Boyd Law Students Study Human Rights in India

Mon, 02/14/2011

Students at the William S. Boyd School of Law traveled to India over the winter break to study with the India International & Comparative Human Rights Law Practicum.

Five students from the UNLV Boyd School of Law participated, working with 10 other U.S. law students and 14 Indian law students in the areas of international and human rights law.

India International & Comparative Human Rights Law Practicum

This intersession, held in New Delhi, was the first year in which UNLV Boyd School of Law offered the program, created by Boyd Professor Martin Geer and Professor Krishna Rao of the National Law School in New Delhi who was part of the program’s teaching faculty. The students attended lectures, gave presentations, wrote reflective journals, participated in field placements and completed research papers on various topics. Students received three credits.

Geer said the program is the first partnership of its kind between the two largest democracies in the world that included both law students and faculty from both countries.

“My hope is that (the students) started to think outside the box and cross-culturally,” Geer said.

Geer said he chose India, in part, because both the U.S. and India are common law systems and law school classes are taught in English.

Boyd Professors Martin Geer and Fatma MaroufDuring the first week, students attended lectures on various human rights projects in the morning, followed by visits to human rights organizations working on related issues in the afternoon. They also visited the Indian trial courts and the largest prison in Asia.

During the second week, students worked more intensely with one organization. They spent a few days with lawyers at each organization to plan a research paper that they would write after returning to the U. S. that would help the groups’ specific missions. One of the organizations requested that the students help directly with litigation rather than writing traditional research papers. Students helped the People’s Union for Civil Liberties draft an appeal on behalf of an Indian doctor and human rights activist who was sentenced to death in December 2010.

"This program combines some of the best aspects of both a traditional externship and an in-house clinic, as students have the benefit of both experiential field-based learning and more structured reflection and discussion sessions with their peers and professors," said Boyd Professor Fatma Marouf. "The basic idea is that they can engage in some action, reflect on it, analyze and revise their theories for social change and then engage in action again."

India International & Comparative Human Rights Law Practicum

Professor M.R.K. Prasad of V.M. Salgaocar College of Law in Panjim, Goa, India, said the program gave students from both countries opportunities to understand the other’s legal systems and human rights concerns.“The course was designed in such a manner that American students are required to sit next to one Indian student, and every day they work with groups of Indian students,” Prasad said. “They did find out there are similarities in various issues such as affirmative action, human trafficking, rights of the prisoners, transgender issues and gay rights.”

Prasad said the program helps strengthen the ties between the United States and India.

“It has a potential of fostering understanding in two great cultures, one representing the older, and the other, the modern,” he said.

Geer stressed that the students worked hard while in India. He said that the students felt the human rights work was exciting, but also challenging. Boyd law professor Fatma Marouf was significantly involved in both teaching classes and assisting with the field work in the areas of human trafficking and asylum.

"The cross-cultural experience of working with law students and professors from another country also adds a layer of complexity and highlights the contextual and cultural aspects of strategies for social change. I believe both the US and Indian law students learned an enormous amount from each other," Marouf said.

Boyd law student Blake Quackenbush and the other law students visited a variety of organizations, including the United Nations, Indian governmental agencies and national human rights organizations. Specifically, Quackenbush worked with Shakti Vahini, an organization that focuses on protecting child rights and fighting human trafficking. As part of his field work, Quackenbush visited an HIV/AIDS clinic in the red-light district in Delhi.“I entered brothels and interviewed women trafficked into prostitution in order to gain a better understanding of why the crime of human trafficking persists despite strong laws put in place by the Indian government,” Quackenbush said. Quackenbush’s research paper discusses issues related to HIV/AIDS and the collateral consequences of legalized prostitution in relation to the larger topic of human trafficking.

Boyd student Hyungseon “Sunny” Jeong also worked with Shakti Vahin on human trafficking issues. Her research paper focuses on how police corruption assists the continued existence of human trafficking in the red light districts despite strong Indian laws.

The students said they felt that the interaction with the Indian students and professors was helpful. “I felt like the interaction with the Indian students, professors and placement supervisors taught me some creative ways to implement what India is doing well, such as Panchayat (a village-level democracy, education, and leadership system), some methods of rescue and rehabilitation methods, community education methods (street play) and so on,” Jeong said.

Jeong said she formed valuable relationships with both the U.S. and Indian students and professors she met. Most of the students keep in touch. Boyd student Patrick McGraw said he enjoyed the intercultural exchange of ideas. “The Indian students provided context that might have otherwise been missed, and their passion for human rights work was impressive,” McGraw said. He said he had an eye-opening experience expanding his idea of what it meant to be involved in human rights work. Visiting different organizations helped him and the other students choose what group was the best fit for their strengths.

“We can contribute most when our strengths match the needs of the organization,” he said.

Although the students worked hard, Quackenbush said the students were able to visit mosques, Hindu temples and the Taj Mahal. “I rode an elephant, camel, and I even rode in a bus filled with people with monkeys on top,” he said.

Geer said he and Marouf are working on doing the program next winter with some changes, pending approval from the American Bar Association.

Boyd School of Law students Aaron Macdonald and Amanda Weishar also attended the practicum.

To view photos from the 2010 India International & Comparative Human Rights Law Practicum, go to http://www.law.unlv.edu/WebGalleries/Events_IndiaWinterProgram_12-20-10/index.html.