They have appeared in sacred Hindu texts and been part of South Asia’s culture for thousands of years. They have been asked to bless marriages and births and are often seen across India blessing motorists in return for cash.
Now hijras – better known in India as transgender people – have emerged as the unlikely stars of a new road safety campaign.
The Seatbelt Crew features transgender dancers in a short film, created on behalf of a personal protection app Vithu by the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, has become an internet hit, clocking up more than one and a half million views since it was uploaded three days ago.
The adverts shows the hijras clapping to a routine inspired by an air cabin crew. “If you’re going to drive like a pilot,” says one, “then you should know some things.” They then go on to explain to motorists the dangers of driving recklessly and without a seatbelt.
Transgender people have suffered due to antiquated criminalisation laws dating back to when the British ruled in India. The country’s Supreme Court last month finally ruled that transgender people would be recognised on official documents under a separate “third gender” category.
The decision was cheered by activists, who say that, despite its distinguished history, the community too often faces violence and harassment.