A person’s gender in India comes along with a lot of baggage which may either contain privileges or restrictions. People are traditionally programmed to treat girls and boys differently. The birth of a girl witnesses a plethora of emotions. While some people celebrate the birth of a daughter, gleefully chirping ”Lakshmi is Born” - comparing the newborn child to the Indian goddess of wealth and prosperity - others view her birth as a mark of ill fate. They treat the little girl child as a harbinger of prospective dowry and other matrimonial problems. This sort of mentality is prevalent mostly in the rural/semi rural parts of the country, but its echoes can sometimes be heard in the urbanized areas too.
The birth of a boy in almost all cases, though, is seen as the best thing that could have happened to the family. For he is the proverbial lamp of the house, the one to carry forward the family name and legacy. He doesn’t have to 'leave' his family in order to marry, he would get himself a bride instead and beget a son, thus bringing in the next generation of the illustrious family line.
Of course any child born out of this gender binary is considered as a curse and is killed or abandoned right after birth. Cultural values play a major role in dictating the treatment which is received by the child. It’s an age old practice rather than a commandment. The rigidity of these rules depend on a number of factors such a wealth, education , status etc. And the rules that apply to gender, change with time.
The normal thing for any child to do is to accept his gender and his sexuality, follow the norm and live within the society. But, nature doesn’t always work this way. Just like every snow flake is unique in its shape and beauty, so are other creations of nature unique too. Nature celebrates diversity.
Society, well, it’s just concerned with putting a number and a label on everything. And it is because of this rigid categorization that society has trouble accepting anyone who is even slightly different.
When I was young, I loved reading stories, especially the ones which were heavily infused with mythology. As much as these stories entertained me, they also ended up confusing me. Take Krishna for instance. Being a Vishnu incarnate, he’s considered to be the complete man or rather the best of men (this characteristic is attributed to Rama as well, the other avatar). But then, there were stories where he would cross dress with Radha (but let’s not take this one as a valid point, because it’s a story in which he’s pretty young and such behavior is considered to be cute among children). If you read up a bit more on Krishna though, you’ll realize that there are multiple instances where he may have cross dressed. Like the time he went to Rukmani’s palace with Arjuna, where both of them were dressed as milk women or gopiyan, or the time when he took his feminine incarnation of Mohini to marry Arjun’s son Aravan on the battlefield of Kurukshetra just to fulfill the man’s last wish.
I’ve grown up assuming that Gods look exactly like humans, with a few extra limbs and a halo maybe. But my belief was challenged when I learnt from my Muslim friends that Allah wasn’t depicted as human at all. There was a similar response from my Christian friends regarding the image of 'The Holy Father'.
Why was it that only Hindus depicted their gods, even the supreme deities, similar to us human beings? I believe it hints at the philosophy "aham brahmasmi”, or I am the Infinite Reality. Indians have a lovely way of instilling good qualities in their children. They ask their children to be as obedient as Rama, as loyal as Hanuman or as pious as Sita.
Depicting God as human beings makes everything more relate-able. Maybe that's why our scriptures and our gods and our mythology is the way it is.