The news of Vidya Kamble, a transgender from Nagpur making it to the Lok Adalat as a judge spread like a wildfire. For Vidya who had been abandoned by the family at the age of 17 for being queer to achieve this fete was something, she could not have possibly dreamt of. She had wide-eyed dreams of securing a decent job for herself without any stigma around her being a transgender. But the opportunity of being at the helm of Lok Adalat wasn’t even remotely on her plans.
Vidya’s role of being an activist is accompanied by her daily visits to the court. On one such evening, I ask her to meet me after her court to which she happily obliges. One would assume that she’d be tired to talk after a long day but she manages to greet me with a chirpy ‘hello’ which puts my mid-week spirits to shame.
We bring you a tête-à-tête with the lady of the hour!
Q) How are you feeling?
A) I’m extremely elated about being elected at such an important position. Kunal Jadhav, the secretary of District Legal Service Authority, selected me for this post. The love and respect that people have showered me with and the support of the judges, advocates etc. have made me feel proud of my achievement. Even a random person congratulating me now overwhelms me. I am also appreciating how people’s perception towards our community is changing when they hear about my feat.
Q) How did this opportunity come your way?
A) One fine day I received a call from Kunal Sir who told me in detail about the programme. He went on to ask me to preside over the matters and contribute in the ways he thought best. I still remember my first day at the court. I was nervous to share a seat with judges and advocates of such high stature. But then the people around me made me comfortable with each passing day.
Q) Did this nervousness stem from the fact that you have no formal education in law or was it because of the whole hype about your achievement?
A) It was a healthy mix of both. (Laughs) I haven’t had any formal education but being a social activist, I had my own share of exposure with the law which helped me. I have been associated with a CBO like Sarathi Trust for 10 years now and that helped me be abreast with the some of the acts. Despite that, I’m still very anxious and cannot help but think what if I made a silly mistake or went too far with my words, given for how opinionated I am. (Laughs)
Q) How did you family react to this fete of yours?
A) Just last week my sister called me up and asked if this was true. I confirmed the news to her. She then called me home saying she wanted to talk to me. When I went home the next day, I saw almost everyone from my family and our area gather at my house and wait for me. They hugged me and praised me. It made me happy and I was extremely overwhelmed to see people who were against me to finally be with me. But despite that, I still don’t find myself welcomed at home.
Q) How did your community react to it?
A) I have always wanted to study and be educated. I never wanted to beg just because it’s a norm in my community. I knew I had it in me to secure a decent job for myself and today I am here. Unfortunately, my community is not happy with this. They too have abandoned me just like my parents did 12 years ago. But if I could brave the situation back then, I can sure see myself through this.
Q) Is it true that your community is threatening you to give up on the job?
A) Yes, that is true. I have been threatened by my own community and I fear that they would actually live up to what they say. But that still does not deter me to walk into court with my head held high. My friends and some supporters have helped me be brave and fight these threats too.
Q) Now that you are a Lok Adalat judge, your take on Article 377 as a judge and not just a transgender.
A) Most of the progressive countries in the world have done away with the laws similar to Article 377. So judge or no judge, I too will scrap the Article and let the people of my community be. For the longest time, we have struggled for our freedom. And with changing times, I think it’s finally time we are given the ultimate freedom and not lock it away in Article 377.
Q) Will you take any steps toward it now that you’re a part of the judiciary system yourself?
A) Now that I’m a judge, I will take more efforts to educate people on how the Article criminalizes people of my community but how we are not. Maybe with a better idea of the Article, more and more people will voice out for scrapping the Article.
Q) Lok Adalat is known to speed up impending cases. How effective has that been in reality?
A) I’m now on the other side of the table and can say this for sure that all my faith in the India judiciary system has been restored. The court amicably settles the cases as quickly as each case deserves. I remember seeing the happiness on people’s faces when their case is either rejected or put on compromise etc. It is a satisfactory feeling that court can actually help them and eventually, so can I. All though, I appeal to the people that they have their right documents in place which will help us be just on the matters.
With a glimpse of hope in her eyes that is nothing less than contagious, she signs off with her signature laughter.