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After 300 years, transgenders get last ‘rights’

Published : Aug 15, 2016, 2:54 am IST
Updated : Aug 15, 2016, 2:54 am IST

When the period of “Pitra Paksha” begins in September, a collective “Pind Daan” ceremony for transgenders will be held in Varanasi along the banks of the River Ganga.

When the period of “Pitra Paksha” begins in September, a collective “Pind Daan” ceremony for transgenders will be held in Varanasi along the banks of the River Ganga.

“Pitra Paksha” is a 16-day lunar period in the Hindu calendar when Hindus pay homage to their ancestors by offering food. The ritual is believed to appease their souls. Pind Daan is the ritual performed during this period in which offerings of water and balls of rice and wheat flour are made. This ritual, it is believed, frees the soul from the cycle of birth and death.

The newly formed Kinnar Akhara has decided to hold the post-death ritual for all transgenders who had died in recent years. The transgender population in Uttar Pradesh is around 1.3 lakh, of which 70,000 reside in rural areas.

Lakshmi Tripathi, a transgender and also the Mahamandaleshwar of the Kinnar Akhara, said, “We are going to break the three-centuries-old tradition that does not allow post-death rituals for transgenders. We are human too and have the right to a dignified end. We will also start the practice of cremating transgenders who follow the Hindu religion.”

Till now transgenders, irrespective of their religion, were buried and not cremated. Rishi Ajai Das, a founder member of the Kinnar Akhara, explained, “Every Hindu is expected to complete 16 rituals that include rituals at birth, naming ceremony, eating food, mundan (shaving of head), Janeu (holy thread) marriage and cremation. Transgenders have been deprived of their right to a dignified end and we are now making sure that this does not happen any longer.”

The Pind Daan ceremony is scheduled to be held on September 24 by a group of 151 Brahmins and several saints are expected to attend the ceremony.

Acharya Badri Narayan, one of the 151 priests supervising the ceremony, said, “This is a major landmark and also proof of the fact that times are changing. Transgenders are human beings and have the right to all rituals. This will also help in bringing them into the social mainstream.” The transgenders are also planning to campaign for their rights and pledge their support to a party that promises to fulfil their demands.

Lakshmi Tripathi said that 12 states, including Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, had set up a transgender welfare board in compliance with the Supreme Court order but Uttar Pradesh had not even taken cognisance of the order.

“Now that elections are round the corner, we will seek our rights and vote for a party that cares for us,” she added.

Finally, soul-appeasing rituals for the dead Transgenders in UP are usually not allowed to cremate their dead in designated cremation grounds. This is because they are considered pariahs in society. Most transgenders, therefore, bury the dead and that too in secluded areas, not in graveyards. Hindu priests have been known to refuse to perform post-death rituals for transgenders and it is due to this the annual “shraddh” in not performed for transgenders. Allowing transgenders to perform Pind Daan will mean their acceptance in society — at least to an extent. “Most of us do not have relatives or have severed ties with our biological families. Since we do not have families, these rituals are not performed for us,” said Payal, a transgender in Lucknow.

This time, we are making a beginning by performing the Pind Daan collectively so that the dead can rest in peace. After all, Hindus believe that the dead will rest in peace only if these rituals are performed properly. I hope that this is a beginning and we will be allowed to cremate the dead in the years to come

Location: India, Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow