:30-4:30 pm
Panel “Gender: Representation and Performance-II”
Chair: Heiko Frese, University of Heidelberg 

1. Deimantas Valanciunas (Vilnius University): “The mythologized femininity: Gendered identity and representation of a woman in Indian goddess films” 

2. Hana Waisserová (Masaryk University, Brno) “South Asian Transnational Womanhood by Lahiri: Re-writing South Asian gender roles?

4:30-4:45 pm
Coffee/Tea Break

04:45-05:45 pm
Round Table
Michael Mann (Humboldt University)
Melitta Waligora (Humboldt University)
Heiko Frese (University of Heidelberg)
Heike Liebau (Zentrum Moderner Orient)

Hosted by the Seminar for South Asian Studies, Institute for African and Asian Studies

Organizers: Maria Framke (Jacobs University, Bremen), Mette Gabler (Humboldt University, Berlin), Maria Moritz (Jacobs University, Bremen), Nitin Sinha (Zentrum Moderner Orient), Sadia Bajwa (Humboldt University, Berlin)

Support Team: Marett Klahn, Julia Wisniewska, Jeremias Steinmann

Our Partners: Internationales Geisteswissenschaftliches Kolleg (IGK), Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Abstract 2011 Hana Waisserová

Hana Waisserová, Masaryk University, Brno

South Asian transnational womanhood by Lahihi: Re-Writing South Asian gender roles?

Lahiri’s heroine Moushomi in The Namesake  represents a gendered voice of critical cosmopolitanism. She represents an ethnic cosmopolitan woman and postcolonial global migrant. Using her character, Lahiri opens debate on gendered belonging and naturalization within national, transnational and even nationless spaces. This paper focuses on transformation of SA heroine in cosmopolitan transcultural space, which allows for the existence of critical cosmopolitan gendered characters. It explores  Lahiri’s gendered-specific identities of  critical cosmopolitans who operate in Appadurai’s “ethnoscape in deterritorialized space.”  While cosmopolitanism has been stripped down to artificial aspects of a cultural construct and is criticised for hardly addressing the immigration identities in full complexity (Appadurai), it is also treated as a positive concept that appreciates differentiation rather than simple negations (Hall). Though cosmopolitanism is scrutinized and distinguished according to current needs of modern critical realms -- e.g., as vernacular (Bhabha), wounded (Kristeva), or subaltern (de Sousa Santos) -- this article focuses on critical cosmopolitan space that allows to reconstitue and re-imagine gendered scapes and identities as such. It implies the use of double consciousness, comparisons or self-reflections, but also critical internationalism and critical globalization, as well as a new reflection on reflection that is so characteristic for gendered writing and projections. Often the SA feminine subjectivity is constructed and interpreted as miraculous mixture of contradictions. Female constructs expose traditional dichotomies deeply embedded in Indian culture, yet, transnational heroines challenge traditional dichotomies when Indian women aspire to be powerless victimized women, and powerful goddesses at the same time.  Amrita Basu observes that local women of power speak from positions of moral superiority conditioned by their chastity, and they represent no challenge to patriarchal values (Basu 3-14). Transnational setting of global and contemporary context examines the heritage of colonial and nationalistic patriarchal pressures. The transnational setting allows for specific cultural, historical and political conditions to be delineated in the present, including possible re-evaluation of gender roles in the third world or the global bordereless space. Perhaps, Moushomi becomes a project of   historiographic metafiction (Hutcheon 105-123). Indirectly, she embodies the new gendered consciousness, pointing  out the problematic accounts of official colonial history, and it allows to rediscover the suppressed histories via constructs of memory, fantasy, narrative and myth. Hutcheon's concept allows for new perspectives on history and identities to rise out of culturally marginal positions, especially it stresses new perspectives on the indigenous/native woman (metafiction operates from mythological positions). Last but not least, the transnational imaginery shapes the images heavily influenced by nationalist discourse.  Plain, complaisant and subservient icon of good Indian womanhood (like Ashima in The Namesake) seems to show some empowerment and transnational features eventually or to transform due to transnational environment. Women tend to examine and adopt or oppose western values of self-reliance, independent thinking over eastern task persistence alike.  Perhaps, Moushomi is a self-made woman, who clumsily and passionately makes her choices while re-writing the gender roles from the position of the true transnational, though her woman's position in these redefining efforts is still ambivalent.

