The Demigods of Mumbai

Simran’s bright red sari blew through the wind as she walked along the Mumbai shoreline, asking locals and tourists for rupees in exchange for a blessing. Many looked at her, almost alien-like, with a mix of fear, disdain, and fascination. Simran is part of India’s hijra community, which includes transgender and intersex people. It is believed by many Indians that hijras have the capacity to bless or curse, and hijras exist in this grey zone -- making a living by crashing weddings and birth ceremonies, begging, and sometimes through prostitution.

Indian culture has long recognized the fluidity of gender, with a number of demigods in Hindu scripture described as being a third gender. Yet, homesexuality remains taboo and hijras are often forced to live underground, being ostracized by their family and friends. Because of this, India’s hijra community maintains a hierarchical, somewhat secretive subculture.

When I relocated to the city of Mumbai, I began making portraits and spending time with a community near my home. They lived behind the train station in a settlement as a family; packed in small, immaculately organized rooms, one stacked on top of another. I would drop in often, drink tea, and just observe. They opened up a beautiful, unique, and fascinating world to me. These images are for them.