Kolkata: She has had to sleep on a bus stop or railway station. Hotels have refused accommodation. She has been bullied for her identity. But she only let these experiences propel her forward, to scale new heights in life. Meet Joyita Mondal, India’s first transgender judge. Being appointed as one of the three judges for the Lok Adalat (Civil Court) Uttar Dinajpur, near Siliguri in West Bengal, she has emerged as an icon for the LGBT community in India. Her success can be gauged from the fact that this year, a question was framed on her for the West Bengal Public Service Commission.
Thirty-year-old Joyita was born as Joyonto in a typical Bengali family in Kolkata. Unable to lead a dual life, Joyita Mondal left her home in Kolkata almost a decade back. With no one willing to understand her plight of being a woman trapped in a man’s body, Joyita distanced herself from her parents, who were hoping against hope of their son to be the boy that they so very wanted her to be. She felt that despite her parents having loved her, they were failing to come to terms with the fact that their son was a transgender.
“My parents were shocked when they realized that I was a kinnar (Eunuch) and not a boy. Unlike my peers, I preferred doll houses to football. But my parents failed to understand that. I was constantly pressurized to play with boys. Once my mother dragged me to the football ground, forcing me to play a match, she even beat me for not playing the boy’s game,” recalls Joyita. She adds, “On the other hand I was always eager to pick up instructions that my mother gave to my sisters, with regards to how they should groom themselves or conduct in public. I think the combination of these two infuriated my mother, who always believed that I will turn normal (according to her) one day. All this in a way was taking a toll on me. Here I was a kinnar and was being forced to lead a life of a man.”
She recounts that as she was growing up, the difference was becoming evident, which her parents were refusing to acknowledge. “They felt that it was an illness and I would be fine one day. With every passing day, the society that we live in was getting mean to me. I was constantly being bullied in school and college for my gender identity. And no one was there to help me out. Around this time I also met more individuals like me, that gave me hope that I was not alone. And it was normal,” she says.
Fighting her demons
Perhaps, with that began her journey to carve an identity. Recounting one of the many cruel experiences of hers she says, “I was in college, and these boys used to catcall and bully me. I once went to the teachers complaining about the abuse that I was being forced endure. But instead of helping me out the teachers too laughed at me and said that if I would behave as a sissy, I would be bullied. This made me drop out of college. Around this time, I also realized that my parents won’t accept my gender identity. I took a decision of distancing myself from my parents, despite the fact that I love them a lot. But I needed to make peace with myself first. Hence, I lied to my mother about getting a job in Uttar Dinajpur’s Islampur city.”
However, things were not that easy for her. When she reached Islampur, she was denied accommodation in hotels as she belonged to the third gender. She had to sleep at bus stops and railway stations before moving in with the kinnars in Islampur. “I even went singing and asking for money from families, with the folks of my community to make ends meet. But I always felt that begging or resorting to flesh trade was not the way out. Thus in 2010, along with a couple of friends, I founded the Dinajpur Notun Aalo, an NGO for transgenders and LGBT community and it was from here that my life took a new turn. Soon people noticed me and my work for transgenders and the prostitutes of Islampur.”
Mentor paves the way
Joyita feels that her journey wouldn’t have been so smooth had she not met Thendup Sherpa, the then collector and DM of Islampur and Subrata Pole, the additional district judge, Islampur. “It’s because of these two people that I have reached this status in my life. They not just mentored me, but also guided me and even nominated me to be one of the judges of the Lok Adalat. It’s a great responsibility but I am enjoying it. But I feel that me being given this position has in a way helped us fight a certain mindset that exists in the society, which is that kinnars beg, they like to get things for free. Believe me; we all want a respectable job. We all want to work. We all want the society to accept us, but we are often ignored and even ill-treated for being different from what is considered being a norm.”
On being asked if she has undergone the genital reconstructive surgery, she reveals, “It has taken 10 years for my parents to accept me the way I am. Now I plan to undergo this surgery. It’s a costly affair but I am saving money for the same.”
Talking about, if she will ever return back to Kolkata, she says, “What Kolkata denied, Islampur gave me – respect for my identity. I shall stay here and work for the betterment of my community. However, I will keep visiting Kolkata, as my parents live there.”