South Asia

Organized Panel Session

5 - Affective Communities: Hijra Autobiography and Queer Activism in India

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Mahogany, First Floor

Aided by the circulation of human rights discourse through transnational NGO networks, the 21st century witnessed the emergence of multiple hijra autobiographies that were read as representing "authentic" hijra life, particularly, A. Revathi’s The Truth About Me (2010) and Laxminarayan Tripathi’s Me Hijra, Me Laxmi (2015). As one reviewer noted, they “position the reader as an anthropologist of hijra life.” Despite the general linkage between autobiography and liberal personhood in metropolitan literary cultures, these autobiographies were read as metaphoric of hijra communitarian relations. This paper places dominant understandings of autobiography and ethnography in conversation, arguing that hijra autobiographies do not necessarily convey what Joan Scott calls the “evidence of experience” in all its raw immediacy. Rather, I suggest that these authors implicitly challenge the ethnographic fetishism that hijras are subjected to, thereby reinventing ethnography as an affective tool to make claims to rights for their communities. Further, I will demonstrate that while the nascent genre of hijra autobiography overtly presents a progression from exploited subaltern to respectable professional activist, it actually demarcates several different subject positions in the authors’ aspiration to move from subjects to citizens. These subject positions, as, for instance, of a woman, hijra, or transgender person, of a sex worker, or even of a citizen, are articulated differently depending on the authors’ mobility across spaces, the discourses they draw on to narrate the self, the visions of national/transnational citizenship endorsed by them, and their imagined readerships. They are, thus, better read as auto-ethnographies of ethics and activism.

Rovel Sequeira

University of Pennsylvania, United States

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