Abstract 2011: Deimantas Valanciunas

Deimantas Valanciunas, Vilnius University


The mythologized femininity: Gendered identity and representation of a woman in Indian Goddess films

The gender perspectives in popular Indian cinema have been enjoying a wide attention in the academic discussions in the past several years. There is a number of notable academic studies concerning the representation of women in the popular cinematic imagination: ranging from the construction of the images of (idealized) woman in relation to the (postcolonial) nationalism to the feminist perspectives on the female as spectacle and the discourses of the hegemonic patriarchalism and male gaze theories.  
Standing in line with the Indian popular film is the unique and specific Indian film genre – the mythological or myth influenced goddess or Maa films. Although being sort of marginalized in the Indian film studies and not receiving vast attention from the academics, the goddess film genre is interesting to analyze in respect to representation and construction of femininity - especially in a broader Indian popular film context.
The goddess film genre consists of the films referring to and telling the tales of some (usually) local goddesses, popularly addressed as ‘Maa’ or ‘Mothers’ and their intervention in the human world in order to help their devotees and / or banish the evildoers. The genre reached popularity in 1975, with the release of the super hit Hindi language film - the mythological - Jai Santoshi Maa. Later on the Maa films started enjoying huge popularity in the South Indian (Telugu and Tamil) cinemas, acquiring more dramatic and popular forms of what could be called mytho-horror films (e.g. concentrating on the fearsome aspects of the mythological feminine: the goddesses Durga and Kali).
The unexpected box-office success of the film Jai Santoshi Maa raised many questions about what was so peculiar about this low budget cinematic screening of the local and previously not widely known goddess Santoshi (moreover that the film enjoyed the same huge popularity together with already firmly established ‘angry young man’ super hit movies of the same year Sholay and Deewar, both starring Amitabh Bacchan). The film Jai Santoshi Maa has shed a new light in interpreting the representation of femininity, the cinematic impact on religious experience and the audience.
The present paper concentrates on the analysis of mytho-religious impact on creating and disseminating the images of the woman and femininity in the specific Indian popular film genre – the goddess films (films in discussion: Jai Santoshi Maa, Ammoru, Raja Kaali Amman, Arundhati). The paper tries to trace the uniqueness of the genre through which the representation and construction of the femininity is discussed in relation with the concept of the Goddess and Hindu mythology, popular imagination, modern religious experience, gendered identities and the audience.

Abstract 2011 Aishika Chakraborty

Aishika Chakraborty, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Calcutta

Gendering performance: The contemporary intervention in Indian dance

Can dance, a celebratory art of the female body furnish a discursive site for sexual and gender politics? What happens when a dancer disrupt the dominant regimes of representing gender, stressing her own lived experiences?  Taking the dancer’s body as an object of discourse this paper seeks to trace the journey of the contemporary dance movement in India that spells out a new body politics beyond culturally constituted bodily identities as scripted in the hegemonic, patriarchal, brahminic cultural tradition. Revolving round the twin axes of gender and sexuality, my focus is on the ways the new dance transgresses, politically and aesthetically, the iconic classical, signaling a feminist intervention in the dance map.
Browsing over three momentous stylistic breakthroughs in the contemporary dance map of India, my starting point is the cultural movement initiated by Rabindranath Tagore who triggered off a new discourse on performance, reversing the classical tradition, ensconced in religious mysticism, defended by the Natyashastra and frozen in the sacral temple tradition. Tagore’s conceptualization of the ‘hybrid’, ‘eclectic’ and ‘impure’ cultural texts, I will argue, facilitated a new identity formation for women dancers, moving towards a new future of performance.
In a parallel movement, Uday Shankar popularized the Indian modern reinforcing, nonetheless, the Western romanticization of the ‘Orient’. Opening up a wider performative space for respectable women he left unaltered their stereotyped characterizations. The nationwide spread of IPTA cultural movement that went deeper and wider unquestionably drew larger number of women into public participation.  How did these various stages in the modern dance alter/refashion the gendered identity of the performer?
How far has the contemporary movement challenged the relationship of power, domination and varying degrees of cultural hegemony encoded in Indian dance tradition?   To seek answers I will turn to the contemporary explorations by Manjusri Chaki-Sircar and Ranjabati Sircar who innovated a new dance language, called Navanritya, blurring the binary between ‘traditional’ / ‘modern’ or  ‘Indian’ / ‘Western’. Primarily a rejection of the gendered tradition, the new dance signaled a paradigm shift in Indian dance, embracing the hybrid and the post-colonial. Exuding a non-patriarchal expression through dance, it returned the female ‘body’ to her ‘self’, inscribing a woman’s language.

