ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Negotiating Transgender Identity and Space in Assam, 1970s–1990s

Transgender identity and culture are mostly invisible in the history of Assam. In the absence of any historical or archival records, the paper attempts to reconstruct and reimagine the social space occupied by transgender individuals in the state from the 1970s to 1990s. It analyses and historicies how they negotiated their identity and gender within the heteronormative society. It relies on oral histories of elderly transgender individuals. It thereby explores how transgender individuals navigated their everyday lives and, in that process, formed transgender spaces that were not oppositional or separate from mainstream spaces of society.

The silence surrounding non-normative lives, as observed by Foucault (1978) and elaborated by scholars like Narrain (2004) and Vanita and Kidwai (2001), is profoundly political. It acts as one of the most critical strategies through which normative, heterosexual history is produced, invisibilising all alternative ways of life. Transgender history, similarly, has mostly been an invisible part of Assamese history. Other parts of India, like Hyderabad (Reddy 2005), had a history of khwaja sira during the Mughal period (from the 16th to the mid-18th centuries), Delhi (Nanda 1999) had a history of hijra (transgender) individuals having lived under the jamaat1 system for centuries, or the neighbouring state of Manipur, which has a decades-old history of nupi-manbi2 as gender-fl uid identities (Yamkhaibam 2020). However, Assam does not have any historical or cultural evidence or norms that recognise transgender identities. Hence, recounting the history of hijras in Assam is an attempt to reconstruct the past by analysing the silences around any culturally ordained gender-fl uid identity.

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Published On : 22nd Mar, 2024

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