Voices from the Field

Commentary & Opinions

2019.20: Delfi Chinnappan: Digitally Mediated Hijra Identity: The Case of the 6 Pack Band

Media has always sensationalized and ridiculed us as a joke and criminals; they never show the reality of our hard lives and the truth of our gender identities. Even in Bollywood movies, the male actor plays the hijra role in drag; there are so many beautiful and talented hijras in the community, why not give them an opportunity? (Rani, identifies as hijra, 32 years, Mumbai)

As pointed out by Rani, there is a need for hijras to be included in media productions that present representations about the hijra community. In this commentary, I explore the 6 Pack band[1] and its videos posted on YouTube as digitally mediating the hijra identity in contemporary India. The 6 Pack Band is an all hijra member band and has created six music videos since 2016. Hijras are a visible majority of the larger transgender population in India. The term hijra has variants in colloquial Indian languages and includes expressions like ‘number six’ (used derivatively), and chakka, which loosely translates as “effeminate.” The 6 Pack band aims to generate public dialogue on gender inclusivity in India and challenge the binary notion of gender in India, while also showing mainstream media and corporate public support for the cause and change through its sponsors, Y-Films and Red Label.

Hijra visibility in India has been on the rise since legal recognition of a third gender by India’s Supreme Court on April 15, 2014 and repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.[2]  Popular culture and mainstream media representations along with academic research have contributed to broadening popular knowledge about hijra communities. Through digital media technologies and a changing digital landscape in India concerning user-generated online streaming content and its consumer reach, hijra communities have new platforms to negotiate and present their identities. Therefore, it is critical to ask how hijras represent themselves in 6 Pack to viewers and a wider audience.

The 6 Pack band videos are produced by Y-Films, the online component of Yash Raj Films (YRF) in collaboration with Mindshare Mumbai and Brooke Bond Red Label as part of a campaign to change public attitudes towards transgender individuals. The lyrics of the band’s songs and videos reflect social issues that hijra face, such as running away from home due to family rejection of their gender identities, homelessness, social stigma resulting in discrimination, and unemployment. The process of recruiting the six hijras for the musical band involved a search and a series of auditions across India.  Y-Films’ interest in the project  holds special mention for the hijra community’s effort to represent their problems through creative labor[3]  and processes of co-creation of creative labor[4] in  mainstream media and cultural industries in India.

The 6 Pack band’s YouTube channel features fourteen videos. Six are music videos featuring popular Bollywood celebrities like Hrithik Roshan and Arjun Kapoor, and singers such as Sonu Nigam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The other eight videos illuminate the process of creating music video content and as well as press interviews. The band’s songs are multi-lingual, including Hindi, Marathi, English and slang known as hijra dialect.[5] The videos represent the realities of hijra lives and include  popular trademarks of the hijra identity like the hijra clap and bodily mannerisms unique to hijra communities.  Including the reality of hijra lives off-screen in on-screen music videos communicates hijra identity to a broader audience.

The group’s leading five videos have garnered more than twenty-five million views on YouTube and other music streaming apps. The 6 Pack band was awarded the coveted Cannes Lion Grand Prix award in 2016 for their video “Hum Hain Happy” – a cover of Pharrell Williams’ track “Happy.”  The video begins with a visual glimpse of hijras living in urban ghettos despite their important religious-social position in India. The chorus of the song states, Because I am happy, come sing - dance along with our problems, join us, let's clap together,” denoting a joyous way of social interaction across caste, gender, religion, and class.  The video closes with hijras desiring a utopian environment where no one discriminates against or isolates them for their transgender identity. The video urges respect, dignity, and inclusion and calls for all individuals despite variations to bond over a cup of Red Label tea.

Media outlets, corporations, and advertising firms shape public perceptions. Populist one-sided media representations can create a sense of separation for socially marginalized groups.  The success of the 6 Pack band, as measured by its audience as well as unique and thoughtful content, has provided more hijra visibility via social media and potentially their greater acceptance in Indian society. The hijra voices heard in the 6 Pack band offer marginal groups an example of how they can use the Internet and social media platforms to promote their social causes and capture civil society attention.

Media industries are also increasingly taking a political position in supporting socially progressive issues. In the United States, a  Gillette razor commercial of a father teaching his transgender son to shave for the first time and, in India, a  Vicks  advertisement featuring a real-to-reel transgender mother are recent examples that demonstrate  changing attitudes  towards trans people and the marketability of identity politics and social causes by corporations. The Vicks India advertisement, which features  trans advocate Gauri Sawant,  has led to a discussion on social media platforms about  trans adoption rights and same-sex marriage rights in India. Through these instances, the circulation of these trans-specific commercials and music videos on social media are not only contributing to creating awareness but also contributing to increased trans-visibility in various national contexts.

 

Delfi Chinnappan is a PhD Candidate (2017-2020) at the Digital Media Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Her current research looks at transgender (hijra) community-based organizations' use of public pages on Facebook as part of their community-building and representation in India.She can be reached at delfichinnappan11@gmail.com  or delfi.chinnappan@hdr.qut.edu.au.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] See:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEDnP0ud0ZBjQI-m3VcCH7e-92cIAZvMC.

[2] Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a remnant of the British colonial rule that criminalised gay sex. It was repealed and decriminalized on September 6, 2018 by a landmark Supreme Court Judgement.

[3] Conor, B., R. Gill & S. Taylor. “Gender and Creative Labour.” The Sociological Review 63 (2015), 1-22.

[4] Banks, J. & M. Deuze. “Co-creative Labor.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, 12 (2009), 419-431.

[5] Zehra Rahman, April 16, 2016, available at:

https://qz.com/india/662917/the-secret-language-of-south-asias-transgender-community/.

 

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