Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Jackie Orr

Keywords

citizenship, hijras, identity, queer studies, South Asia, transgender

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

Through an 18-month ethnographic study conducted with hijras (gender non-conforming people assigned male at birth), newly emerging transwomen, and Dosti, a large NGO in Bangalore, India, this dissertation argues that transgender women claim citizenship by drawing distinct borders between themselves and hijras and positioning hijras as undeserving of the rights of citizenship, thus bolstering their own citizenship claims. This exploration of gender non-conforming people’s citizenship claims in the global South responds to a call for queer studies scholars to consider how citizenship operates among sexual and gender variant people in global South contexts (Richardson 2017). While the identity rubric of transgender is increasingly adopted by individuals in the global South, there is limited research about the empowering and disempowering effects of these identity shifts (Dutta & Roy 2014: 498). By analyzing transwomen’s citizenship claims, my research illustrates the ways that “publics are seduced into viewing some as less than human and come to consent to their banishment from this category and its benefits” (Haritaworn 2015: 129). Though this dissertation focuses primarily on transwomen’s efforts to distinguish themselves from hijras as a way to claim citizenship, there are many other sexual minority groups who seek to distance themselves from hijras, including even hijras. Drawing on current debates about the concept and value of citizenship from scholars in queer studies and feminist studies, I argue that transgender women participate in forms of “murderous inclusions” in order to demand their citizenship rights (Haritaworn et al. 2013).

My research emphasizes the changing structures of hijra groups and other social transformations that have made it possible for transwomen to claim citizenship. For sexual minorities striving to claim the rights of citizenship, the possibility of obtaining citizenship compels the more privileged in the group to draw dividing lines between sexual minorities and gender non-conforming people who deserve citizenship and those who are undeserving of citizenship (Dutta 2012). As a newly emerging identity that is often confused with the hijra identity, transwomen are especially keen emphasize the distinctions between their legitimate claims to citizenship and hijras, whom they position as unfeminine, disreputable and necessarily outside of the boundaries of legitimate citizenship. Transwomen’s newfound chance to engage in office employment via NGOs offers them a salient way to position themselves in contradistinction to hijras, who engage in soliciting money and sex work. NGO characterizations of guru/chela relationships as “against human rights” further bolster transwomen’s citizenship claims that operate via the exclusion of hijras. While I present evidence of a series of activist projects that do not necessarily seek inclusion into normative citizenship (West 2014) via the exclusion of others, this dissertation ultimately argues that by aspiring to become citizens, transwomen have reinforced the exclusion of hijras, thus, this form of inclusion is “murderous” (Haritaworn et al. 2013). My analysis is aligned with Brandzel (2016), Spade (2015) and Haritaworn (2013 & 2015), among others, who assert that citizenship operates as an exclusionary category and should therefore be understood as antithetical to social justice struggles.

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Open Access

Available for download on Sunday, September 08, 2019

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