KOLKATA: Joyita Mondal never imagined that she would be appointed the country's first transgender judge when she left her home in Kolkata for Siliguri in 2009.
Accidentally stepping on Islampur in Uttar Dinajpur district in 2010, the hostile environment she faced in the region determined her to make the Muslim-majority region bordering Bangladesh her home.
Over the next seven years her organisation 'Dinajpur Notun Alo' (Dinajpur new light) has grown to work among 2,200 transgenders in the region.
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.
"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," she said.
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 was the first transgender to vote from her district in 2016.
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.
"People of Uttar Dinajpur love and respect me a lot. I don't face discrimination. I will never quit," she added.
Asked about conditions of Muslim transgenders in the district, she said that her community is seen as negatively in the Muslim community.
"Being a patriarchal society, transgenders are dominated and considered 'haraam' (sin) in the Muslim society. Many of my people cannot leave their homes as they are not self-sufficient and have to silently cry after being rebuked by father and brothers. People are speaking out against triple-talaaq and I hope the condition of Muslim transgenders will also change slowly," Joyita Mondal said.