This past summer I had the privilege of working for the South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) in New Delhi, India. Having previously studied abroad in India during my undergraduate career I had a strong desire to return to the world’s largest democracy with some legal knowledge under my belt. After receiving an offer to work with Ravi Nair, the Director of SAHRDC, and speaking with several past interns who thoroughly enjoyed their time under Ravi’s mentorship I applied for a work visa and upon receiving it bought a plane ticket. Overall the experience was remarkable. I learned so much working with Ravi and I was humbled to assist him in fighting for human rights, a fight Ravi has participated in since the 1960s.
Going into the summer I felt like I had a pretty solid handle of ongoing human rights concerns in India, but that could not have been further from the truth. My prior knowledge was focused on concerns regarding women’s rights, lingering elements of the caste system, and poverty, but I had never heard of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), anti-conversion laws, the insurmountable judicial delay plaguing the court system of India, the impunity government officials are granted under Indian law, the excessive use of force displayed daily in Kashmir and Northeast India, or Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s association with the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, which occurred under his watch as chief minister. I learned about all of these issues as I prepared reports to submit to the United Nations in preparation for India’s third Universal Periodic Review with the United Nations Human Rights Council. In addition to an official report submitted by the state itself, NGOs are also permitted to submit reports on a country’s human rights record to increase transparency.
By writing several of these reports in addition to various articles, I learned that although India is the largest democracy in the world, on the ground the country is anything but free or fair. Ravi had known this for a long time, and although he realizes he can only live to see so much change in his country he has dedicated his life and his personal inheritance to fighting for every bit of change he can achieve. Previously, Ravi received funding from foreign investors to support SAHRDC, but to receive this type of funding an NGO in India needs a license: a license that is issued by the government. Thanks to Ravi’s great work, the Indian government has rewarded him by taking away this license, which has left Ravi to use what he has left of his mother’s inheritance to run the organization. SAHRDC used to be housed in an office building, and Ravi used to have 10-15 employees. Today the SAHRDC is located in what is essentially two storage units and consists of Ravi, an assistant, and the interns who funnel in and out every couple of months. Ravi is one of the few brave individuals fighting for systemic change in the largest democracy in the world and I could not have been more honored to help him in this fight.
Nicole Lawler is a member of the Class of 2018 from Orefield, Pennsylvania. She graduated from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, PA, in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Political Science, Theology, and Economics. This past summer Nicole worked at the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre in New Delhi, India. Previously, Nicole has interned at the Defenders Association of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project in Philadelphia. Nicole enjoys playing softball and traveling in her spare time.