From begging on the streets to the People’s Court – Why India’s first transgender judge won’t stop fighting for her community
In July, Joyita Mondal made history as the first transgender judge of the Lok Adalat (People’s Court) in India.
Now, she’s spoken out about why her fight isn’t over until she achieves equality for all transgender people in her country.
Born to a traditional Hindu family in Kolkata, Joyita faced bullying and discrimination growing up.
She dropped out of school, sleeping in bus shelters and begging to stay alive, until she left Kolkata in 2009, aged 21, and moved to the north of West Bengal.
When she first arrived in Islampur, she found no hostels would take her in, and she was again forced to sleep in bus shelters.
However, the hostility she faced gave her the aspiration to make a change for transgender people in the region.
After befriending some people in the local transgender community, she formed Dinajpur Notun Alo, an organisation that, in the past seven years, has worked with over 2000 transgender people.
Joyita worked on a project which helped provide legal aid for 200 transgender people in the region, and she worked to get voter ID cards for transgender sex workers in Islampur.
In 2016 she became the first transgender person to vote in the district, and a year later, aged 29, was appointed to the Islampur Lok Adalat.
But she considers her work far from over, she told the New Indian Express, saying that her personal achievement is not important without overall improvement in the treatment of transgender people.
Individual successes mean nothing,” she said.
“Even as I move around in air-conditioned cars now, my people beg at day and work as sex workers at night.”
She is well aware of tokenism in government that is used to cover up wider injustice.
“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.”
For Joyita, the priority is getting transgender rights in the workplace, saying that if she could get “dignified jobs” for 2-3% of transgender people in Islampur, she would consider that a success.
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However, Joyita has no plans to give up anytime soon, distancing herself from Manabi Bandopadhyay, who resigned as the country’s first transgender college principal after facing harassment.
“People of Uttar Dinajpur love and respect me a lot,” she said.
“I will never quit.”.