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"I am the third sex, not a man trying to be a woman. It is your society's problem that you only recognize two sexes." Mona Ahmed expressed her plight in a book written by Dayanita Singh “Myself Mona Ahmed”. Mona has sadly but daringly expressed that her being third sex is not her problem, indeed it’s our society’s problem as we have failed to explicitly give third sex a recognition and an appropriate place in our society and in our heart. It’s really disappointing to find that we still have the same old discriminative eyes to look at them and make mockery of them. All children are born normal, except few anomalies. Right at the birth time they are categorized as male and female. But the mutation seen after few years caused by different hormones in the body leads to changes in gender.

The straight definition of the term third gender or third sex is the individuals who represent the characters of neither men nor women or both. It’s the state of being neither male nor female and should be understood in relation to the individual’s biological sex. The different cultures or individuals may represent the third sex or gender as an intermediate state between men and women. Further, the third sex may represent the state of being both-like the spirit of a man in the body of woman and vice-versa. The third gender may represent the state of being neither, have the ability to cross or swap genders or another category all in all independent of male and female. However, the concept of the third gender is perceived in many ways.

The third gender in contemporary societies is viewed from different angle. In the 1970s, the anthropologists have described gender categories in some cultures which they could not adequately explain using a two-gender framework. At the same time, feminists began to draw a distinction between biological sex and social/psychological gender. Contemporary gender theorists usually argue that a two-gender system is neither inborn nor universal. A sex/gender system which only recognizes the following two social norms has been labeled as "heteronormativity". History has no profound ground to prove as to when the third sex came into existence in society. Views differed from writers to writers. Some writers suggest that a third gender emerged around 1700 AD in England. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs’s book proves that people described themselves as members of a third sex in Europe around 1860s. Many cited precedents from classical Greek and Sanskrit literature.

In recent years, the third sex has become a serious issue. It has been seen that they have intrepidly been showing their presence in different occasions. Lately, they observed ‘gaijatra’ and ‘dashain’ festival in their own way. However, their frequent presence in public occasions is a good indication that they yearn for their existence in the society of two sexes. With the changing times, it’s seen that they have changed drastically and are demanding recognition. Now is the time to perceive their being third sex with positive perspectives. However, the term "Hijra" is considered very offensive and needs to be recognized by the preferred and most respectful term.

It has been estimated that there are some two million homosexuals and third genders in Nepal. Roughly 134,000 are registered as third gender in 40 districts offices across the country. Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Nepal is considering incorporating ‘third gender’ in the national census in 2011 after receiving demands to include the third gender in the upcoming census. In order to make it effective, discussions are being carried out at both national and regional levels, reports CBS. However, census-taking is a very expensive and huge operation; one simple error can lead to serious variance in census data. Thus, the survey team requires composition of qualified enumerators who can understand the concept of third gender and ask the question regarding their sex in an effective and sensitive manner. Additionally, the CBS is planning a survey to count the number of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) in the country. This initiative, if accomplished successfully, could be a great achievement that further would help take a progressive step in recognizing sexual rights of citizens.

If we go by LGBTI’s history of receiving recognition of third sex officially, we can find a 21-year-old lesbian, Bishnu Adhikari, who became the first ‘third gender’ in Nepal under the Maoist-led government. This move is indeed a landmark for sexual minorities in a country where a strong feudal society still persists and has strong footholds on all social aspects. Bishnu Adhikari became the first person in Nepal to be given an official identity card that describes her sex as ‘third gender’ instead of the usual male and female categories. She was issued an official ID that gave her gender as ‘Third’. Despite the tough effort, she realized her dream by acquiring the identity that truly represented who she was. The credit goes to gay lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant who inspired Bishnu Adhikari to apply for a third gender identity.

They equally participated in eradicating autocracy and establishing democracy like other Nepalese during the 2nd people's movement in Nepal in 2006. Now Nepal has become a Federal Democratic Republic. But many homosexuals still are underprivileged and are not receiving any rights. Many third genders are either embarrassed with an erroneous citizenship or are deprived of getting acceptable recognition as Nepalese citizens.

In June 15, 2003, Bhakti Shah from Achham district joined the Army as a cadet. Although being a male, she always felt herself to be female. The Army sacked her on gender grounds. In May 18, 2007, Shah was taken into custody, and imprisoned for 60 days. In July 16, 2007, a court of enquiry instituted by the army ordered that she be dismissed from the training academy for "immoral activities".

But Shah intrepidly accepted it and challenged the army’s decision in the Supreme Court, Nepal’s apex court, and asked to be reinstated in her job. Her case, backed up by Blue Diamond Society, an NGO of rights activists and lawmakers, was due to come up for hearing on September 13, 2009. The LGBTI communities throughout Nepal have started bringing themselves in a circle of equal rights, social justice and recognition a couple of years back.

In December 21, 2007, the Supreme Court of Nepal made a historic decision ordering the Government to dissolve all discriminatory laws against LGBTI and recognize them as third gender according to their gender identity and protect sexual and gender minority rights as natural persons. The court also ordered that they be allowed to claim all state facilities like male and female citizens. Instead, the government continues to make mockery of their dignity, failing to provide true identity and rights by disobeying SC’s orders. Will the new constitution successfully incorporate the problems of LGBTIs of new Nepal?

Sanjay Shrestha

Member of Amnesty International


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