After 2,000 years of persecution, India's two million eunuchs are to be formally recognised as a third sex and listed as a "backward" caste entitled to reserved government jobs and university places.
India's Supreme Court has created an official third sex for transgenders, which includes those who feel they were born into the wrong sex, men born with deformed genitals and effeminate boys disowned by their families and sent to live in eunuch colonies.
The court ruled that those who have been castrated or undergone gender reassignment surgery, as well as those who present themselves as not of the sex they were born into, can all be classified as "transgender".
The decision was met with jubilation.
Kalki Subramanium, a leading transgender rights activist, said: "This verdict is certainly a landmark and a new beginning. The biggest challenge is the social recognition. We have to educate and make people aware that we exist and there's nothing abnormal about us."
There are just under two million eunuchs and transgenders in India, many of whom live in groups controlled by a eunuch guru and survive by begging.
Although marginalised, they are widely feared, often turning up at weddings and after the birth of boys to demand large donations for their blessings.
Many people pay up in fear of being cursed or embarrassed – eunuchs often hitch up their saris and reveal their mutilated genitalia outside the homes of those who refuse.
In New Delhi, some eunuchs operate as organised extortion gangs and are so successful that there have been calls for them to be hired as tax collectors to boost revenues.
Their fortunes in India have varied throughout the ages.
They are mentioned derisively in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, but were influential in the royal household during the Mughal period when they were trusted as courtiers and harem guards.
Many of those living in eunuch communities have been rejected by their families either because they were born with deformed genitalia or were effeminate.
Some of them have had distressing and dangerous village castrations to become hijras (transgenders).
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the Indian constitution provided equal opportunity "irrespective of caste, religion or gender". (©Daily Telegraph, London)
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