The third box


Sub-continental loan recovery systems

In 2001, the owner of a credit society in Mumbai came up with a unique method of loan recovery: he employed eunuchs to sing and dance, as they do, in front of defaulters’ homes, demanding repayment. Shamed by such public exposure, people invariably settled their loans before long. This tactic has since been successfully used by others in India to recover overdue payments.

In 2010, a barrister in Lahore submitted an application to the Supreme Court recommending the same method for the recovery of loans totalling over two and a half billion rupees waived by sundry bureaucrats and army generals who over the years graced our national horizons. The Supreme Court agreed, and recently the Khadim-e-Aala issued directives that eunuchs should be employed for this purpose in the Punjab.
A year ago, Pakistan’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) took the unprecedented (for this country) step of employing eunuchs in respectable data entry positions in their offices in a deliberate move to provide employment for members of that community. These appointments followed upon regular advertisement for these jobs and a merit based selection process.

Nahi nigah main manzil tu justhjoo hi sahi
Nahi visaal muyassar to arzoo hi sahi
(Although the destination appears elusive, the search for it is present
Although the union appears unattainable, the wish for it is present)

The recruits will be trained for the job, NADRA said, adding interestingly, that while there was a good response for the jobs in KP and Sindh, eunuchs did not seem to be interested in working in Lahore.

That scarlet lipsticked person with the painted face and exaggerated female gestures who taps on your window when your car stops at traffic light, who is he/she? What must you call him/her? It?
Shoma Chatterji is an Indian journalist who, in her excellent essay on the subject, explains in some detail the life, if it can be called such, of the people we hold in sufficient contempt to offer them the job of humiliating others by their presence outside their homes.

The word ‘hijra’ used in the subcontinent is strictly speaking a man who has been surgically robbed of his gender. Colloquially however, it implies any, a hermaphrodite (a ‘dual gendered’ person), a transvestite (a person who opts for the gender he/she was not born with), or a gender neutral person who is actually an extreme rarity.

While gay and lesbian persons manage to blend fairly well with the mainstream population, ‘hijras’ tend to stand out making them vulnerable to prejudice and insensitivity. Most have learnt to use the leverage this visibility affords in ham roles as public performers.

In India, most hijras owe their status to ‘surgery’ performed upon them as infants, making them as much or greater victims of torture as any inmate of a Pakistani thana. In the absence of information telling us otherwise, we should presume that the story is the same here. After all we shared the Indian Penal Code once upon a time, an amendment to which in 1897 was subtitled: ‘An Act for the Registration of Criminal Tribes and Eunuchs.’

The surgery is performed by untrained dais or midwives and the details are too gruesome for this column. Suffice it to say that the pain these infants go through never goes away. It not only translates into permanent medical trauma, but as children and adults into unrelenting taunts, jeers and a horrible marginalised existence from which there is no escape.

Society sees fit to force these people into the role it has foisted on them, by first robbing them of their lives and self-esteem and then the opportunity of holding a respectable job, or any job at all. As a result they are forced almost without exception into prostitution and begging.

Pakistan has only now seen it fit to allow eunuchs voting rights, realising rather late that it was their gender they lost, not their brain. The Supreme Court has directed that NADRA should waive the requirement for gender verification in the case of persons belonging to the ‘third gender’ so they may hold a national identity card. They will now be able to check the third box on a form stating that they are ‘khwaja sara’, an umbrella term for ‘ambiguous sex’.

In Balochistan, the government has promised to provide them with free health facilities and in KP with inheritance rights. The government of Sindh and the Punjab have also indicated their resolve to contribute in various ways.

It will be a while though before we learn the difference between providing an unclothed man with suitable clothing, or clothing him in clown’s attire. However, nahi visaal muyassar to arzoo hi sahi. In the absence of awareness, this could be seen as wishing for (and moving towards) change.


  1. Clown's clothes may not be commensurate with human dignity but neither is the profession that has been foisted on hijras over the years. This is a weak defence but I feel that giving them ANY employment is a baby step although not quite in the right but at least in the general direction.

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