The Invisibles: A Tale of the Eunuchs of India

Overview

In this superb work of investigative reporting, Zia Jaffrey pursues the riddle of India's most elusive subculture, the cross-dressing and often-castrated figures known as "hijras" whose very name means neither male nor female. Are the hijras lucky or dangerous? Are they a nurturing community of outcasts or a criminal network that kidnaps and mutilates recruits? Do they number in the thousands or in the millions? As she talks with policemen, a unionizer of eunuchs, and with the hijras themselves, Jaffrey unravels ...
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Overview

In this superb work of investigative reporting, Zia Jaffrey pursues the riddle of India's most elusive subculture, the cross-dressing and often-castrated figures known as "hijras" whose very name means neither male nor female. Are the hijras lucky or dangerous? Are they a nurturing community of outcasts or a criminal network that kidnaps and mutilates recruits? Do they number in the thousands or in the millions? As she talks with policemen, a unionizer of eunuchs, and with the hijras themselves, Jaffrey unravels veils of rumor and deception to locate the nature of our sexual and social thresholds, and the people who dwell on them. Deeply resonant, uniquely insightful, The Invisibles is an enthralling work.

"A magnificent journey. Jaffrey writes about this fascinating and delicate subject with human understanding and warmth."--Ryszard Kapuscinski

"Sensitively written...eloquent...and compassionate."--New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Freelance writer Jaffrey, an American of Indian extraction, traveled throughout India to study eunuchs, or "hijras." The subculture of castrated males has existed in India for centuries, owing to their outcast status and the tendency of government officials to discourage inquiries, but their living arrangements, social structure and actual numbers are difficult to verify. Jaffrey provides a wealth of previous research, including folklore regarding hijras' activities, as well as details of the interesting but inconclusive interviews she conducted with hijras living in India today. Although those she interviewed acknowledge that they arrive unasked to bring good luck by singing and dancing at weddings and celebrations for newborns, other questions regarding castration ceremonies, prostitution, religious practices and hierarchical organization elicited elusive and contradictory responses. This study intrigues rather than enlightens. Photos not seen by PW. Nov.
Library Journal
Eunuchs have long occupied distinctive roles in Indian society. Among Hindus, they hold low status and generally survive from the money given them at the time of marriages or births in Hindu families. Within Muslim society, they served historically as special guards of women's quarters and often held high administrative positions. In this fascinating book, Jaffrey, an American freelance writer who spent part of her childhood in India, presents her investigation of eunuchs, or hijras, in Delhi and Hyderabad, interviewing them and describing the reactions of her Indian hosts to them. She begins most of her chapters with quotations from accounts of hijras made by foreign visitors to India over the past several centuries. These illustrate that there is ample documentation to pursue further investigation in a topic long overlooked in academia. Given the misunderstanding this community suffers, Jaffrey certainly has clarified many issues. A definite addition to collections concerned with gender problems.Donald Johnson, Univ. of Minnesota Lib., Minneapolis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679742289
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Series: Vintage Departures Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

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