Documentary portraits of Hijras, transgender Indian community that means much more than that only. The photographs are part of The Lilies series - more than a houndred of portraits of various Hijras in Delhi, that were photographed from 2012 to 2016.
Hijra make up a distinct social class in India, distinguished by their own rules of conduct and a strictly hierarchical system within the community. They are often referred to as "third gender", as people who are neither male nor female, or as eunuchs. In simple terms, hijra are assigned male at birth but wear women's clothing, feel themselves to be of the female gender, and often desire genital modification surgery. Hijra believe that by removing the male-typical organs, they will reach communion with one of the Hindu goddesses (most often Bahuchara Mata), granting them supernatural powers and the approval of the goddess. In a Western context, they would probably be considered trans women, but a host of other sociocultural and religious meanings have accumulated around the hijra name in India.
Hijra trace their origins back to one of the classic epics of India, the Ramayana, which gives their community a history of almost three thousand years. They probably held the most power during the Mughal Empire, which ruled the Indian subcontinent between 1526 and 1858. At the time they held high offices, such as in Mughal courts of law, and served as royal advisers as well as protectors of royal harems and palaces. The belief that hijra were free of sexual desire made them ideal candidates for occupations requiring the greatest amount of responsibility.
The situation of hijra changed rapidly during the era of British colonialism. Along with other groups of people, they were branded a "criminal tribe" and found themselves targeted by the authorities and the police force. Traditionally, hijra made their living off blessing newlyweds, newborns, or simply people going through various life situations. Some hijra have managed to keep such employment even today. Most people in India do believe in their divine power and therefore try to win their favor during important rituals of the life cycle, usually exchanging money for a hijra's boon. In recent decades, however, traditional professions have given way to sex work and begging for many hijra, both of which activities are criminalized in India.
This radical change has dealt a fatal blow to the social standing of hijra. Although it is commonly claimed that they enjoy a great deal of respect from the wider community, in fact they face verbal as well as physical violence, structural discrimination, rape and harassment from both citizens and state institutions (including the police). Hijra are in a precarious legal situation, and their families may often disown them for their gender-variant identity. Therefore, they seek shelter and understanding in the relatively strong ranks of their own community, especially their guru, who strives to give her daughters (chelas) protection and provides them with working opportunities in her part of town, divided among various hijra communities.
More of the portraits you can find here.