Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) – Experience Report 2013

July – September 2013

by Praveen Gunaseelan & Eve Platzer

Our internship: By way of GTI we had an opportunity to intern with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi for three months. As the name implies, CHRI is an NGO monitoring and advocating human rights in the countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. CHRI’s 40 employees and a number of interns from all over the world work in four different teams: Prison, Police, Right to Information Act, and Strategic Initiatives and Programs. Whereas the first three concentrate on issues within India itself, the last one – where we were assigned to – advocates human rights in all Commonwealth countries that have committed to them in in the Harare Declaration. Advocacy takes place mainly within international organizational frameworks such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. Praveen’s main task was a report on the performance of select Commonwealth countries in the Human Rights Council while Eve was engaged in research and advocacy of issues concerning African countries such as freedom of the press in Cameroon, attacks and threats of human rights activists in Zimbabwe or freedom of free opinion in Swaziland. What we both liked about our internships was the international focus of CHRI which enabled us to not only catch a glimpse of some UN mechanisms but to gain an actual understanding of it. The flip side of the coin, however, is the negligence of anything specifically Indian. If you are considering an internship with CHRI just keep in mind that you won’t necessarily work on India-related issues and neither get to meet and interact with Indians apart from local employees. As is the case with most internships, workload varied widely between sitting around for days and having to work on weekends.

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Accommodation: Both of us shared a three-story house with 12 other young people, most of them fellow foreigners. Living in such a large household helped a lot in making friends and getting crucial information in the very beginning. The place was very conveniently located in South Delhi’s Malviya Nagar area near a plethora of shops and eateries. Even the office was just a 15 minute walk away, a true luxury in Delhi. If you’re planning on reaching work on foot please keep in mind the climate, though. The thermometer hovered consistently around 35 degrees, and that was in late summer from July to September. Summer highs in May and June can reach almost unbearable 45 degrees.

Rents for our rooms amounted to about 25’000 Rupees a month, which converts to roughly CHF 400, including all bills and a maid. Mostly there are options of rooms with or without air conditioning. If one decides for a room without, it might be a good advice to make sure that it is not on the top floor below the ceiling. It is possible to share a room since they generally have two-bed setups. The price might at first glance seem steep for India but is not exorbitantly overpriced considering the upscale neighborhood. Also keep in mind that rent will be the only significant expenditure as life – and also travel – in India is incredibly cheap. A home delivered-meal can cost as little as INR 100 (CHF 1.50) and a 15-minute rickshaw ride about INR 40.

Life in Delhi as a woman: When first arriving in Delhi one realizes quite fast that white skin attracts attention. Especially as a woman, people looking and staring at you might cause an uncomfortable feeling. The fact that on the streets one encounters relatively few Indian women and a lot of men does also not help very much. However, this is a part of the travel. As one also realizes very fast, there are generally no bad intentions behind any such behavior. Staring is from the cultural perspective not perceived as something rude. Maybe some people even come over and ask with a curious smile if they can take a picture with you. The only thing that is important as a woman is to fallow certain rules as adapting the way you dress to the environment: If you go out on the streets, don’t wear tight jeans or shirts and if you go to a market, better wear cheap clothes. If you go out to a club however, feel free to wear a skirt or to dress fashionable if you go to a shopping center. Furthermore, quite obvious, plan your trips when it gets dark more carefully and avoid walking around in areas where there are not many people around. Concerns about crimes in Delhi should make woman definitely more alert and cautious but it should not detain anybody from travelling there. New Delhi is an exciting city with a lot to offer. Even if one stays for three month and after having seen the most popular sites such as the Red Fort or the Indian Gate, one can always find something else to discover, be it another market or museum or simply a new restaurant or roof top bar.

Trips from Delhi: As the capital, Delhi is well-connected to nearby (by Indian standards) cities and tourist places. Buses and trains run in every direction, making for very interesting weekend getaway possibilities. Larger cities in Northern India like Amritsar or Bikaner can be reached overnight. The former is home to the Golden Temple, a monumental icon of the Sikh religion, and the latter is a town in the Rajasthani desert where we went on a camel safari. Both come highly recommended, but we have come to know that the desert safaris around Jaisalmer are even more spectacular due to the number of sand dunes in that part of the Thar Desert. We also did trips to the Morni Hills, Mussoorie, and Manali, all of which are hill stations in the Himalayan foothills. It is not a secret to Delhiites that these places are a particularly nice escape from the city’s scorching heat, making them very busy during the summer months. Personally we especially enjoyed to leave behind the capital’s pollution and noise for the weekend. Traveling is affordable with the cost for a typical overnight bus ride at around INR 500.

If we had to characterize Delhi in one word, it would have to be contrast-rich, to a degree that makes it at times hardly graspable. Delhi is a melting pot of the new and the old, of the poor and the rich, and not least the Indian and the Western. Living in these unique surroundings may be challenging on occasion but definitely makes for an eye-opening experience that will leave you with lasting impressions and a vastly expanded horizon. Concerning the internship itself we were generally very happy with our experiences and can recommend it to anyone interested in human rights and international organizations. We would like to express our gratitude to Gateway to India for making our Indian experience possible.