Organized Panel Session
Badhai, the repertoire of devotional prayers, songs, dances, and comic repartee, performed by socially marginalized trans feminine hijra and khwaja sira throughout South Asia, has long been recognised as vital to these communities’ identities. Transmitted through lineages of gurus (teachers) and chelas (students), badhai performances cultivate embodied knowledge and piety, strengthen kinship bonds, offer personal expression, and equip practitioners with skills to negotiate normative society. Typically staged at neighboring households to shower blessings of fertility, health and prosperity upon willing or unwilling celebrants of weddings, births, job promotions and other auspicious occasions, these performances have carved affective networks of relationality and constituted important livelihood. However, badhai is increasingly considered to be on the decline. Evocative of the nineteenth-century colonial prohibition against hijra performance, badhai practitioners today have been subjected to accusations of extortion and of polluting public space as a result of the contemporary collusion of classist/casteist, heteronormative, nationalist, religious and neoliberal agendas, even with the expanding narrative of transgender rights across South Asia over the last decade. This panel couples historical research on the archives of criminalisation of hijra performance with new ethnographic fieldwork, drawn from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, to examine the diverse ways in which practitioners negotiate changing social scripts, enact genealogies, and mobilize different, if not competing, futurities.