India has a tradition of hijras, male-to-female transgender individuals, dating back thousands of years. They are often seen singing and dancing during important rituals and spotted at traffic signals across metropolitan cities. Now, a group of transgender women are changing the dynamic – they’re taking their music mainstream, becoming India’s first transgender band.
Enter 6 Pack band.
Their first single is a cover of American singer Pharell’s 2013 hit “Happy” – band members Fida Khan, Asha Jagtap, Komal Jagtap, Raveena Jagtap, Bhavika Patil and Chandni Surarnakar burst into a mix of English and Hindi lyric, clapping and dancing to a blend of western and Indian instruments. The band is the brainchild of Y-Films, the youth arm of one of India’s oldest production houses Yash Raj Films.
“I’m feeling as if I’m on top of the world,” Khan said in a phone interview from Mumbai where the band is based. “‘Happy’ is our first single and we are extremely happy and excited singing this song.”
The video of their song, which is titled “Hum Hain Happy,” which means “We are Happy” in Hindi, has already received more than one million views on YouTube in less than 48 hours after its release. The three-minute music video encapsulates the energy and vibrancy of the hijras that “are a community almost in exile.”
“The third gender: ignored by most, tolerated by some, misunderstood by all,” the video’s narrator describes the community.
Despite pivotal roles in Hindu mythology and culture, and the government recognizing them as third gender citizens, the hijras are often stigmatized and discriminated in society. Though visible, their presence is often less valued and is limited to singing and dancing during rituals – it is believed that it is auspicious to get their blessings.
Shameer Tandon, the project’s curator, said the band wants to break the stereotypical identity associated with the hijra community.
“We have been fighting for their rights and recognition, but many people don’t relate to that,” Tandon said. “So we’re using music as a robust medium to sandwich a message in a subliminal manner that touches people’s heart. So they’ll respect them without any impositions. We want this wall to break. We want their songs to not just transcend geographical boundaries but also gender bias.”
But it hasn’t been easy. Assembling a band from more than 200 participants over almost nine months, according to Tandon, was “a roller-coaster ride.”
However, for the 6 Pack band members, their debut single marks what they hope to be an end to their turbulent pasts and a start of a new chapter. Khan said it gives them an opportunity to overcome challenges they face on a daily basis.
While their first single has gave them instant stardom, at least on the Internet, they said the second song from the album with popular singer Sonu Nigam, which will release on January 26, will help them reach out to the mass audience.
Komal, one of the six band members, said the band and its songs will allow people to look at the hijra community through a different lens.
“This should help change people’s perspectives about hijras,” she said. “We are equally talented and can reach great heights being a transgender band. We demand and deserve equality and respect.”