Abstract 2011 Maritta Schleyer

Maritta Schleyer, MPI Berlin

Gendered emotional styles and female agency in Khwaja Hasan Nizami's writing

Khwaja Hasan Nizami (1878-1955), an enigmatic Sufi master, a prolific Urdu author and a controversial Muslim activist in early twentieth century Delhi, addressed in several of his published magazines and books a specific female audience. Most of these works were dedicated to the cause of female education and social reform and reflected on the role of Indian Muslim women in the spheres of religion, the community and the nation. Unlike other social reformists’ writings of colonial India which mainly catered to the new Muslim middle class, these publications appeal to females of all sections of society, from illiterate beggars and dancing girls to members of the rich upper class.
The proposed paper looks at Nizami’s Sufi vision of the Indian Muslim woman and of possible female agency as laid out in selected of these writings. It traces the specific perspective from which the author attempted to empower women and increase their autonomy and equality in the fields of every day social life, religious practice and politics questioning the binary paradigm of modern and traditional female agencies.
By identifying the emotional styles which Hasan Nizami suggests for women in their various expanding domains and by comparing them to the sets of emotions Nizami offered for the national and the religious community the paper aims to demonstrate ways in which Khwaja Sahib tried to mould the female Indian citizen and the “modern” Muslim woman. It further exemplifies changes of gendered social spheres through the merging of gendered sets of emotions.
One focus of the paper will be the shifts of female emotional spaces in the course of Nizami’s writings which aimed to promote the position of the Muslim community within society. In the context of the tabligh movement which Nizami launched in the 1920s as a reaction to the shuddhi activities of the Arya Samaj, women were a central target of his efforts to win over active tablighi workers to carry out the missionary work on the ground. Here he clearly envisioned an increased social responsibility of women as political activists bound to save the religious community. Besides, these publications point to a shift from a high value of feelings which were connoted as mainly female, Sufi, and old ashraf, in the context of an inclusive Indian nation, to a high esteem of sentiments connoted within other emotional landscapes, obviously serving the community in a better way within a changed political context.

Abstract 2011 Fritzi-Marie Titzmann

Fritzi-Marie Titzman, Humboldt-University Berlin


Gender and Mobility: a case study on Gujarati Matrimonial Media

The Indian online matrimonial market is not only an increasingly popular way of matchmaking for Indians as well as Non Resident Indians across the globe but also a highly differentiated phenomenon which mirrors trends of medial and social development in India. Almost paradigmatically, matrimonial media in its diversity exemplifies the Indian media’s current tendency of regional differentiation.

The proposed paper will introduce a case study on the specific dynamics of the Gujarati matrimonial market. There exists a very diverse and specialized Gujarati marriage market, consisting of hundreds of websites and marriage bureaus in Gujarat as well as in many other parts of India and abroad. Though the idea of marrying within one’s own community is by far not unique to the Gujarati community, they seem to be particularly active in the matrimonial media market – probably due to the vast number of community members living abroad. The highly stratified Gujarati matrimonial landscape reflects a very strong regional emphasis while being transnational at the same time. In the case of Gujarat, the diaspora’s social inclusion is further actuated through political campaigns by right-wing Hindu nationalists aiming for a re-orientation of NRI-Gujaratis towards their homeland.

Therefore, Gujarati matrimonial media serves as an interesting example to illustrate processes of regionalization as well as deterritorialization. These dynamics are closely connected to a general increase of social, physical, and medial mobility which reflects in spatial dimensions, new communication patterns, and changing gender roles and subjectivities as well. The case study discovers the multiple ways in which Gujarati women embrace matrimonial media involving social, geographical and medial mobility.

