Transgender women have played a long and colorful role in Indian history, thanks to several thousand years of Hindu mythology, where the hijra, or “third gender” is considered a sacred mystery.
Now India has a trangender beauty pageant whose objective is to honor transgender women and acknowledge the unique difficulties and challenges these beautiful ladies face. And the first Miss Transqueen India has just been crowned! She is Nitasha Biswas, 26, from Kolkata.
Miss Transqueen India was started by Reena Rai, an Indian businesswoman who sold tortillas to restaurants. She decided to start the pageant as she became aware of the issues facing the hijra community. The hijra are women born as men who are historically both revered and ostracized. At some points in Indian history, the hijra served as royal advisers and protected the royal harems. They are considered holy to many. But on the other hand, many are shunned by their family and face extreme discrimination in the workplace, so they have been forced into the sex trade industry.
In India today, since 2014, the hijra is a legally recognized third gender category distinct from male and female, and surrounding Pakistan, Bangladesh, and more have followed suit. With positive historical mores to draw on culturally, and major strides in human rights and economic prosperity, there is reason for optimism in India for rapid change in trans rights.
Rai knows the pageant will encourage visibility, and hopes that people encountering trans women will help them overcome their fears or lack of education on the subject.
Importantly, the pageant also fosters cohesiveness and community for the hijra. These transgender women come from a variety of backgrounds, some supportive, and some completely cut off from their families. Meeting and working with other transexuals, the hijra will develop friendships and supportive networks in the larger social circles.
Rai said she knew nothing would change if ordinary people did nothing. She told CNN,
“When straight people like me … actually stand up for the cause and fight for them, only then the change will come.”
She sacrificed her own business and life savings, along with nine months of her life, to start the pageant, draining her bank account completely. The risk was for the hope that transgender women would find greater recognition for their humanity and more opportunities to succeed in Indian society.
On Sunday, August 27, the inaugural pageant took place in a hotel in Gurgaon, close to the Indian capital Delhi. Sixteen hijra competed in the first transgender beauty pageant of India.
Miss Transqueen India will now represent India at the International Queen pageant in Thailand in March 2018.
The eleven judges included Ms. Transexual Australia, Gauri Sawant, a longtime activist for transgender rights.
Bravo to Rai for her courage, and to all the contestants of the first Miss Transqueen India!