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KHAAS LIBAAS - Perception, identity and self-expression - Pearl Academy

Gesu Seth’s “Khaas Libaas” is a visual study of India’s transgender community. The title of the photography project is derived from an Urdu phrase translating to “Special Attire.” The word “Transgender” is an umbrella term describing anyone whose gender identity does not fully match their assigned birth sex. It is a broad category which includes transsexuals and cross-dressers too. But for centuries in India, all these terms have been compressed into a single word filled with disgrace- “Hijra”. This sect of people has a long history of being regarded
as deviants, criminals and societal pariahs.

“Khaas Libaas” honors the bravery of individuals within this community. Instead of recoiling with shame and trying to fade into oblivion, Hijras fought back for freedom and respect. Gesu’s photographs examine the bold and colourful ways India’s third sex adorns themselves in the face of rejection. The eye of the camera dwells on the clothing, jewellery and other embellishments worn by the shunned members of the “Hijra” community. Her portraits expertly draw out the vulnerability, rebellion and beauty in each subject. There is no shame or restraint in the exaggerated femininity, vibrant makeup or choice of clothing. We see pride. We see confidence.

“They don’t only want to look beautiful, but intimidating as well and this is what makes them stand out,” Gesu points out, after interacting with several Hijras over the course of her project. “It’s high time we should accept the transgender community as an integral part of our society.” Despite being denied basic human rights, the people of this community stand loud and proud. Though society has finally begun to restore dignity to the third sex by allowing them into our circles through employment and acceptance, India still has a long way to go in terms of eradicating deep rooted prejudices. Khaas Libaas is not just a work of art, but an activist’s cry for social justice and universal respect.

School of Media
Cohort: FMC 2013-2017
Ramesh Tahiliani

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