Kunwar Khuldune Shahid

The triumph of Bangladesh’s third gender

Tashnuva Anan Shishir (photo: Getty)

Tashnuva Anan Shishir last week became the first transgender person to read the news on Bangladeshi TV. The 29-year-old broke down in tears, overtaken by the momentous occasion, after delivering her first three-minute bulletin on March 8. Shishir reached this milestone after facing years of marginalisation, bullying and sexual assaults. A 2015 study of the media’s coverage of the transgender movement in Bangladesh underlines the mountains of prejudice that Shishir has had to overcome. She now hopes that other transgender people in Bangladesh won’t have to suffer anymore.

Transgender people in Bangladesh have made small strides recently in their uphill battle to achieve basic human rights in a society largely intolerant of their community. Despite being a part of a longstanding South Asian gender nonconforming subculture that self-identifies as ‘Hijra’, the transgender community in Bangladesh has faced abuse and been conflated with homosexuality, which remains criminalised in the region’s colonial-era laws. The rise of Islamist violence in Bangladesh over the past decade has also enhanced the vulnerability of the local Hijra community.

In addition to the violence they have witnessed, the Hijras in Bangaldesh have long complained of sexual harassment during physical and medical procedures. Transgender people are often sidelined from educational or employment opportunities, forcing them into dancing or sex work. The community has been among those worst off during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is a centuries-old bond between the Hijra communities of South Asia

In addition to gender-based, economic, and even caste barriers for the entire trans community, transgender people are often forced to lead parallel lives for their survival. A spate of Islamist militant attacks on the LGBT community in 2016, forced many trans activists into hiding.

Despite these ominous challenges, the Hijras in Bangladesh managed in 2013 to get legal recognition as the ‘third gender’. In

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