Cemetery of the eunuchs

Little is known about Hijron ka Khanqah, but eunuchs had roles in the rise and fall of dynasties

In a bustling lane of Mehrauli, a narrow green gate leads to a flight of stairs opening into a courtyard which serves as a 'spiritual retreat' for hijras (eunuchs). Known as Hijron ka Khanqah, this cemetery has some 50 whitewashed graves of hijras. It is said to date back to the 15th century.

According to residents of the area, one of the graves is of a hijra who was dear to Sufi saint Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. "The saint called him aapa (elder sister). Her grave is distinguished from the others as it has been enclosed in a tiled structure," says Shree who claims to be the caretaker of the cemetery.

Members of hijra associations from across the city come to the khanqah to pray. A room on the left side of the structure is used for offering prayers.

Navina Jafa, a heritage educationist associated with the Shahjahanabad redevelopment corporation and chief convener on heritage education at CBSE, says, "Not much is known about the historicity of the place. As part of my research, I interviewed a lot of old Sufi practitioners as there was hardly any information available in the form of historical records."

According to Jafa, the cemetery can be traced back to the reign of the Lodhis. "The place was handed over to hijras only around 125 years ago. When I present this khanqah during heritage walks, I talk about the manner in which the perspectives and functionality of monuments have changed over time. One needs to look at the dynamism of the monument in this respect. The hijras who have been buried here were those who went on the Haj," Jafa says.

"The social background of those buried in the complex, who belonged to a marginalised community, could be seen as a reason behind the silence in historical records about the place," says Sunil Kumar, a professor of medieval history at Delhi University. Kumar says the origin of the cemetery and the reason and manner in which it changed hands need further probing.

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