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Monday, 6 March, 2000, 17:21 GMT
Eunuch MP takes seat
Shabnam Mausi
Shabnam Mausi (right) is India's first eunuch MP
India's first eunuch MP has taken a seat in the assembly in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Forty-year-old Shabnam Mausi, who won a recent by-election in Sohagpur as an independent, took the oath of office in Hindi.

Other members of the assembly in Bhopal thumped their desk in appreciation.

After winning last month, Shabnam declared the victory a reaction against the apathy of leaders and politicians towards people's grievances of the people.

Various eunuch's welfare groups in India have described the victory as a great morale booster.

Observers say the state of Madhya Paradesh appears to be taking a lead in getting eunuchs a more respectable place in a society where they are often feared or ridiculed.

In recent months, five eunuchs have been elected to various civic bodies including a mayor.

Eunuchs, known as "hijras" in Hindi, mostly earn a living by collecting cash gifts from people on occasions like marriages and births.

Groups of hijras dressed in colourful saris with heavy make-up and gaudy jewellery often turn up uninvited at wedding parties and insist on getting generous cash donations.

Traditional belief holds that their presence protects against evil.

There are no official estimates of India's eunuch population, but they are said to number nearly 500,000.
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