Indian court rules that eunuchs are men

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 05 2003 1:00 AM ET

An Indian court has ruled that eunuchs are male, thereby barring them from seeking elected offices reserved for women. The High Court of central Madhya Pradesh state upheld a lower court ruling Monday barring Kamla Jaan, the first eunuch to win public office in India, from becoming mayor of the town of Katni because the post is reserved for women in order to encourage their participation in politics. Monday's judgment means that a new election for Katni's mayoral office will be held. However, Jaan intends to appeal the decision to India's supreme court.

Eunuchs are traditionally at the bottom of India's class-conscious society, living on tips received for dancing at weddings, blessing newborn babies, and taking part in other ceremonies. Most eunuchs are castrated as children or babies to make them appear more like females. Members of the eunuch community, who refer to each other by female pronouns and consider themselves women, say they take in unwanted male children and castrate them. Some gay men who join the community voluntarily undergo castration to fit in. Only a minority are born hermaphrodites. While some Hindus consider their presence auspicious, eunuchs are often discriminated against in education and barred from government and other high-level jobs. After winning its independence from England in 1947, India launched an affirmative action plan to wipe out caste distinctions. But eunuchs weren't included in the plan.

Jaan shocked the nation's political establishment when elected mayor in 1999. Jaan ran as an independent and was the surprise choice of voters, who had voiced their disgust with corruption among established parties. Jaan's electoral triumph in 1999 sparked a spate of victories by eunuchs at the polls. Three were subsequently elected to municipal bodies in different towns in the state, and two years ago a eunuch was elected for the first time to the Madhya Pradesh state legislature.