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A woman who became India’s first transgender judge in July says she continues to fight for justice and respect. Joyita Mondal was appointed as a Lok Adalat judge in north Bengal three months ago in a historic appointment that she hopes will pave the way for other people. The 29-year-old was once made homeless and forced to turn to begging because of the discrimination she faced. But after working for transgender rights organisations she says she was inspired to complete a law degree – to be able to fight for anyone facing social discrimination. In the past, people almost treated me as an untouchable and even passed abusive comments,’ she said. ‘But now people even come to me often requesting me to mediate in family disputes.’ Joyita continues to fight against widespread social bias and discrimination against transgender people in education and employment across India. In 2014, India’s Supreme Court recognised transgender people as a third gender, in a landmark ruling. It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities. But, for Joyita, the battle is far from over.
Though her appointment as judge in Islampur Lok Adalat on July 8 gave hope to the transgender community, Joyita Mondal feels she will consider her mission complete only when she sees transgenders employed in government and private sectors in regular jobs. She further says “A handful of us becoming judges, principals won’t bring a change. Till transgenders are working as sex-workers and begging in trains, individual successes mean nothing. Even if they don’t have much qualification, they can at least be appointed as Group D staff where physical labour is involved. I have not come from Kolkata to Uttar Dinajpur for just my fight. I cannot ignore my community because of whom I have reached this position. I would request the government to first start government jobs for transgenders so that our community gets dignified work. I consider work of coolies, peons or other Group D work as dignified”.
Joyita Mondal, who was born as Joyonto, has already heard a few cases regarding recovery of bank loans where she gave judgements to sit for negotiations and solve the issue.
Speaking against symbolism, she said: “All governments want to appoint one person from a weaker community to a top post so that voices of others of the community are muffled. I would not let that happen. Even if 2-3% of transgenders in Islampur get dignified jobs, I would consider my appointment as beneficial for my community. They would not have to work as sex workers for Rs 150-200 and can have a good sleep at night. Even as I move around in air-conditioned cars now, my people beg at day and work as sex workers at night.”
Recalling her struggle, Joyita Mondal says, “Initially, no hotel would let me stay and I had to sleep in bus shelters in Islampur. Slowly, I made a few friends with local transgenders and formed ‘Dinajpur Notun Alo’ on January 10, 2010. A year after registration in 2011, I got my first big break in a foreign project for legal aid to transgenders of the region in 2012. I gave legal aid to 200 transgenders during that project and was appreciated by the government. Since then, we built an old-age shelter in 2015 and got voter ID cards made for transgenders in two brothels in Islampur.” Joyita Mondal says that she would never quit like Manabi Bandopadhyay, the country’s first transgender college principal, who resigned alleging harassment at Krishnanagar Women’s College in Nadia district.
Mondal says she has disposed off four cases related to the settlement of bank loans defaults and tenant-landlord disputes. Further she added that “Usually, Lok Adalats have three-judge benches. My fellow judges have always been extremely cooperative and treat me with respect,” she added.
But the awkward and searching glances have not vanished completely. “Sometimes I can feel negative vibes from those whose cases I adjudicate — strange gaze, or body language. However, I must add that none of them has insulted me. At times, a few are just surprised to see a transgender on the chair of judge,” Mondal said.
However, she has no complaints. “More time is required for the society to change and we have to give it time.”Despite the rise in prestige, Mondal has to endure financial difficulties after giving up a steadier source of income – that of performing at ceremonies. She now has to depend on the meagre allowance that she gets for every session of Lok Adalat. But the graduate with honours in history from Netaji Nagar College in Kolkata in 2010 is happy to let more money go for the prestige she has received.
By: Urvika Shah, Asst. Editor at Legal Desire