The International and Comparative Human Rights Practicum in India: A Hands-On Approach to Cross-Cultural Advocacy

Learning to work collaboratively across cultures, think creatively about relationships between law and organizing, and handle the myriad of challenges working with vulnerable, migrant populations are only some of the benefits that U.S. and Indian law students gain by participating in the International and Comparative Human Rights Practicum program. Born out of a relationship between U.S. and Indian law faculty through the Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE), Fatma Marouf (HLS ‘02) helped develop this unique Practicum, based in New Delhi, in order to bring together an interdisciplinary group of students to work in a hands-on environment on important human rights issues.

Marouf, a professor at William S. Boyd School of Law at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Co-Director of the school’s Immigration Clinic, worked closely with Indian colleagues Anannya Bhattacharjee at the Society for Labour and Development (SLD), Dr. Moushumi Basu, a professor at Jawaharal Nehru University’s School of International Studies, and Khadijah Faruqui, a distinguished women’s rights lawyer, to build a program where students could take their classroom experience into a real world setting. Three other HLS ’02 graduates and alumni of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic — Jennifer Rosenbaum, Sabi Ardalan, and Dustin Sharp– have co-taught the Practicum, contributing to its great success.

Over the course of several weeks, students work with low wage migrant workers in a variety of industries ranging from construction to garment. From interviewing and fact-finding, to documenting and gaining cross-cultural competence, students learn invaluable skill sets as they witness first-hand the value of organizing and building grassroots power among workers. In addition, the dynamic nature of the work allow students learn to approach the issues from different angles, confronting their own implicit cultural biases while simultaneously obtaining a more expansive framework for problem solving than what they traditionally learn in the classroom.

The students’ work culminates in valuable capstone projects focused on research and advocacy that benefits SLD’s current work portfolios. In recent years, students have addressed a range of topics including: the relationship between forced labor and health in the garment industry, the implementation of India’s new anti-sexual harassment law, trafficking and abuse of domestic workers, violations of freedom of association and right to organize, and many more.

“Their research is dynamic and impactful,” says Marouf, “and it often turns up critical new facts, such as systemic gaps in the reporting of workplace injuries.”

While the projects are comprehensive and practical, one of the most important lessons students learn is navigating new and challenging experiences without losing a sense of optimism.

“Over time they become more comfortable tackling large-scale problems that initially seem overwhelming without losing hope,” explains Marouf.

The scale of the problems that the students tackle are big, but overtime through the Practicum, the students become more confident in their ability to address complex issues. Applying the lessons they learn in the classroom to their real world research and advocacy, students are able to utilize their legal coursework and skill sets to help bring to light some of the human rights violations faced by many migrant workers in India. The Practicum is an extraordinarily valuable experience for both U.S. and Indian students and creates a partnership that has fostered good will and cross-cultural connections that last well beyond the few weeks spent in India.

 

 

fatma
Fatma Marouf received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002.

Fatma Marouf received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002. She now teaches immigration law and international human rights law at the William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and is Co-Director of the school’s Immigration Clinic. Marouf is grateful for the help, commitment, and support of her close friends and fellow alumni of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic who have contributed to its great success.