Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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PHOTOS: Indian Trans Women Join the Fight Against Breast Cancer

PHOTOS: Indian Trans Women Join the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Hijras, a group recently declared a legal "third gender" by the Indian government, have played special roles in Indian culture for centuries. Trans women (or hijras who have a generally feminine gender presentation), in particular, remain socially marginalized, but are also revered by many for their ability to grant blessings upon newborns and during other celebrations.

Perhaps resonating with that historical role as community guardians, a number of recent public service campaigns have featured hijras. In May, a group of trans women calling themselves "The Seatbelt Crew" were part of a catchy public service announcement on traffic safety, working to lower India's disproportionately high number of driving-related deaths.

In October, Bangalore's HCG Cancer Care, a leading Indian cancer treatment group with 27 locations, invited hijras to be part of a unique public service campaign about breast cancer prevention called "Love Your Breasts. Or Lose Your Breasts." The campaign utilizes posters, billboards, and a short film to raise awareness (included below).

HCG  Ayishu

The group's eye-catching approach reflects culturally specific narratives about trans women and the concept of "being blessed" which some viewers share, while others do not. The campaign asks cisgender (nontrans) women to consider what a gift it is to be born with breasts, and urges them not to take their bodies for granted. 

HCG Nithya

As one hijra model, Reshma (featured in the video and photo below), explains in a statement, "Breast cancer is a deadly disease and we would like to spread this awareness message to all the women who are blessed with their femininity, [that] they should take care of themselves with regular checkups." An HCG spokesman adds that hijra are ideal spokespeople for this idea since they have "f[ought] hard to become who they are" and faced similar social stigma to cancer patients.

HCG Reshma

Doctors working with HCG took the moment to point out that transgender women need to be screened for breast cancer as well. "Cancer is a great equalizer, it knows no caste or creed or sex," explained Dr. Nalini Rao. "Transgender[ women] are also at risk of breast cancer and need to undergo regular self-examination."

Check out the campaign video below.

All images courtesy of Mr. Dinesh Madhavan, director of HCG's Healthcare Services.

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