Thursday, February 22, 2018

Joyita Mondal - trans trailblazer

In July 2017, Joyita Mondal was appointed as a judge on a Lok Adalat (a type of civil court) in West Bengal, India, making her the first transgender person to serve in such a role in that country. This comes after years of hard work fighting for the rights of the LGBT community, as well as for the rights of other marginalized communities -- the elderly, the disabled, and anyone else facing discrimination.

She didn't set out to become an activist. When she left home, she was simply trying to escape the oppressive environment of her small Hindu community, where she faced bullying by her peers and had few opportunities to live life on her own terms. She dropped out of school and moved to Islampur, a small city in the Uttar Dinajpur region, where, although she was able to find some work as a dancer in wedding ceremonies, she still had trouble finding a safe place to live and was often forced to beg for money to survive.

But she began to meet other transpeople, and after talking to them she founded her activist organization, 'Dinajpur Notun Alo Society' (Notun Alo means "new light") to help address some of their needs. "I started counseling sessions in hopes of reducing stigma by inviting relatives and family members of transgender persons. We showed films on the problems faced by the community. Further, sensitization of teachers and students in government and private schools and colleges started, and street plays at bus stands and other popular spaces were performed." She also began taking correspondence classes, and eventually earned a degree in law.

Her organization began looking for ways to assist other marginalized groups, and extend their outreach efforts beyond LGBT issues. "When I came to Islampur around nine years ago, my job was restricted to working for the rights and development of the transgender and LGBT community. But as I slowly progressed and got in touch with district administration officials, I felt the urge to work for all people and not just [the trans] community."

They began by addressing the needs of sex workers in local brothels, helping them register to vote and obtain identity cards, as well as locating services to help them with food and lodging. Then they began talking with the elderly members of their community. "We visited every house in the area for six months and shortlisted around 200 needy elderly people. We have submitted a proposal to the government for the construction of shelter home for elderly people."

Her work caught the attention of Judge Subroto Pole who appointed her as a Lok Adalat judge last year. Through her dedication to improving the lives of others, she has also made a huge change in her own life. "It gives me great satisfaction to know I have broken gender stereotypes. It is also gratifying to see those who once taunted me about my gender, stand before me with folded hands waiting for a judgment on their case."

For more reading:

Women's eNews "Meet the First Transgender Judge in India"

She The People "Meet Joyita Mondal, India’s First Transgender Lok Adalat Judge"

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