For Hindi speakers, the word "hijra" means "third gender" and describes self-identifying transgenders, gays or androgynes. While the Moghuls ruled present-day India (1526-1858), hijras were revered as confidants and private guards in royal courts across the empire.
After the British seized control of the region, the political power of hijras dramatically decreased. With the passage of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, for example, hijras became subject to movement restrictions, heightened surveillance, and warrant-less searches and seizures.
Since Indian independence, hijras have been limited to working mostly as performers, commercial sex workers and panhandlers. To confront these barriers, a pro-hijra movement has emerged and sought increased civil rights. In 1994, hijras gained their right to vote. Four years later, the first Indian transgender politician, Shabnam Mausi, was elected to serve in the Madhya Pradesh state legislative assembly.