Hijra is a South Asian term with no exact match in the English language. Hijras are people designated male or intersex at birth who adopt a feminine gender identity. Often mislabeled as hermaphrodites, eunuchs, or transsexuals in literature, Hijras can be considered to fall under the umbrella term transgender, but many prefer the term third gender. Traditionally, Hijras held semi sacred status and were hired to sing, dance, and bless newly married couples or newborns at household parties. Earnings were pooled through the guru system, in which Hijras declare allegiance to a guru and submit to group rules, in exchange for financial and social security.
Growing up in Bangladesh, I was influenced by predominant prejudices and stereotypes about Hijras. Then, I met Heena, who opened her life to me and helped me get to know the other members of her community as the mothers, daughters, friends, and lovers that they are. Call Me Heena is my attempt to show the beauty in Hijra lives, despite the challenges and discrimination they face.
Sharmin studied photography at Pathshala South Asian Media Academy in Bangladesh and was named the second place winner of the Alexia Foundation student grant 2014 for her project, “Call Me Heena”. The same work has been selected in Open Society Foundations, Moving Walls 23 group exhibition in 2015.