Meera Darji wants to make a documentary about the hijras, the term used in South Asia for people who don’t consider themselves men nor women but contain features of both genders. Usually assigned male at birth, hijras have effeminate traits and present themselves in femme outfits. In Indian culture, they are/were seen as holy human representations of Ardhanari, the composite of Lord Siva and his partner Parvati. Blessed by Rama in the Ramayana, they to go to weddings, childbirth and celebrations to dance and bring fortune and fertility. They were featured in the Kama Sutra, although a vast percentage of them renounce to sexuality and channel their sexual energy into other sacred activities.
Along came the British Empire and its puritan notions of gender. The hijras were seen as “a breach of public decency” and were included on the Criminal Tribes Act along with thieves and murderers. They had to be registered, monitored and systematically disenfranchised by society. Not even the fight for independence and the formation of the Indian Republic destroyed the stigma. Police neglection and brutality against them has increased as part of the aftermath of the recriminalisation of homosexuality and bisexuality in December 2013; and although they were just considered a “third-sex” in April 2014 granted educational and professional rights, they are still considered a “backward” class in society and economy. Now they live in segregated communities, taking underpaid jobs to make ends meet.
We have information about them thanks to research, film and audio; but it’s not as inclusive as it should. Many documentaries are made from the point of view of an spectator, someone looking from afar and not entirely willing to comprehend what they witness. It’s appreciated that film makers are interested in the first place, but it’s also primordial to give space to people to speak for themselves. To learn about them while giving them a venue for self-expression. Not pestering them nor treating them with tweezers on a Petri dish, but fully immersing ourselves in the environment and letting it take control.
To make this happen, Meera is flying to India in February for production. She wants to be part of events, attend blessings and social gatherings, interview hijras and their families. Not as a perpetual Jacques Cousteau voice-over, but as a mere vessel of communication. As a platform to expand their message.
Meera has done short films about life in and out of India. In 2013, she directed Struggle With Life & Race Against Time, an emotive documentary in which her grandfather Surendrakumar Bhagat shared his lifestory and wisdom. He talked about how he went from being a typist and living in poverty, to becoming a bank manager and being able to visit his family abroad. The film was screened at film festivals in Leicester, Stockport and Peckham; nominated for the International Student Creative Award by We are One Japan; and was the Overall Winner at Brighton Youth Film Festival.
Later, on a visit to Ahmedabad, she filmed In the life of Manilal Kataria, on a worker we could call a jack-of-all-trades: he cleans houses, washes cars, attends a small shop on various errands, and cleans cooking utensils on a shower floor. He believes in hard work and human labour; and while machines could accomplish most of his duties, he does everything with precision, dedication, and above all, soul. It was selected for Leicester’s Short Cinema Film Festival, London’s Thurrock International Short Film Festival, RATMA Film Festival, Croatia’s Tabor International Short Film Festival, and several events in the USA, taking home the Best Documentary award at Idaho’s BoVi Film Festival.
Transindia would be her first feature film. And yes, it’s her final project at Coventry University; just like her previous documentaries were also evaluated in an academic manner. Nevertheless, she makes these movies for more than an undergraduate degree or to merely thicken her portfolio: she makes these movies because they are stories that need to be told.
It’s because of this that she’s looking for funding to make this happen. On Transindia‘s Indiegogo page, you can donate as little as £5 and still get mentioned in the credits. The more you give, the more perks you get — a digital copy of the film, a DVD copy of the film, postcards, posters, t-shirts, a personal video of the community, and the possibility of being included as an Associate Producer or Executive Producer. But the best reward will be the existence of the film itself. 2014 was a big year for the trans* community in Western civilisation, and Darji wants to do her part to make something like this happen to Indian society in 2015. To ignite the conversation and spread it across the community.
It would be amazing if you could help.