Sara Hylton is a freelance photographer based in Mumbai, India and covers women, conflict, and migration. Sara's principal medium is the portrait; resilience, humanity, and the quiet beauty in everyday life guides her work and the stories she...
Simran’s bright red sari blew through the wind as she walked along the Mumbai shoreline, asking locals and tourists for rupees in exchange for a blessing. Many looked at her, almost alien-like, with a mix of fear, disdain, and fascination. Simran is part of India’s hijra community, which includes transgender and intersex people. It is believed by many Indians that hijras have the capacity to bless or curse, and hijras profit from this grey zone. They make a living by crashing weddings and birth ceremonies, begging, and sometimes through prostitution.
Indian culture has long recognized the fluidity of gender, with a number of demi-gods in Hindu scripture described as being a third gender. Yet, homesexuality remains illegal in India, and hijras are often forced to live underground, being ostracized by their family and friends. Because of this, India’s hijra community maintains a hierarchical, somewhat secretive subculture.
As a photographer focused on gender issues and underrepresented voices, I have held a long curiosity and fascination of hijras. When I moved to the city of Mumbai in September 2017, I began making portraits and spending time with a community of hijras near my home. They lived behind the train station in a settlement as a family; packed in small, immaculately organized rooms, one stacked on top of another. I would drop in often, drink tea, and just observe. They opened up a beautiful, unique, and fascinating world to me. These images are for them.