Dissertation Abstracts

Dynamics of Gender Variant Communities in India

Author: Banhishikha Ghosh, gbanhishikha@gmail.com
Department: Department of Social Anthropology
University: University of Zurich, Switzerland
Supervisor: Johaness Quack
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: gender variance , gender normativity , kotis and hijras , Eastern India
Areas of Research: Family Research , Human Rights and Global Justice , Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Policy


The last decade has been specifically phenomenal in the history of gender variant communities in India, with civil society activism bringing forth significant judicial and legislative advancements to decriminalize and promote their citizenship rights. The NALSA judgment (2014), the Declaration of ICP Section 377 (2018) as unconstitutional and the consequent Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, (2019), legitimized and promoted the state-sponsored term ‘transgender’ and ascertained qualitative modifications in the vision of rights and entitlements for members of the gender-variant community. Post the legislation, individual activists, Community Based Organizations (CBOs) representing the community have been struggling to obtain the social, economic, political and health rights which have been promised within the legislations (both at state and national level). Such issues of social justice, e.g., health, housing, employment, education, are being voiced in unison by gender-variant activists across the country. Simultaneously, while generalised issues of empowerment are articulated unanimously by prominent representatives of the ‘transgender’ community, local, region-specific gender-variant identities also express their own distinct subject positions. This produces competing notions of authenticity and creates ‘multiple competing categories of belongingness’2 within the community. The competing demarcations also give rise to contested borders among gender variant groups. The existing literature shows that the politics of gender variance is complex and multi-dimensional, and this multidimensionality gets reflected in their articulation of voices and different subject positions based on caste, class, sexual orientation, educational qualifications and regionality (Patel, 2005; Hall, 2005; Dutta and Roy, 2014). The narrative of transgender elite activism often muzzles marginalized voices coming from within the community (Tellis, 2012; Kumar, 2017, 2018). It also has significant bearings on vernacular terminologies/nomenclature which the GVCs use to identify, demarcate and differentiate amongst themselves. In such a context, this research seeks to reflect on how married (in heterosexual relationships) working-class transwomen negotiate with competing notions of normativity in the process of ‘doing gender’ (West and Zimmerman, 1987). This research would try to see how the groups self-demarcate themselves, are ‘slot’ (Murray Li:2000) into categories, and how such categorizations interconnect/overlap/ interact/ isolate/ or negotiate with: 1) each other; and with 1) the Indian state-sponsored term which stems from the ‘Global Metropoles’ (Connell, 2005) i.e., transgender. In doing so, this research would shed light on how the lived realities of individuals negotiate/ traverse between the socially established norms of hetero and trans normativity.