Abstract 2011 Anja Wagner

Anja Wagner, University of Heidelberg

Women, Men, Couples: Towards a unified Ethnography of Gender

The ethnography of gender in South Asia has moved from the study of women and their normative and symbolic roles and subsequent studies of alternative voices of women, to studies looking at age differences, and more recently queer studies, and finally turned to heterosexual masculinities. What is largely still left out is the ethnography of gender relations in its fullest sense: That is the study of pairs – of women and men as couples. While religious history and classical indology has long described the emphasis on marriage and of the couple, for example, in Hindu rituals, anthropology has given less attention to husband and wife as a unit. But rather treated them as pairs of opposites.
That couples have rarely received attention as an ethnographic topic should, however, surprise, since the importance of the married couple in South Asian society has been quite obvious to fieldworkers on the ground. This is to say not only on special occasions do husband and wife act as a unit, e.g. when being literally bound together by their clothing for the performance of rituals. In spite of the attention given to the tension arising between young wife and mother-in-law over the husband's/son's attention – in academic texts as well as in daily soaps –, husband and wife do act and understand themselves as a unit in everyday life. More attention should be given to the everyday interaction between spouses and their variations according to age, class, region, in order to more fully appreciate current developments concerning gender roles in South Asia. Following Caroline and Filippo Osella's lead to study the production of conventional heterosexual pair as created in South Asian marriages, this paper argues for a unified ethnography of gender. In outlining the need for a study of couples, the author draws on examples from her fieldwork in North India.

Abstract 2011 Razak Khan

Razak Khan, Free University Berlin

Purdah Politics: Narratives of Princely Zenana women

The category of ‘Muslim Community’ remains the dominant paradigm to understand selfhood in South Asian Islam. However, ‘Muslim’ selfhood is shaped by many other aspects such as gender, class, caste, space and other markers of identity and not just by religion. Local contexts are of critical importance for understanding the formation of self. This paper explores the issue of gender and class in shaping selfhood in autobiographical literature from princely state of Rampur. Rampur was the last Muslim ruled princely state in colonial United Provinces. It remained a major centre of politics and cultural patronage after the decline of Awadh state. This paper approaches the issues of lives of ‘Muslim women’ in princely state context of  Rampur.
I will examine the autobiographies of Begum Jahanara Habibullah and Princess Mehrunissa.  In what ways these narratives of life help us to understand ‘Muslim woman’ selfhood. Can we claim that Islam is the central issue in these lives? I argue that while rooted in a ‘Muslim  milieu’, the privileged princely cultural context remains  the focal point in these lives . These texts are not articulations of pious private selves rather they are governed by cultural and public concerns. I differ from the dominant argument that women autobiographical writing in south Asia is more personal than public and more about relationships than accomplishments. I intend to explore the salience of class, family and publicness in the lives of the privileged princely women. I will attempt to show how the princely state milieu of zenana (women’s apartments) life as ‘secluded’ is incomplete and fails to identify the public life of zenana women. This paper will question the generalizations about zenana narratives and show the difference of class, family and power as central issues. The princely zenana was remembered nostalgically as well as critically. These narratives allow us to rethink diverse experiences even within the limited gendered spaces of zenana. How was the private life of zenana connected with princely state politics? In what ways marriage and family shape their life stories and where indeed lies their own self amidst changing times? These narratives provides different answers to such questions and renders the issue of self and community more contested then understood so far.

Abstract 2011 Prabhat Kumar

Prabhat Kumar, University of Heidelberg


'Household event' in the late 19th century Bihar

This paper is primarily an attempt to delineate a complex story of normative framing of a ‘new’ conjugality in late 19th century colonial India through a textual and contextual reading of an early Hindi novel Gharau Ghatna or Household Events. The novel was written by Bhuvaneshvar Mishra from Muzaffarpur, Bihar and serialised in 1893 in the weekly Hindi Bangabasi, published by Calcutta’s Bangabasi Press. From 1894 onwards it was reprinted till 1908 by the famous Naval Kishore Press of Lucknow. Little known author of the novel, we find, was an employee in a district court in Bihar and he was associated with the journal Hindi Bangavasi for a few years.
If one is alive to the tensions of the period when the revivalist streak of Hindu nationalism witnessed an upswing in the wake of anti-Age of Consent Bill (1891) agitation (not coincidentally Bangabasi Press was leading this agitation in Calcutta), this novel provides an interesting historical insight into the nuanced literary responses to the colonial intervention in the ‘private domain’. Unlike the other early novels based in urban setting, Gharau Ghatna reconstructs a novel imaginary of rural Hindu household in Bihar. It focuses on issues of marriage, conjugal love, marital relationship and daily happenings. It redefines gender roles and conjugal norms, and more importantly creates a parallel ‘reality’ of a domestic world. A world, where a romance of a companionate conjugality – described in exceptionally vivid detail in the novel – could flourish even after a ‘traditionally’ arranged marriage, and above all, where the intervention of colonial regulations like the Age of Consent Bill, arguments in its favour become redundant and the reformist agenda is foreclosed.
The paper shall highlight the textual strategies of framing conjugality in the formation of novel’s narrative structure as well as underline how the text itself, despite being framed by the context of nationalist morality, transgresses its self-reticence and invites the readers to enjoy the description of pleasure and romance of conjugal love.  
Source: Early Hindi novels, biographies of and by the contemporary literati, periodicals published from Calcutta and Patna, Native Newspaper Report.

