Eunuchs are historically males who are castrated (without their consent) so that they can perform a specific social function. This function normally was guarding the harem, be in service to the rulers and noblemen, work in administrative capacity and even become treble singers.
Except for the last, the reason why eunuchs were preferred for the the other services was that they were no threat to the women of the harem, and since they had no chance of marraige or having children it was presumed they would have less reason to be corrupt.
Some of them assumed great positions of authority but most of them lived on the fringes of society.
In modern day India they are relegated to the fringes and eke out a living by singing and dancing at childbirth and sometimes weddings. Many are seen begging at traffic signals and generally threatening to invoke a curse if they do not get alms.
So it was was a real pleasure to find this beautiful khanqaah ( a spiritual retreat) for eunuchs or hijras as they are called in India.
This is an oasis of solitude in the busy streets of Mehrauli village near Jahaz Mahal. It is kept locked and is opened on request.
An interesting thing is the low doorway. We were told it is so everyone enters the khanqaah with a bowed head.
zindagii baap kii maanind sazaa detii hai
“Life punishes you like a strict father
Death came as a as a saviour like a merciful mother”
Sufi saints have always been known for their inclusiveness, humanity and healing touch.
It is said that Sufi saint Hazrat Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki had made one oF the eunuchs in his times his sister. He fondly called her Aapa.
This place was given to them by the saint. The prominent green grave is where she is buried.
Though officially it belongs to the eunuchs at Turkman Gate , Old Delhi and its under their maintenance , they come only on festivals to offer tribute and celebrate and hold langars ( dustribute free food) .
The 50 graves are each kept in pristine condition by Shripal a gujar whose family has been the traditional caretakers of this khanqaah.
He told me he comes every morning with his children to do service here of cleaning and burning the chiragh at night. Since traditionally in India hijras are associated with festivities during chilbirth that no prayer for children goes unanswered here.
Considering the decay in most of the medieval buildings i have seen in Delhi, this beautiful mihrab tells the tale of the loving care this khanqaah gets.
The history, culture and architecture across India portrays tolerance, irrespective of gender and religion. The need of the hour is to reinstill for all citizens, including those of the LGBT community in India, the same respect and space that was enjoyed in the past.
This article appeared in Pragati Magazine