Call me Heena "I feel like a mermaid. My body tells me that I am a man but my soul tells me that I am a woman. I am like a flower, a flower that is made of paper. I shall always be loved from a distance, never to be touched and no smell to fall in love with." Heena, 52 years, is part of a community called hijras. The word hijra is an Urdu-Hindustani word derived from Semitic Arabic root meaning "leaving one’s tribe". The term defines a male at birth with feminine gender identity who eventually adopts feminine gender roles. Transcending the biological definition, Hijras have been part of South Asia’s culture for thousands of years but it was only when the British came to power in India in 1897 that outraged colonists introduced a law classing them as criminals. Perhaps the Hijras in Bangladesh faces the worst situation, which forces a good number of them to leave their motherland, to migrate to India. Instead of coming from various social and family backgrounds, Hijras feel a strong sense of belongings to their groups. These groups give them the shelter of a family and the warmth of human relationship. Outside the group, they are discriminated and scorned almost everywhere. Traditionally they used to earn their living based on the cultural belief that Hijras can bless one’s house with prosperity and fertility. Times have changed and Hijras have lost their admired space in the society. Now they make a living by walking around the streets collecting money from shopkeepers, bus and train passengers or by prostitution.
Shahria Sharmin is a Bangladeshi photographer, who is currently studying in London. She captured these poignant pictures showing the life of the outcast transgender people in her country. "In Bangladesh Hijras hardly get an opportunity to have a normal life.", says Shahria, "They do not have any school to study, no temple to pray in, no government and private organisations would want to see them in their employee list. They have no access to legal system nor do even health service providers welcome them. I, like almost everyone else in my society, was raised to see them as less than human. Their habits, way of life, and even their looks marked them as apart, different and deviant. Then I met Heena and she made me see how wrong I was. She opened her life to me, made me a part of her world and helped me to see beyond the word Hijra. She made me understand her, and others who live in her community, as the mothers, daughters, friends and lovers that they actually are.
I have started this self-financed on going project in the beginning of July 2012. My work has won the hearts and trust of many Hijras over the period of time, which I hope is evident in my photo essay. To know the full story, the work must go on."