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No room for privileged hustlers

The bizarre Kinnar showdown at Maligaon in Guwahati is only a sign of things to come

The striking down in 2018 of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code by the Supreme Court was perhaps one of the best things to have happened to India in the 21st century. Yet, all the while that modern India rallied under the rainbow flag, the banner of the world’s LGBTQ community, this country has by and large overlooked the acts of a section of the community that comprises the privileged hustler in India. Guwahati had its brutal introduction with the aggressive, rip-off, no-holds-barred hustler Kinnar yesterday.

The myth, the mayhem

In places such as Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, they are there at weddings, dancing and blessing the couple for huge sums of money. Quite a few Mumbai filmmakers have used them in their films, based on a belief that Kinnars ward off the evil eye. In Indian mythology, she has been Shikhandi, the mythological transman who, when she stood before Bheeshma in the battle of Mahabharata, forced the warrior to lower his weapons, as would not allow himself to fight someone who he knew was a woman. Arjuna of the Pandavas, it is said, hid behind Shikhandi and brought down Bheeshma, laying him down on his famous bed of arrows.

At the birth of a male child, privileged hustler Kinnars simply appear at the door of the home that welcomes the newsborn, dancing and blessing the child — of course for large sums of money. They know where to go as they are tied up with hospitals and nursing homes that give them the addresses, the nexus of hospital and the privileged hustler.

Privileged because there are communities in this country that patronize them and invite them in on occasions of celebration, hustlers because refusing to pay them the money they demand when they appear unannounced and uninvited at someone’s door may bring forward curses, believed to be deadly when cast upon by an enraged Kinnar.

The Northeast’s latest import

In Assam and the Northeast, Kinnars are an import, seen over the past few years collecting money at red lights in Guwahati, and from shops they visit in groups, their trademark claps announcing their arrival.

The Northeast has always lived in harmony with its LGBTQ community. Assam’s trans community has been out in the open for decades, their rallies and fight for equality and rights endorsed by both people and the press alike. In Manipur, they are a part of the state’s famous Shumang Leelas — plays in open courtyards where men play the role of women — that are a part of Manipuri tradition and culture. Many run their beauty salons and are known to be some of the best in the business. Those from the community who are part of Assam’s fashion world are looked up to and admired, for their art, and the professionalism they bring to the industry. And they belong to our community.

Maligaon madness

That Guwahati’s professional, hustler Kinnars are now a menace to society here was proven by the showdown between two groups of Kinnars at Maligaon yesterday. Not only did they beat each other up mercilessly in what apparently was a turf war between hustler extortionist groups of Kinnars, those who seemed to have the upper hand went about the busy market square lifting their clothes and showing their genitals to passing people and vehicles; yet others went about topless, while some stripped the ones who had been beaten unconscious. It was only when the police lathicharged them that they dispersed, but not before grievously injuring two who had to be hospitalized.

Cross-border criminals

It is for far too long that hustler Kinnars have had their way with people and communities, using shameless acts of nudity as a weapon. Quite a few trains that operate between Guwahati and other cities of the country have gangs of Kinnars harassing passengers, asking for money and touching them and shaming them if they refuse to pay. They can be seen on station platforms, brazenly plying their trade before they get on trains, with ticket checkers, guards and station authorities refusing to question them. Guwahati’s shopkeepers are now having to pay them, a sort of “good-riddance” fee lest they decide to get into their clapping act before they go onto something further in front of their shop.

A video of the Maligaon incident that went viral yesterday had one Kinnar say in Assamese that “Kinnars had been brought in from Bangladesh to attack them”.

The hustler Kinnar at traffic signals and shops and weddings and births needs to be stopped now, as the turf war among them seems to have only begun. So far as the Northeast is concerned, it is not something it is used to — and definitely not something that it should have to get used to.

Founder Editor... Formerly resident editor (east and northeast) with The Telegraph, editor (Assamese) with The Sunday Indian, has worked with India Today, National Herald and The Sentinel. Has written for India Today Travel Plus, Darpan, The Pioneer, Hindustan Times online edition, The Times of India. Lyricist and singer, enjoys composing, photography, being a chef and travelling