A dip in income that has been more than compensated by a rise in respect -- that’s the balance sheet from the last three months for Joyita Mahi Mondal, India’s first transgender judge.
On July 8, the 29-year-old attended office for the first time as a Lok Adalat judge in Islampur of North Dinajpur district in north Bengal. She gave up her earlier profession as a hijra who went around collecting money at ceremonies.
“I am really happy as now I get respect from society that I was looking for,” Mondal told HT. “In the court, those who come to seek justice now call me sir, or madam.”
Earlier, there was nothing but contempt. “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,” she said.
Mondal was one of a string of transgender persons who have risen to positions of prominence in the government and private sectors in recent years, fighting against widespread social bias and discrimination in education and employment. The change picked up pace after the Supreme Court recognised a third gender in 2014 and asked the government to give the vulnerable community a quota in jobs and colleges. A transgender rights bill is pending before Parliament.
Mondal says she has disposed off four cases related to the settlement of bank loans defaults and tenant-landlord disputes.
“Usually, Lok Adalats have three-judge benches. My fellow judges have always been extremely cooperative and treat me with respect,” she added.
But the awkward and searching glances have not vanished completely. “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,” Mondal said.
However, she has no complaints. “More time is required for the society to change and we have to give it time.”
Despite the rise in prestige, Mondal has to endure financial difficulties after giving up a steadier source of income – that of performing at ceremonies.
She now has to depend on the meagre allowance that she gets for every session of Lok Adalat. But the graduate with honours in history from Netaji Nagar College in Kolkata in 2010 is happy to let more money go for the prestige she has received.