ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Constructing Hijras as Colonial Subjects

Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India: The Hijra, c 1850–1900 by Jessica Hinchy, Cambridge, New York, Port Melbourne, New Delhi and Singapore: Cambridge University Press, 2019; pp xviii + 305, price not indicated.  

Recorded anthropological and ethnographic interest in gender variance, especially of hijras or “eunuchs” (a term used in colonial rec­ords and some contemporary ones) in the subcontinent now referred to as ­India, dates back several centuries to the British rule. The interest continues in contemporary academia with book length monographs, such as Serena Nanda’s Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India (1998), and Gayatri Reddy’s With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India (2005) being the earlier, oft-cited works. Anjali Aron­dekar’s For the Record: On Sexuality and the Colonial Archive in India (2009) is a departure from these anthropological modes of enquiry as the book relies on a Derridean deconstructive analysis of the colonial archive to destabilise the relentless search for a “queer subject.”

The latest monograph on gender variance in India, Jessica Hinchy’s Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India: The Hijra, c 1850–1900 (2019) analyses how criminality was attributed to eunuchs in the mid- to late-19th century, with particular focus on Part II of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 in the North-Western Provinces (NWP) administered by the British. The book is divided into three sections and has a total of nine chapters with a conclusion that summarises the whole book and a postscript that draws link­ages to contemporary state practices and hijras. The author has done extensive rese­arch to identify “sources” related to the “subject” in the Uttar Pradesh State Archives, National Archives of India, and the British Library. The methodological, citational, and analytical components of the book are critically reviewed in depth below.

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Updated On : 18th Sep, 2021
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