Eunuch Finds New Glory with Tale of a Forsaken Society

Article excerpt

A EUNUCH who lives in a graveyard has published her autobiography amid signs that prejudice against India's million-odd eunuchs or hijra is beginning to dissolve.

For collectors of improbable occasions, this was one for the scrapbook. A small, highly select group of artists, culturati and socialites assembled in the graveyard in Old Delhi this week with the Swiss ambassador to India and one of the country's most prominent photographers to witness the launch of Mona Ahmed's autobiography.

Some are born as eunuchs, but most are castrated while children. Once they entertained royal courts and guarded harems but as the courts crumbled the hijra found themselves out on the street. They survived as best they could: blessing babies and newly married couples at parties, prowling through markets and threatening to expose themselves if not paid to go away.

Loud, vulgar, big and buxom, garishly made up and altogether rather terrifying, especially to children: that's the stereotype. But there are signs that they are beginning to gain acceptance. Two years ago one stood for election as mayor of a small town in central India and won. In this month's state election in Uttar Pradesh, India's biggest and most populous state, 18 more are chancing their arm. …