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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 19:48 GMT
India stages Ms World for eunuchs
Eunuchs hold annual pageants
India's eunuchs have long lived on the fringes of society
More than 100 eunuchs are competing at "Ms World 2001" in India, during Holi, the Hindu festival of colours, which begins on Friday.

In Bhopal, capital of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, eunuch beauty contestants will sprinkle powdered colours on each other to mark Holi as they grace the stage.

Eunuchs are known in Pakistan and India as hijras, Urdu for "impotent ones". The expression is broadly used to describe those classified as neither male nor female. Born male, the eunuchs adopt women's names and clothing.

Living on the fringes of society, eunuchs live mainly by singing and dancing at parties, prostitution and begging.

There may be  between 500,000 to 100,000 eunuchs in India
Ram blessed eunuchs for their devotion
Eunuchs dressed in colourful saris with heavy make-up and jewellery often gatecrash wedding parties, singing songs and dancing until paid to leave.

Third sex

No one really knows how many eunuchs India has. Estimates vary at between half a million and 1.2 million. Many eunuchs are castrated at puberty, while others are hermaphrodites or simply cross-dressers.

Eunuchs deny long-standing allegations that they kidnap and castrate boys, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

Indian media have reported cases of teenage boys being forcibly castrated. In 1995, a eunuch was arrested in New Delhi for castrating a man after drugging his food.

Ancient blessing

Hindu sacred texts are said to contain references to eunuchs and descriptions of impotent men who danced and cast spells. To this day, many Indians believe eunuchs have occult powers so they pay for their dancing and singing.

According to the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, which dates from around the third century BC, the god king Ram blessed eunuchs. When Ram was banished, he urged all male and female followers to go home.

Being neither, the eunuchs waited 14 years for his return from exile. Ram blessed the eunuchs for their devotion.

Eunuchs have long been marginalised in Indian society
Eunuchs are beginning to enter fashion and politics
Bid for political power

Indian eunuchs are starting to emerge from the fringes of society by entering fashion and politics. Last November, eunuchs modelled designer clothes at fashion show in Lucknow, capital of northern Uttar Pradesh.

Voters in Madhya Pradesh made history by electing India's first ever eunuch legislator in February last year, The Times of India reported. Shabnam Mausi or "Aunt" Shabnam, 40, was born to a Brahmin family and made a living out of singing and dancing.

Madhya Pradesh also has two eunuch mayors and three senior business executives. And in Uttar Pradesh, voters of Gorakhpur elected Asha Devi, a eunuch, as mayor last November, Reuters reported.

Plans are also underway to launch a eunuchs' political party. Shabnam Mausi said she planned to register a party with the Election Commission of India after January.

The party would be open to males, females and the "third sex" from all over the country.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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14 Jan 01 | South Asia
Eunuchs to enter national politics
06 Mar 00 | South Asia
Eunuch MP takes seat
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