In a historic first, Joyita Mondal, a transgender woman once forced to beg on the streets, was appointed to a bench of a National Lok Adalat in Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal.
It was a moment of immense pride for members of her community, as well as for the LGBTQ population at large, as Mondal drove into the premises of Islampur court in a car marked 'judgeship on duty' on Saturday, 8 July. However, the 29-year-old's journey to reach this stage in life has been riddled with hardship.
Born as Jayanta, Mondal dropped out of a college in Kolkata due to the relentless taunts of her classmates to become a social worker. Later she worked at a call centre with a prominent national bank, but that too didn't turn out well. As she told Youth Ki Awaaz, "I wasn't attacked physically or sexually, but I was made the butt of many insensitive jokes. People would talk about me, stare at me and make fun of me."
According to a report in Anandabazar Patrika, Mondal visited Islampur for the first time while working with an organisation in Siliguri to raise awareness about HIV. Soon after, she decided to work with transgender people living in the border areas and founded the Dinajpur Notun Alo Society. Under her, members of the transgender community came together to work on projects involving geriatric care. She also organised courses in sewing and trained people to become beauticians, helping them to pursue a livelihood.
But the trail of difficulties continued when several of her projects closed down without warning last year. Mondal was forced to take to the streets to beg or perform badhais at weddings and other ceremonies along with other members of her community. She was also once allegedly kicked out of a hotel, a stone's throw from the same Islampur court she drove into on Saturday, for her identity.
Mondal will be working on cases related to bank loans at the lok adalat, to which she was appointed by the office of the sub-divisional legal services committee of Islampur under the 'learned judges' category. It was in recognition of her social work that she was given this position. While her presence, with security escort, elicited curious stares and titters among the public, inside the courtroom everyone was respectful to her.
Last year India passed a law enabling transgender people to avail themselves of several rights guaranteed by any welfare state to its citizens. However, it failed to account for, or imagine, the emotional realities of being a transgender person in a conservative society like India.
While Mondal's elevation to the lok adalat bench is a significant moment in the struggle for LGBTQ rights in India, many transgender professionals have faced discrimination at workplace, leading to tragic anti-climaxes in several cases.
Manabi Bandopadhyay, India's first transgender college principal, summed up her year-and-a-half-long career in the job as "a long battle against ignorance". Born male and called Somnath to a middle-class family, she is the first transgender person to have earned a doctorate in West Bengal.
A trailblazer in several respects, she started the first magazine for transgender people in Bengali, pursued her higher education in Bengali literature, worked in colleges while battling institutional and bureaucratic bullying but eventually claimed to have been "defeated" by the resistance of her colleagues to the changes she wanted to bring about.
More recently, 8 of the 23 transgender people employed by Kochi Metro had to quit their jobs within one week because they failed to find houses to rent in the city. Most landowners were uncomfortable renting apartments to people of the third gender or suspected them of doing sex work.
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