Vaibhav Saria, "Hijras, Lovers, Brothers: Surviving Sex and Poverty in Rural India" (Fordham UP, 2021)


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Hijras, one of India’s third gendered or trans populations, have been an enduring presence in the South Asian imagination—in myth, in ritual, and in everyday life, often associated in stigmatized forms with begging and sex work. In more recent years hijras have seen a degree of political emergence as a moral presence in Indian electoral politics, and with heightened vulnerability within global health terms as a high-risk population caught within the AIDS epidemic.

Hijras, Lovers, Brothers: Surviving Sex and Poverty in Rural India (Fordham UP, 2021) recounts two years living with a group of hijras in rural India. In this riveting ethnography, Vaibhav Saria reveals not just a group of stigmatized or marginalized others but a way of life composed of laughter, struggles, and desires that trouble how we read queerness, kinship, and the psyche.

Against easy framings of hijras that render them marginalized, Saria shows how hijras makes the normative Indian family possible. The book also shows that particular practices of hijras, such as refusing to use condoms or comply with retroviral regimes, reflect not ignorance, irresponsibility, or illiteracy but rather a specific idiom of erotic asceticism arising in both Hindu and Islamic traditions. This idiom suffuses the densely intertwined registers of erotics, economics, and kinship that inform the everyday lives of hijras and offer a repertoire of self-fashioning beyond the secular horizons of public health or queer theory.

Engrossingly written and full of keen insights, the book moves from the small pleasures of the everyday—laughter, flirting, teasing—to impossible longings, kinship, and economies of property and substance in order to give a fuller account of trans lives and of Indian society today.

Hijras, Lovers, Brothers is the winner of the 2021 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences.

Shraddha Chatterjee is a doctoral candidate at York University, Toronto, and author of Queer Politics in India: Towards Sexual Subaltern Subjects (Routledge, 2018).

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