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International Law

Matt Blythe

September 27, 2011

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2011 Extern at South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre

“This summer I worked [with Ravi Nair, the Executive Director] at South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC), an organization in the southern part of Delhi that, as the name would suggest, documents human rights abuses by the government of India.  I had two ongoing projects.  The first project involved reviewing opinions issued by India courts dealing with preventive detention under the National Security Act (NSA).  My research involved cataloging the most common uses of the NSA, and the most common challenges to it in court.  For my second project I worked on a detailed history of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), an anti-terrorism law that was in effect from 1985 to 1995. This act led the Indian government towards a more authoritarian application of its detention laws. 

In addition to my two ongoing projects, I had a number of smaller research memos to prepare. I was also tasked with writing an editorial comment for Nandini Sundar & Ors. v. State of Chattisgarh, a Supreme Court case which held that the state of Chhattisgarh (in central India) could no longer utilize Special Police Officers—essentially, paramilitary forces—in its fight against the Naxalite rebels in that area. This comment was eventually published as an unsigned editorial in the prestigious Economic and Political Weekly.

Working with SAHRDC is a good fit for anyone who is interested in the academic side of the law and [human rights issues]… My externship gave me a crash course in Indian history, law, and culture… Resources were limited, and improvisation and adaptation to less-than-ideal circumstances was key to success. Because SAHRDC often writes for an international audience, I also got a lot of practice using Bluebook and adhering to rigorous academic standards.

My favorite travel experience in India was our trip to Amritsar, in Punjab, which I took with a group of other Lewis & Clark externs working in Delhi. Anyone who has spent time in Delhi will know that it is loud and hot and full of people whose entire livelihood is based around giving foreigners a hard time; Amritsar, by comparison, offered a very pleasant change of pace. The big sight in Amritsar was the Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, a holy site and the spiritual center of Sikhism. We visited the temple at night, and the entire place was done up in strings of electric lights in celebration of a Sikh holiday. One of our number went swimming in the holy pool surrounding the main temple area. The next morning we visited the Harmandir Sahib again and ate a free lunch in its massive kitchen. Just make sure you come hungry: you will be given a whole lot of food, and I’m pretty sure the people at the exit door are checking to make sure that you’ve cleaned your plate. I was told that, since feeding people for free is essentially a religious act, the kitchen staff do not take kindly to leftovers.”