Kinship and Descent. The major principle of social organization among the hijras is the relation between gurus (teachers) and their chelas (disciples). This relationship is modeled both on the Hindu joint family and on the relationship of spiritual leader and disciple in Hinduism. The guru or senior person in the relationship is alternately conceived of as a father, a mother, or a husband, while the chela is regarded as a dependent. The guru, like an elder in a family, is expected to take care of the chela's material needs and the chela is expected to show respect and obedience to the guru and give the guru "her" earnings. Through the relationship of guru and chela, the chelas of a guru are like sisters. Every hijra joins the community under the sponsorship of a guru, who is ideally her guru for life. Hijras express the view that a hijra could no more live without a guru than an ordinary person could live without a mother. Gurus also provide the umbrella under which hijras earn a living, as economic territories among hijras all come under the control of a particular guru and are off-limits to the chelas of any other guru without explicit permission. Changing gurus, which involves a small ritual and an escalating fee, is possible, though frowned upon. In addition to the guru-chela relationship, there are other fictive kinship relations of which the guru is the center: a guru's "sisters" are called aunt, and guru's guru is called "grandmother" (mother's mother). A guru passes down her wealth and possessions to one or more of her chelas, usually the senior chela. Gurus and chelas belong to the same "house," a nonlocalized symbolic descent group similar to a clan. The hijra community is divided into approximately seven of these named houses (with some variation according to region). The heads of these houses within a particular city or geographical region form a council of elders, or jamat. This group makes important decisions for the community, is present at the initiation of new members, and resolves whatever disputes arise within the community. Hijra houses are not ranked and there are no meaningful cultural or social distinctions among them, but each house has its own origin story and certain rules of behavior special to itself. When a hijra dies, it is the members of her house who arrange the funeral. In addition to the regional groupings of hijras there is also a loose national organization, which mainly meets on the anniversary of the death of an important hijra guru.
Domestic Unit. The most relevant group in daily life is the hijra household. These are communally organized, and usually contain five to fifteen people, under the direction of a guru or house manager. Hijra households are structured around a core of relatively permanent members, plus visitors or short-term guests, often hijras from another city, who stay for variable periods of time. Every hijra in the household must contribute to its economic well-being by working and in return is given the basic necessities of life and perhaps a few luxuries. Older hijras who are no longer able or do not wish to work outside the house do domestic chores. Members of a household may have different gurus and belong to different houses.
Social Control. The hijra community has developed effective mechanisms of social control over its members, mainly through the near monopoly hijra elders have over the opportunities for work. When a hijra joins the community, she pays a "fee" which gives her the right to earn a living in the particular territory "owned" by her guru. Any hijra who is thrown out of the community by her guru forfeits her right to work as part of the group. Since all hijra performances are arranged by a guru, a hijra without a guru will not be invited to perform, nor can she beg for alms in any place already assigned to another hijra group. A hijra suspended from the community may attempt to form her own work group, but this is difficult as it requires finding an area not claimed by another hijra group. Hijras use both verbal and physical abuse to protect their territories and suspension severely inhibits one's ability to earn. Normally, suspension is the result only of severe misbehavior, such as attacking one's guru. For lesser offenses hijras may be warned, fined, or have their hair cut by the jamat. The most important norm in a hijra household is honesty with respect to property. With so much geographic mobility among hijras it is necessary that individuals be trustworthy. Quarreling and dishonesty are disruptive to a household and ultimately to its economic success. Furthermore, as ritual performers, hijras sometimes enter the houses of their audiences; therefore, maintaining a reputation for honesty is necessary for their profession. Because the hijra household is both an economic and a domestic group, pressures to conform are great. Serious conflicts are inhibited by the geographical mobility permitted within the community. Any hijra who cannot get along in one household can move to another for a while; a person who gets a reputation for quarrelsomeness, however, will be unwelcome at any hijra house. The national network of hijras can work as a blacklist as well as an outlet for diffusing the disruptive effects of conflict.