BECOMING INDIA’S FIRST TRANSGENDER JUDGE JOYITA MONDAL IS WORKING TOWARDS ELEVATING HER FELLOW COMMUNITY MEMBERS. BREAKING THE TABOO OF CO-EXISTING WITH TRANSGENDERS AND GIVING THEM THE RESPECT THEY DESERVE THIS COMES AS AN INSPIRING STORY.
Joyita Mondal is struggling for the betterment of her community members and she wants them to live the life with respect and dignity which they deserve. But our community does not allow them to be a part of our society.
“If she offers you breastbone
aching to carve soft fruit from its branches
though there may be more tissue in the lining of her bra
than the flesh that rises to meet it
let her ripen in your hands.
Imagine if she’d lost those swells to cancer,
A car accident instead of an accident of genetics
Would you think of her as less a woman then?
Then think of her as no less one now.”– Gabe Moses
A country that has been known for having the world’s longest constitution and has also gone through numerous amendments and many directives from the Supreme Court. India is finally recognizing the third gender; they have prevailed from a tumultuous history, in a country where they are stereotyped into goddesses or sex workers.
Very few people can live up to their names, and so much so it has an impact others too. Jyotiba, which means victory. Somebody who has emerged victorious from a battle. Joyita Mondal has done that; a transgender activist and the first transgender judge from Uttar Dinajpur, a remote district in West Bengal, is one such person who has not cowed down to the troubles that she has been facing for so long.
When asked to tell about herself and all that she has encountered, She kept quiet for a while and then uttered these hard-hitting words, “Have you ever felt a stifling feeling around your throat, a sensation that does not allow you to breathe? I have had such a feeling from my childhood and did not know how to tackle the situation.”
“I am the only ‘son’ of my parents; they had named me ‘Joyonto’. I have two elder sisters, but you know the ‘significance’ of being an only son in a middle-class Bengali family – all my parents’ hopes and aspirations were pinned on me. And there I was, still struggling to find an identity for me that would make me comfortable,” she explained.
The very thought of existence there suffocated her and she made a decision to leave in 2009.
“But do not get me wrong,” she said, “It is not like there was no love left between my parents and me. I adore them and look up to them for their advice even to this day. But I had to go out of my home in search for my identity, if I had not left that day I would not have achieved whatever little I have achieved today.”
She had joined a BPO in Kolkata, but the harrowing experience she faced there served as a great deterrent for Joyita. “I was made fun of on a regular basis by my colleagues. On top of that simple tasks like that of using a washroom turned out to be problematic for me. I decided that it was high time I left Kolkata,” she said.
And thus Joyonto was buried in memory and from his ashes rose the phoenix of Joyita.
Uttar Dinajpur: A second home to Joyita
Joyita had come over to a small border town called Islampur in the district of Uttar Dinajpur, where she had prior acquaintances.
“I started working, but I could sense a lot of hostility from the people around me. I am sure their reaction stemmed from a lack of awareness but dealing with that on a regular basis was difficult for me,” she explained.
Also, the friends on whom she was dependent did not prove to be very helpful to her, Joyita added. With a meagre salary of five thousand, it was becoming more and more difficult for her.
“I have had horrific experiences of spending sleepless nights at a bus stop on an empty stomach – all because hotels did not want to give me food and lodging even though I was ready to pay for them,” she said.
In spite of facing all these problems, Joyita did not stop. “On 10 January 2010 my organization was formed; we named it ‘Dinajpur Notun Aalo Society’ (New Light For Dinajpur) that aimed at bringing rays of hope for the people in the area,” she said.
Joyita with her organization
“It was through this organization that I came in contact with many others from my community, and we started working together to bring about change. The knowledge and awareness that I was privy to because of growing up in Kolkata came in handy while working for the organization,” she went on to explain.
In 2012, Joyita and her organization got the charge of Pehchaan project financed by the Global Fund that went on for four years. “It is through this project that I was able to build a strong rapport with the district-level government,” she said.
A new direction to Joyita’s work
A striking feature of Joyita is her upfront and candid nature which becomes evident when she said, “I have seen my community members fighting only for their rights. The clamour for their well-deserved rights is fine, but I also feel that sometimes we need to transcend our identity and work for the betterment of the entire society.”
Her first project was making an old-age home, Age India, for the elderly people in the locality. The striking feature of the organization was that it was run entirely by the transgenders. Next, she concentrated on making EPIC cards for the prostitutes in nearby brothels – the authorities were not keen to work for them, Joyita took the responsibility on her shoulders.
“It is because of these steps that I had taken, people felt they could relate to me and my work; they felt I was working for everyone. My recruitment to the bench of Lok Adalat as a social activist was also a result of these social services I was deeply involved in,” she said. “It is heartening to hear when people say that they look beyond my gender and focus on my work and the change that I wish to bring about in the society.”
Joyita is currently on a supervisory board of a Minority Cell.
“If you ask me, my biggest achievement is the fact that the people in Islampur have accepted me for my work – I am no longer an object of curiosity for them, instead they love and respect me for who I am,” she added.
However, Joyita is completely annoyed by the way tokenism works in the public domain. “The media, the government, the society wastes no time in eulogising those of us who have achieved something in life. But the rest of the community is left to fend for themselves – they beg at signals to feed themselves. I ask everyone, are we not good enough for cleaning and sweeping floors?”
Spreading awareness among the commoners
“People like Manabi di (Manabi Bandyopadhyay, the country’s first transgender college principal) and I get invitations from game shows at television channels, but, these very channels do not accept not-so-famous faces from our community. Where is the equality? Where is social acceptance? There is none,” she sounded disheartened.
Her concern for her community is real becomes clear when she said, “I am not happy with my current position. My position is doing no good for thousands of those who make a spectacle of them to make a living. I will feel satisfied the day transgenders become incorporated into the mainstream society and live with dignity.”
From deification to damnation, they have been revered and feared by our society who has completely misunderstood them. Transgenders like her are towards a change, a recognition in our society and moreover encouraging the third gender there is still hope.