Commendation Serjeant Award
The Hijras of India are defined as an alternative gender role, neither man nor woman. Pre-colonial India saw religious reverence for the Hijras, whereas colonial India saw their attempted extinction (1858 – 1947). The British not only sought to criminalise them under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, but also labelled them as an ‘immoral, ungovernable tribe’ in 1871. This encouraged anti-Hijra sentiments throughout the Indian subcontinent, the legacies of which continued in the post-colonial era.
Despite the attempted extirpation of their identity and culture, one of their most fundamental religious practices survived, the Koovagam Festival. Every year, for 16 days, the Hijras gather in a small village in Tamil-Nadu to celebrate and re-enact a queer story from the ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Although the village has acted as their Mecca for centuries, the lack of infrastructure has forced them to perform their complex rituals and performances in murky rice fields. As a response to their needs, this project proposes a sympathetic spatial intervention — a series of temporary pavilions — all built using vernacular construction methods, materials, and plastic festival waste.
The project intends to help decolonise India’s anti-hijra sentiments by celebrating their queer mecca, whilst providing a sustainable solution to the socio-spatial marginality that the community continues to face.
Nadir Qazim Mahmood