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15 eunuchs killed in fire at ceremony in India

The AP reports from NEW DELHI:

It was to be a rare moment of camaraderie and celebration for India's marginalized eunuchs. Thousands had traveled to New Delhi to participate in a ceremony to honor deceased friends and to pray for the health of all children.

Then a fire erupted in a huge makeshift tent Sunday night. Panic broke out and 15 eunuchs were killed and 36 others were injured, fire officials said.

Kevin Frayer / AP

Indian eunuchs wait outside the mortuary of a local hospital to claim the bodies of friends killed in a fire Sunday evening, in New Delhi, India, on Nov. 21. The blaze happened during a gathering of thousands of eunuchs at a prayer ceremony and feast held once every five years at a fairground in the Nandnagary neighborhood of east Delhi.

Kevin Frayer / AP

Eunuchs and police stand at the gate of a fairground and the site of a burned tent at the scene of the fire on Nov. 21.

The fire was likely caused by an electrical short, fire officials and witnesses said. Acrid smoke hung in the air Monday and small groups of eunuchs were allowed to enter the cordoned-off area to salvage what was left of their belongings. Hundreds of others gathered outside to gather news of their friends and console each other.

Kevin Frayer / AP

A eunuch shouts to keep people away from the scene of the fire on Nov. 21.

The term eunuch, or hijra, is used in India to describe transvestites, transsexuals and others who identify themselves as neither male nor female but as a member of a third gender. Some have had their male genitalia removed. They traditionally survive by begging, dancing at weddings or blessing newborn babies and are frequently subjected to discrimination.

While the community is often mocked, their prayers and good wishes are considered powerful by most Indians.

Kevin Frayer / AP

A eunuch is comforted as she mourns a friend killed in the fire, outside a hospital in New Delhi on Nov. 21.

Kevin Frayer / AP

Eunuchs sit at the scene of the fire on Nov. 21.