On February 10, Salma Khan was appointed a panel member for Lok Adalat at the Mumbai District Suburban Legal Services Authority (DLSA), the first transgender woman in Mumbai to do so. She joined a league of transwomen who have broken social barriers, like Joyita Mondal, a judge from West Bengal, and Amruta Alpesh, an advocacy officer in Chattisgarh. A postgraduate with a Masters in Social Work, 40-year-old Khan was chosen from among 16 transgender candidates, and she will attend the panel’s second hearing on April 22.
Khan is among three panelists in Court Number 1 at the Lok Adalat, which is an alternate dispute redressal system in Bandra, mostly dealing with cases of loan defaulters and other banking matters. As per the National Legal Services Authority, at the district level, each bench of the Lok Adalat should comprise a sitting or retired judicial officer, a member from the legal profession and a social worker engaged in the upliftment of weaker sections. Having worked with transpeople since 1986, Khan is currently the president of Kinnar Maa Samajik Sanstha Trust, which she founded in 2014.
“Despite, the Supreme Court judgment in 2014 recognising the rights of transgender persons, social change has not been swift for the community and we are still vulnerable. Despite educational qualifications, many who identify as transgender do not find it easy to find employment. My appointment on the Lok Adalat panel should help others in accessing such spaces to increase our representation,” says Khan.
Recalling her first hearing in February, Khan says while her co-panelists and others supported her, she also got a few curious glances. “When I sat on the panel, some people stared at me in confusion but most were happy to see me there. My co-panelists and others made me feel comfortable. I am looking forward to the second hearing this month,” said Khan. From her work with various organisations including The Humsafar Trust, to her time counseling transgender youth at Sion Hospital, Khan says she has seen many struggle to find acceptance among people despite being qualified.
“In a recent case, a transgender woman in Mumbai got a job at a call centre but when they learnt her identity, they told her they cannot hire her. I hope the government can pave the way by giving jobs for transgender persons so that other private offices can also not discriminate,” she says. Khan, who grew up in Mumbai — her father worked in the RTO and her mother was a housewife — says she gained higher education with her mother’s support. She aims to pursue a doctorate in law, but her next focus is to work towards the rehabilitation of older people in the community.
“I have been petitioning the state government to provide homes for aged hijras, with health support and safety. There are shelter homes for women but older members of the community have nowhere to go. These are aspects that nobody has paid attention to and I hope that the government will soon intervene with a policy,” says Khan. She says she also hopes that with the community’s increased representation in legal spaces, there can be more policy changes for them.
“When the Indian society sees us, all they see are singing, clapping hijras who beg or go door-to-door to bless families. It has been seventy years since Independence, but no one has thought about uplifting our community. Give us scholarships, education, jobs and pensions so that we too, can lead dignified lives. We are what we are today because of the negligence of this society. The past is the past, and that is fine. But we don’t want our future generations to suffer as we did. We do not demand your pity, we only want our rights,” says Salma.