Shunned Hijra: Film Exposes Transgender Life in South Asia

PHOTO: A new Bangladeshi film "Common Gender" exposes the underworld of south Asias transgender or hijra community.
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First-time director Noman Robin accidentally walked into a shockingly violent scene that propelled him into the movie making spotlight in his native Bangladesh -- and around the world.

Robin was at a mall as a hijra or transgender female was thrown first out of the men's room and then the ladies' room. As customers began screaming, security guards dragged her to the street and began beating her.

"What are you doing here?" shouted the guards. "I'm human! I need to go to the toilet," she replied.

Today, Robin's film, "Common Gender," exposes the shunned hijra -- transvestites, transgender and intersex -- who cling together in slums, rejected by their families and exploited by society that treats them as sub-human.

"The hijra was beaten in front of hundreds of people," said Robin. "She was just standing there, saying, 'What is my fault?' ... I am thinking, 'Oh my god, it's my duty to show this community."

The film has been a surprise hit in conservative and mostly Muslim Bangladesh. Robin sold it as a love story to draw people to the theaters to hear his message.

Sushmita, a hijra and outcast, falls in love with Sanjay, a Hindu boy. His parents refuse to accept his girlfriend and Sushmita kills herself.

Although she is a fictional character, Sushmita's story has struck a realistic chord, making cultural waves not only in Robin's native Bangladesh, but in India and soon, the United States.

It portrays the cruelty and discrimination that plagues those who are transvestite, intersex or transgender. The film's tag line is, "A man who exists between a man and a woman is also a human ... he is the best human!"

Filmed in the Bengali language and with no famous stars, it opened two weeks ago in just six local theaters, but because of its popularity will now go into general release. Mahi B. Choudhury, a former member of parliament and chair of ER Cinema, is producer of the film. This week he is on his way to New York to promote the film with American producers.

Robin, who is 27, straight and had previously worked on a television historical drama, said the toilet incident had horrified him into action.

So he began to explore the hijra enclaves and talk to people. "I heard their stories and went to some of them and asked about their personal lives and picked up some stories," said Robin. "I went deep into their story and cried. They can't be human like this -- how do they survive?"

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