West Bengal, October 18, 2017: “People almost treated me as an untouchable, and even passed abusive comments. But now people even come to me often requesting me to mediate in family disputes,” said an evidently ecstatic Joyita Mondal Mahi.
If we tell you about this Lok Adalat judge and her journey- tales of her struggle and battles against her family and the society at large, you would have nothing short of immense respect for her.
If we told you about her sexuality next, it may elevate your curiosity a little.
But what if we told you Joyita Mahi Mandal is India’s first transgender judge? Would it make a difference?
Should it make a difference?
From Joyonto to Joyita – Early Life
Joyita, who was born male and given the name Joyonto by her middle-class family, used to play games usually played by girls at the age of 3. Assuming that these interests would soon take the ‘regular route’ towards more boys-oriented activities, family members and parents ignored a young Joyonto’s behavior. However, the change never happened.
According to reports, Joyonto was once scolded for wearing make-up, a behavior unusual for boys to partake; subjected to bullying from classmates for feminine gesticulation, Joyonto was forced to leave school.
Lack of support from the family and school-mates alike forced Joyonto to escape from home in 2009, after which days turned to months, and then years, begging for a livelihood and sleeping on the roads.
As a transgender forced to beg on the streets to a social worker and finally assuming the chair as India’s first transgender judge at the Lok Adalat in Islampur in the North Dinajpur district of Bengal, Joyita’s journey has been extraordinary!
Challenging the Society
“Transgender” is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of identities, one of them identified as ‘hijras’ – people whose gender identities do not match with their biological sex.
Hijras, a term commonly implied for the transgender community in India, are often looked down upon by the Indian society. They are mocked for their mannerisms, are often made to feel ‘different’, and labeled as suitable only for begging or unskilled work.
Life was no different for Joyonto on the streets.
Now transitioned into Joyita, she demanded nothing less than what she deserved – respect and dignity that every human being deserves, despite their sexual orientation. A struggle that was not easy, her efforts eventually paid off and she crossed several milestones.
Joyita’s Efforts For A Larger Good
According to a report, Joyita established an NGO by the name of ‘Dinajpur Notun Alo Society’ to cater to the transgender community in North Dinajpur district. She had been working on a range of issues related to the transgender community since 2011
It was there that she got in touch with her ‘godfather’ Thanduk Sherpa, Islampur’s Deputy Collector and Magistrate.
Her godfather introduced Joyita to a former additional district judge Subrata Poley, who, impressed by her zeal and enthusiasm to fight against gender bias, recommended Joyita’s name for a judge in the Lok Adalat (civil court).
Finally, Joyita Mahi Mondal was appointed as India’s first transgender judge in Islampur Lok Adalat on July 8 this year
A Lok Adalat comprises of a senior judge, an advocate, and a social worker. Joyita, as a social worker, has assumed the position of a judge. And now enters the premises in a white ambassador- a vehicle categorized for government officials.
Has Joyita Been Subjected To Discrimination At The Adalat?
Joyita’s appointment as India’s first transgender judge was welcomed by friends and supporters from the transgender community who had flooded her Facebook account with congratulatory messages.
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.”
– Joyita Mondal, as told to Hindustan Times
However, according to her, the environment in the Adalat is very professional and she has never faced any discrimination. She also added that the fellow judges in the court have also been extremely cooperative and treat her with dignity.
However, India’s first transgender judge is yet to gain acceptance from her family and parents.
The Long Battle Ahead
After the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in 2014 recognizing the third gender under the law that is neither male nor female, attention was brought where it was due – on one of India’s most marginalized groups, transgenders. The ruling redefined their rights and the state’s responsibility to ensure their development and growth.
Things have certainly looked up thereafter for members of the Indian transgender community- whether it was about finding employment in public offices or seeking admissions in National Universities.
However, the battle has not been won completely.
There is limited data on the total estimated population of the transgender community in India, but anecdotal evidence amounts it between a half a million to two million people.
While members of the transgender community have legally gained recognition, the decision is yet to seep down to the root level as they continue to face criticism and alienation from the larger society.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2016 aims to ensure greater involvement of the trans people in the medical sector and welfare schemes and programmes, thus allowing for a more inclusive society. The Bill is currently pending approval.
In the words of India’s first transgender judge, ““More time is required for the society to change and we have to give it time.”