Millennium Post

The myth of gender

The myth of gender
She is not a ‘she’, nor is she a ‘he’. Pinki Pramanik’s ambiguous genitalia defy the neat labelling that determines a child’s allegiance to pink frocks or blue knickers, tea parties with barbie or cricket in the gali. Pramanik’s medical reports have revealed that she [the pronoun Pramanik favours] has male pseudohermaphroditism, a term used for individuals whose gonads are testes but whose secondary sexual characteristics or external genitalia may resemble those of a female. 

The medical findings have freed her from 26 days in judicial custody for allegedly raping her live-in partner, by confirming that she is not capable of committing rape, though she has predominantly male characteristics. But the tests that  declared her chromosomal destiny to the world – a 46 X Y Karotype, common in a male body – were conducted with a brute insensitivity that reveal a priggishness about sexual identity as confounding as Pramanik’s somewhat male, somewhat female  genitals.

That her privates went viral and became fodder for lascivious talk and ‘non-veg’ jokes is a comment on the collective prudishness of a society that doesn’t like to muddle its pronouns. Hence, Pramanik has been reduced to an ‘it.’ A vague mass of aberrant hormones, best described as a ‘freak of nature.’

Ironically, the very people who tied her hands and feet, removed her clothes and filmed her genitals, are the ones who lie prostrate before a pantheon of hermaphrodite gods, praying for wish fulfillment. Indian mythology is rife with deities who change gender at will, or manifest characteristics of both sexes in one avatar to form hermaphroditic beings. The fluid gender of gods and goddesses enables many a homoerotic encounter, and the slaying of demons when necessary.

In traditional mythological narratives like the Puranas, Vishnu, one of the most important male gods in Hindu mythology, transforms himself to the female form of the enchantress Mohini, to recover amrita [nectar] from the asuras [demons]. The Bhagavata Purana describes Vishnu-Mohini’s role in distributing amrita to the gods and deceiving the demons:  ‘…when the jar of nectar passed [into the possession of the Daityas], the female form was assumed by me for exciting the curiosity of the Daityas, with a view to accomplish the interest of the gods.’ In this version of the myth, Shiva is with his consort Parvati, and on seeing ‘a lovely damsel with a girdle around her waist clothed with a brilliant silken raiment…’ he runs after Mohini and embraces her, ‘…being completely overwhelmed with passion…’

 Vishnu subsequently appears as Harihara, an image of Vishnu and Shiva which is considered ‘androgynous’, as the image is formed when Vishnu manifests himself as Mohini.

Intersexual behaviour is common even among those not designated as gods. An example of gender ambivalence lies in the myth of androgyne Ila, the son/daughter of Vaivasvata Manu, [progenitor of mankind]. Ila had the ability to change his/her sex at will and was therefore referred to as Ila-Ila. In the
Ramayana,
the young prince Ila goes on a hunting expedition when he inadvertently intrudes upon Lord Shiva in an embrace with his wife Parvati. As retribution, he is transformed into a woman. In her female manifestation, Ila marries Budha, presiding god of the planet Mercury and son of the moon-god Chandra. She gives birth to a son called Pururavas who becomes the progenitor of the Candravamsa or Lunar Dynasty. After the birth of Pururavas, Ila is transformed into a man again.  In some versions of the story, Ila alternates between his male self and female self every month.

Another myth tells the tale of Arjuna dressed in drag.  When he thwarts the nymph Urvashi’s amorous advances, she curses him: he will become a kliba or a member of the third gender. Arjuna then acquires the name of Brihannala and dresses in women’s clothes, thereby validating the curse. He enters the city ruled by king Virata, where he teaches the arts of music and dance to the princess Uttara and her female entourage. In the Padma Purana, Arjuna is physically transformed into a woman when he expresses a desire to take part in Krishna’s mystical dance, performed by gopis only.

For ordinary mortals like Pramanik, condemned to a hermaphroditism stripped off the romance of myth, cavorting her sexuality is not an option. Perhaps she should seek the intervention of a divinity who understands her predicament – Bahuchara Mata, patron goddess of the hijra, who rides a rooster and carries a sword, trident and a book. Because Pramanik alone is not match for the demons who find her 46 X Y Karotype a grotesque genetic malfunction, and not an affirmation that a creature simultaneously male and female can also be a human being.

Radhika Oberoi is an advertising professional and freelance writer.
Radhika Oberoi

Radhika Oberoi

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