Following in the footsteps of West Bengal’s Islampur, where transgender Joyita Mondal was recently appointed to a bench of a national Lok Adalat, the Serampore ADR Centre has made an announcement appointing Shyam Ghosh (previously Shampa) to the upcoming national Lok Adalat to be held in Hooghly. Shyam is a transgender activist who works on gender rights and HIV issues and the first transman to be appointed as a Lok Adalat judge.
The appointment followed a meeting of transgender people of Hooghly at the District Legal Services Authority. This meeting was organised with the assistance of Amitie Trust, an NGO that focuses on research to tackle the various issues faced by the LGBT+ community in West Bengal with special focus on integrating the transgender community into mainstream discourse.
The objective of this meeting was to propagate the Supreme Court’s 2014 judgment in the landmark case of NALSA vs Union of India, which formally recognised the transgender community as the third sex and also provided transgendered individuals the option to decide their gender. The judgment provided transgenders with the benefits granted to socially and economically backward communities and had Justice AK Sikri lay down the stepping stones for the struggle towards gender equality. He pronounced: “Equality not only implies preventing discrimination, but goes beyond in remedying discrimination against groups suffering systematic discrimination in society. In concrete terms, it means embracing the notion of positive rights, affirmative action and reasonable accommodation.”
Embracing this notion has been a slow but steady process. Earlier this year, Riya, another transgender activist, was appointed to the position of a Lok Adalat judge at the Manjeri District Court in Kerala. Riya trained for a year as a paralegal volunteer and previously worked with the Perinthalmanna municipality and police station.
Another aspect to be kept in mind is that Nalsa judgment has recognised transgender as including various different identities that encompass pre (hijras & eunuchs), post (men and women who have had sex reassignment surgery) and non-operative (transvestites) transsexual people, among others. It is, therefore, important that representation also be granted to identities on the transgender spectrum that are relatively invisible and vulnerable. Transmen being a rarer identity, Shyam’s appointment caters to this problem and probably points towards a favorable shift in the Indian mindset.
But we still have a long way to go in order to ensure equal rights and opportunities to the transgender community. Even though these appointments are a welcome step towards more visibility and representation for the community in the public sphere, they come after a gap of three years, since the judicial pronouncement in Nalsa. As Justice KS Radhakrishnan rightly pointed out: “Seldom, our society realizes or cares to realize the trauma, agony and pain which the members of Transgender Community undergo, nor appreciates the innate feelings of the members of the Transgender Community, especially of those whose mind and body disown their biological sex.”