Abstract 2011 Kathryn Lum

Kathryn Lum, European University Institute Florence


Equal before God, yet invisible among the Sangat: The discourse on Sexuality in Sikhism

Sikhism is unique among the monotheistic religions for not officially condemning homosexuality in its holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib. Indeed, the Sikh faith is formally a religion that promotes gender equality. The Sikh Gurus proclaimed theological equality for women at a time in which women were consigned to living in purdah (seclusion) and deprived of their most elementary human rights. However, this theological equality has not been translated into practice, either for women or for the gay and lesbian (GL) community. Punjabi Sikh culture remains strongly patriarchal and deeply homophobic. Women are second-class citizens in both social and religious life, and discussion of homosexuality is taboo. Gays and lesbians are invisible in the Punjab and homosexuality is considered a “Western disease”. In recent years, Sikh leaders in the Punjab have issued edicts condemning gay marriage in Canada and urging Punjabi Sikh Canadian MP´s to vote against measures promoting gay equality. The large Punjabi Sikh diaspora (the worldwide diaspora is estimated to be two million) however has recently been bringing the issue of homosexuality within Sikhism/Punjabi culture out into the open. Gay Sikhs may not be coming out of the closet in large numbers, but the issue is finally being discussed in one of the few forums where gay and lesbian Sikhs can express themselves openly: online Sikh discussion forums and blogs. Based on a content analysis of Sikh websites along with interviews with UK-based gay Sikhs, this paper will analyse the ´mainstream´ Sikh discourse on homosexuality and how gay and lesbian Sikhs respond to this discourse and work out a dual Sikh/gay identity.

Abstract 2011 Cora Gäbel

Cora Gäbel, University of Tübingen

Homosexuals, Prostitutes or Transgender? The Hijras in South Asia

While some Hijās are born as hermaphrodites, most of them are biologically male. Some time between puberty and adulthood they become Hijās. That is, they start to dress, speak and behave like women, or rather, they exaggerate women’s natural behavior. Some Hijās are castrated – actual sex-change is not the issue – and many are forced to become sex workers.
Hijās do not form a homogenous group. They do not fit into established categories of gender, which is why the term third gender has established itself in the academic world. Describing Hijās as either men or women would ignore the fact that they view themselves as neither. Other terms used are transgender or gender-queer, but never words like transsexual or homosexual, let alone prostitute. While these designations may apply to some Hijās, they are not characteristic of Hijās as such.
South Asian society has an ambivalent attitude towards Hijās: on the one hand, they are asked to bless male infants and married couples after their wedding, in order to ensure male heirs, but on the other hand people – particularly men – fear them. Their presence at festivals and marriages can be auspicious, but Hijās are also said to have the power to curse people, particularly to cause impotence in men.
Even though the concept of transgender is not exclusively South Asian (c.f. the Two-Spirit People among Native Americans, or the Kathoey in Thailand), Hijās seem to have by far the greatest presence in public life. Though a well-known phenomenon, few studies have been made about Hijās. Lately they have become more accessible through documentaries and popular articles. It remains to be hoped that recent verdicts favoring the legal standing of Hijās in Pakistan will lead to more research.
Yet, neither the many prejudices against Hijās, nor the cultural value of Hijās, nor their physical appearance will be the subject of this presentation. The focus will rather be on the everyday life of Hijās, what they do and how they feel about their life. This will be demonstrated through several video clips. Besides this, I will discuss the distinction between gender and sex, as well as the improved legal situation of Hijās, to give a deeper insight into the lives of South Asian Hijās.