- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

NEW DELHI — India's first eunuch mayor has been unseated in a legal dispute over whether she is a man or a woman.

About 2-1/2 years ago, Kamla Jaan made history of sorts when residents of Katni in central India elected her mayor of the city.

As all Indian eunuchs do, Kamla Jaan dresses as a woman and believes she is a female. But a judge in the central state of Madhya Pradesh ruled last week that Kamla Jaan is, in fact, a man and should be disqualified from the mayoral post, which is reserved under a quota system for a female candidate.

Kamla Jaan is one of India's so-called "third sex," who number at least 1 million nationwide. Known as "hijras," most eunuchs live on the edge of mainstream society earning their livelihood by singing at weddings, blessing newborns and taking part in other ceremonies. In big cities, many are prostitutes. Recently, increasing numbers of eunuchs have found an unlikely niche in Indian politics.

Indian voters frustrated or disgusted with corrupt politicians sometimes vote for eunuchs to snub the established political parties. Having no family ties and rarely owning property, eunuchs are able to portray themselves as likely to serve the people rather their own interests.

Kamla Jaan, 52, and three other eunuchs were shooed away when they wanted to join the candidate lists of major political parties before the municipal election in the state in 1999. All four ran as independents and won with overwhelming majorities, stunning the two major parties — Congress and the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

For 2-1/2 years, Kamla Jaan has run the city of Katni with an iron hand. She sank wells, fixed the drains and doled out aid among the poor in a style that had never been seen before. She brushed aside the usually lethargic advisory council members who were meant to guide her. She berated them and others who objected to her way of functioning and became immensely popular among the poor and middle class.

Then a group of defeated candidates, showing rare solidarity, filed a lawsuit two years ago demanding a review of the new mayor's qualifications.

"Everyone knows that a eunuch is more close to a man than a woman," says Alka Jain, the defeated BJP candidate. "The [chief election official of the area] had made a mistake by accepting Kamla Jaan's nomination paper."

Kamla Jaan, who is illiterate, argued that she was a "born eunuch" — an authentic eunuch is a castrated male — and so should not be considered a man. But in his 40-page ruling, the judge agreed with the group of petitioners that Kamla Jaan is male.

Eighteen eunuchs contested last year's election in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. But their biggest success has been in Madhya Pradesh where, as well as the mayor of Katni, three have been elected local councilors and a fourth made it to the state's legislative assembly.

"Roughly estimated, one in a hundred eunuchs is a natural eunuch or hermaphrodite born with deformed or ambiguous genitalia — neither a boy nor a girl," says Dr. P. Manorama of Community Health Education Services, a private organization working among prostitutes, including eunuchs.

Law in India identifies most eunuchs as female and some as male. Kamla Jaan had been listed as male in some older documents but as female in some more recent ones. Last week's judgment is likely to have far-reaching implications, not just for several other eunuchs who have lived as women, but for the political rights for all eunuchs.


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