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Watch 20/20 Today's special on India's Eunuchs

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    Watch 20/20 Today's special on India's Eunuchs

    Secrets of India’s Eunuchs

    They’re Ostracized, But Thought to Have Special Powers

    Most eunuchs in India make a living by dancing at weddings and births of babies. (ABCNEWS)

    By Anderson Cooper
    Before I started to research this story I didn’t realize that eunuchs still existed. I thought the tradition died out long ago.
    Hundreds of years ago, in ancient India, eunuchs were castrated men, used as advisers to royal courts. They often guarded the harems of India’s princes, and some became highly powerful figures.
    In India, the times have changed, but the eunuchs remain.
    I flew to New Delhi, and with the aid of a local journalist, began my search. Eunuchs live in isolated groups, ostracized by Indian society. I was told they rarely talk to outsiders. After several false starts and dead ends, I finally found a group of eunuchs willing to let me enter their secret world.
    Their leader’s name was Rajinder. He’s called the guru, and he looks after the other eunuchs. Rajinder told me a very strange tale.
    He was once a tailor, with a wife and children. When he was 35 he claims he was forcibly castrated by a group of eunuchs he had befriended. He says his wife abandoned him, and he took up the life of a eunuch. I couldn’t quite understand how or why he’d been castrated, and he couldn’t seem to give me a straight answer, but he seemed resigned to his life.

    Secret Powers
    Like most eunuchs in India, this group makes a living by dancing at weddings and births of babies. They have a network of neighborhood informants who tell them about upcoming celebrations. They show up uninvited and demand money to dance and bless the proceedings.
    Eunuchs are thought to have special powers, and no one seems able to refuse their monetary demands. I followed some eunuchs one day as they tracked down a baby they heard had been born in their neighborhood. It was quite something to see them burst into the newborn’s house and demand money from the startled mother. If they don’t get paid, they threaten to curse the family, and the child.

    Eunuchs Don’t Fit In
    To many Indians, the eunuchs are neither male nor female. They are something in between. The more time I spent with them, the more I began to see that in many ways the term “eunuch” has become a catch-all phrase in India.
    It turns out, not all the eunuchs in India have actually been castrated. Some are probably gay men, others transsexuals. They have no other community to join in India’s conservative society, and can find a home living as a eunuch.
    What was so interesting to me about this story is the paradox of the eunuchs’ existence. While they are reviled, ostracized by Indian society, they are also revered and given greater freedom than most Indians experience. It is a paradox we’ll explore more on Thursday’s edition of 20/20 Downtown.

    A most welcome and interesting article on the eunuchs of India. Good post Durrango.