India's hidras (sometimes spelled hijiras or hijras), translated as "eunuchs" in English, have a difficult and often contradictory role in society. Rejected by their families, but prized as entertainers at weddings and other celebrations, they often cannot get work in mainstream society and resort to prostitution just to survive.
The formal recognition, confirmed by the Election Commission, answers a longstanding demand by the eunuch and transgender community, known as hijiras here, who are believed to number up to six million.
"The inclusion of eunuchs and transgenders as 'others' gives us a separate identity which is what we have always wanted," said Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a prominent eunuch activist and founder of campaign group Astitva.
"This is a sign of a true democracy."
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