Hermaphrodites, commonly known as eunuchs, can now choose a gender of their liking and some can even give birth to babies - thanks to a special procedure developed at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here.
After proper diagnosis, some 1,100 patients have already given proper gender identities as males or females and all of them are leading a normal life, doctors at the premier research and referral institute said.
"Treatment is available in select centres. At least 18 of the treated patients have also given birth to babies," said Dr. D.K. Gupta, head of the department of paediatric surgeries.
"After diagnosing physical attributes present inside the body and demands of the family, we conduct surgeries to reconstruct the vagina, uterus and even the male genitals," Gupta told IANS.
He said some time he and his team had to conduct as many as six-seven operations on one patient to put everything in order and said early diagnosis was the best way to treat such complications.
"The genetic disorder can be treated most successfully if they come in an early age. May be within the first three months of birth. Instead of handing them over to eunuchs, they should bring to hospitals - it is perfectly curable," he said.
"On Friday, for instance, we performed a female genitoplasty and constructed a vagina in a six-year-old patient. The operation lasted over nine hours."
He said AIIMS has been treating patients from across the country, and even some from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
"Though the specific reason for these kind of disorder is yet to be pin pointed yet marriage within families and relatives is considered to be a prime cause."
Gupta explained that there were mainly three kinds of hermaphrodites - the male pseudohermaphrodites (MPH), the female pseudohermaphrodites (FPH) and the true hermaphrodites (TH).
MPH is the most common disorder and accounts for over 50 percent of inter-sex disorders and can be categorized as an incomplete male. They are generally male but look like females.
Such cases are advised to convert to males if mildly affected and females in case of severity. "They have a vaginal pouch but never a uterus. They also have testis albeit hidden and we conduct male genitoplasty surgery on such people."
FPH have a lot of male hormones and look like men. Their vaginal pouch is hidden inside the skin and needs proper surgery. They should be diagnosed right after birth," explained Shilpa Sharma, another paediatric surgeon.
She said some of these people suffer from a complication called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), which can be life threatening. "It is associated with excessive vomiting and dehydration."
Among the TH category, part from the ambiguous genitalia, there is an ovary and testicular tissues in the same child. There is a large urogenital sinus as well as a well-developed phallus.
"Among the three categories, it's the FPH group who can give birth to babies after successful surgeries earlier. What they need is life long medication. May be one tablet per day," Gupta added.
He, however, added that most of the families want their patients to be converted to a male. "This is a popular belief and there is nothing wrong. If these male cannot procreate a child yet they can have a good married life. They can adopt a child or so."
He said when patients come to us in an early stage, we diagnose them and through medicine control secretion of the opposite hormone. "Then the series of surgeries take place."
However, he said that even grown up hermaphrodites could be given an identity. "There was a family with four such cases and we have successfully operated upon them and the fourth case was recently carried out. The patient is still under our supervision."