On Dhaka’s roads, hijras, including transgender and intersex people, are hard to miss.
Dressed in glittering saris, their faces heavily coated with cheap makeup, they sashay through crowded intersections, knocking on car windows with the edge of a coin and offering their blessings. They crash fancy weddings and birth ceremonies, singing bawdy songs and leaving with fistfuls of takas.
But behind the theatrics are often sad stories—of the sex trade and exploitation, cruel and dangerous castrations. Being cast out and constantly humiliated, they have very few options other than begging.
“Personally, I don’t want to beg. Nobody wants to beg,” said Shuchoda, whom this correspondent met at the busy Bijoy Sarani intersection. “And the situation has got worse now for begging. The police harass us. But we aren’t given any other opportunities,” she rued.
The government has decided to give these ‘otherwise’ neglected people an opportunity of getting trained with information technology (IT) education.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division of the government has taken up a special project, under which it plans to train members of the ‘third gender’ community for call centres and other IT-enabled service (ITES) jobs.
What will be there in the project?
Amjad Hossain, a joint secretary with the division who looks after the project said that they are currently preparing a database of the hijra population in the country.
Ballpark estimates of the number of hijras range from 10,000 to five lakh (out of Bangladesh’s population of some 17 crore). In 2013, the government granted the “third gender” status to hijras.
The database, said Amjad, has thorough information about individual members of the third gender. “It’s being prepared with the identification of the strengths of individuals.”
After the database is completed, the ICT Division will run a screening process and select hijras for the training. “Firstly, we have thought of engaging them in call centre jobs. We have already started looking for the partner organisations to carry out the training programmes,” he said.
Tauhidur Rahman, general secretary of the Bangladesh Association of Call Center and Outsourcing (BACCO), disclosed that members of their association have already been instructed by the ICT Division to prepare toolkits for IT training of the hijras.
“It’s not going to be an easy task because the members of the third gender community have lots of limitations,” he said, adding that they themselves have to change their attitudes.
“We are ready to accommodate them in the mainstream workplace,” he said.
Will the initiative succeed?
The government had earlier taken a few more initiatives to employ members of the third gender in the mainstream workforce. However, those did not see much success.
On March 30, 2015, a transgender named Labannya Hijra became a hero. On witnessing the murder of the blogger Oyasiqur Rahaman, she made a grab at the fleeing assailants. Her courageous intervention led to the arrest of two men, who later confessed to the killing.
After Labannya’s heroic act, the government announced plans to recruit hijras as traffic police, a move that was widely welcomed. In June 2016, the Bangladesh Bank (BB) instructed financial institutions to spend a portion of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds on the transgender community.
The general secretary of Bangladesh Hijra Kalyan Foundation, Dr M Xane Alam Raabid, said the hijras will need to be properly apprised and made to understand that training in IT will give them a better life than their ‘hijra career’.
“Hijras think their profession of extorting money is a profitable one, because of which they refuse to give it up. It would be advisable to first change their mindset and then train them,” observed Dr Raabid.
He said hijras possess significant intelligence and physical strength, which is comparable to any man or woman. “I believe they could work with hardware and computer equipment, and work at assembly plants.”
“But since they possess very low patience, they will not perform well in call centre jobs or in software,” he observed.