In 2007, Steve Cooper found a new job as an Indian Goddess who thousands of Hindus believed could cure their infertility.
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Pilgrims head to a remote jungle temple to be blessed by Steve, 32, from South West London. He calls himself Pamela but his devotees have dubbed him Prema — Hindi for Divine Love.
Steve was living in a tiny flat in Tooting until deciding on his new career after Indian friends told him he looked and moved just like the ancient goddess. Surrounded by followers, Steve told The Sun: “I love being here. I don’t miss anything about Tooting.”
Tooting (1910) found here
Hindu pilgrims have no doubts about his powers. When we asked Bhanu Barot why she was so keen to receive Prema’s blessing, she said, simply: “Because she is a goddess.”
Another woman, Rekha, said she had travelled for days to be blessed by Steve. She added: “My sister-in-law came here and she got pregnant immediately. I am hoping the same will happen for me after receiving the blessing of the goddess.”
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Steve now follows a strict vegetarian diet and sleeps in a spartan room. He lives among 80 eunuchs at the temple. But some have their doubts that he is equipped to be a goddess. A eunuch called Sudha said: “He is a fake. I checked and he still has a penis.”
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Traditionally, hijras have had their male genitalia removed through a process known as nirvan (literally, “rebirth”)
The process isn’t ordinarily a pretty one, usually carried out without the aid of modern anesthesia or antibiotics. Hijras are considered to constitute a third sex or third gender in that they are neither men nor women. The term koti refers to males who take a “receptive” or feminine role in sex. They are usually not conflated with hijras, although they often dress as women and act in a feminine manner.
Candy Darling found here
The blessing, or curse, of a hijra is considered unusually potent because of their transgender nature. Hijras have traditionally survived by demanding money from families in return for blessing a newborn child or newly married couple. They also dance and sing and tell bawdy jokes at weddings and festivals.
Divine found here
Castration has always been a feature of the community. Those preparing for castration are called akwa hijras. Those who have been castrated are called nirvan hijras, meaning they have been released from their male gender.
Hijras can fall into at least four ”clinical” categories. ”There are transvestites who cross-dress as a fetish; transsexuals who feel they are in the wrong body; inter-sexed males, and cross-dressing gay males. If a person from any one of these joins a hijra group then they are called one.”
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24 year old Suman is the leader of a hijra household in Delhi. Each one of Suman’s group claimed to have been born without a penis or testicles. One even lifted her dress to prove she had no genitalia. There was a small hole in her lower abdomen that allowed her to urinate. ”No one here has any sexual organs,” says Suman.
In the state of Tamil Nadu, in south India, the predominantly Hindu transgender community call themselves ”aravanis” and follow Aravan, a character in the Hindu epic The Mahabharata who died a heroic death in battle. At a special festival each year in the town of Koovagam, aravanis ritually marry Aravan, then mourn his death. Tamil Nadu has officially recognised its transgender community and issues ration cards with a special ”third gender” category.
Aravan bride found here