From: tgnews_moderator <email@example.com>
To: Transgender News <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, 15 Apr 2003 19:38:19 -0400
Subject: [transgendernews] India: Beauties vie for Miss Koovagam title with gay abandon
>>> Source: News Today
>>> URL: http://newstodaynet.com/15apr/ld1.htm [no longer online]
>>> Date: April 15, 2003
>>> Location: India
>>> Item: News
>>> Title: Beauties vie for Miss Koovagam title with gay abandon
Villupuram, Apr 15:
Thousands of transvestites, eunuchs, hermaphrodites and drag queens
from all over the country have woken up this otherwise sleepy place with
their presence and peccadillos and are painting the town red in the run
up to their religious rendezvous with Lord Koothandavar at his humble
shrine in Koovagam village tonight on the occasion of Chitra pournami.
As it has been happening during the past few years, special cultural
events have been organised for the Aravanis, the cognomen bestowed upon
the members of the community after the legendary Aravanan, whose benign
role they will be enacting tonight at Koovagam by tying the nuptial knot
with Koothandavar, who will anyway be killed before the break of dawn
Among the culturals in which the Aravanis from across the country,
the Miss Koovagam 2003 beauty contest is the most colourful one, held on
the lines of international pageants. In the event held last night,
Ranjitha of Bangalore walked away with the title by telling the panel of
judges that her favourite person in the world was her mother.
Pamela of Bangalore, the first runner-up in the contest, said that
she liked the loved bestowed on Aravanis by the people of Tamilnadu and
second runner-up Madhumitha of Erode said that she liked people who
The temple festival at Koovagam, which is being celebrated from time
immemorial with members of the third gender offering themselves as brides
for Lord Koothandavar, who as per legend, wanted to get married before
the day he was to be hanged. Since no woman came forward to marry a man
who will be no more the next morning, Aravanan dressed up as a woman
fulfilled the last wish of Koothandavar.
So, for the community of eunuchs in India, the festival held on the
night of Chitra pournami is an important one and they land in Villupuram,
the closest town to Koovagam, most of them arriving more than a week
before the night. Besides filling up all lodges and boarding houses in
the town, they normally dress themselves and strut around town with long
haired wigs, bedecked with flowers, infusing a sense of bohemianism to
the towns life, albeit temporarily.
More than a decade back, after the threat of AIDS became a reality
in India, NGOs involved in creating awareness about HIV/AIDS zeroed in at
Koovagam since the full moon night of the Tamil month Chithirai saw one
of the biggest congregation of eunuchs at one spot.
Not only are the eunuchs considered one of the high risk groups
exposed to HIV infection, the unbridled revellery into which the eunuchs
break into by going out into the open fields of the village with men from
around the area who, too, throng the place, called for some intervention
from those fighting against HIV transmission.
So with some NGOs identifying the village for their campaigns to
promote condom usage and disseminate the message of safe sex, Koovagam
came into limelight grabbing the attention of international media. Going
one step ahead, in the subsequent years, some NGOs caught up with the
eunuchs at Villupuram itself in the days preceding to the full moon night
by organising a series of cultural programmes for them involving the big
names of the district like the Collector, Superintendent of Police and
It was during those meeting that the eunuchs expressed the problems
faced by them, particularly the public ridicule they had to put up with
and the contemptuous attitude of the society that used derogatory names
for the community. So the term Aravani was popularised as a politically
correct term to describe the members of the third gender.
In fact the Aravanis want the introduction of a third gender to
describe them and not club them as male or female in official records.
South India Aravanigal Rights and Rehabilitation Centre of Tiruchi, whose
office-bearers spoke to the media here, stressed the need for the
government to legalising the third gender. The organisation has embarked
on programmes to impart vocational training to the Aravanis with a view
to wean them away from begging and prostitution, two of the main means
of living for them now. Besides, seeking legal sanction for sex-change
operations, they wanted the formation of self-help groups for Aravanis
as it is now done for women.
The treasurer of the organisation Shabeena Francis claimed that she
was the first person in the country to change her gender from male to
female in official records and also procure a passport as woman. She is
now doing her MA in psychology under the open university scheme.
However, not every one who visits Koovagam tonight change their sex.
Some of them are men with families and just doing cross dressing for the
occasion and will go back to their life as bi-sexuals or homosexuals
after dawn when the Aravanis will break their bangles and mourn the death
of Koothandavar by changing into white sarees like widows.
This year, the cultural programmes were organised for the Aravanis
by Dorcas Research Centre for Education, Art and Culture with the support
of Tamilnadu Aravanigal Association and South India Positive Network and
the event was managed by Dream Sellers.
Villupuram district Collector A Mohammed Aslam, Government Data
Centre Commissioner Sivakami, District Superintendent of Police Abhay
Kumar Singh and German envoy Carlston Var Nekki were among those who took
part in the functions, besides some television artistes.
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