Making Homes

The dual lives of hijras in Bangladesh

01 July 2017
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NAYAN WORKS AT A GARMENT FACTORY in Dhaka, where she spends her days dressed as a man. But when she goes home in the evenings, she changes into a sari, puts on makeup and waits for her boyfriend to arrive.

In 2012, the photographer Shahria Sharmin went to the factory where Nayan works, looking for a story about labourers in Bangladesh’s garment industry. But when she met Nayan, who was then 24 years old, Sharmin realised she wanted to depict her life, as well as those of the few other workers who were also hijras—five out of the 4,000 labourers in the factory. Of Nayan, Sharmin said, “I found her deepest desire is to be a wife. She dreams someone would come one day to marry her. Her immense ambition of becoming a woman is what drew me to her.” Soon after that, Sharmin began work on Call Me Heena, an ongoing narrative photography project that looks at the desires, struggles and triumphs of hijras in Bangladesh and India.

In order to determine the best way to represent her subjects, Sharmin spends hours with them without taking a single photo, often having conversations over meals about various issues. This time is vital for building trust and making collaborative artistic decisions with her subjects. Usually Sharmin talks with them “about the photograph I want to take.” After that, she said, her subjects “give me some ideas or guidelines on how they would like to be represented. I haven’t noticed much anxiety among them about the way of their representation, rather I found them quite confident on what they are looking for, and normally I do not deviate from their intentions.” Along with the images she photographs, Sharmin records quotes from her subjects that she feels capture the complexity of their experiences.

Shahria Sharmin is an award-winning photographer based in Bangladesh.

Keywords: gender family sexuality identity transgender discrimination