July – September 2016
by Luca Renda
Living in Delhi
I arrived in Delhi around midnight of July 28. After passing border control and collecting my luggage, I met with a CHRI staff member, Ajay, who then accompanied me to my apartment. The next day, I acquired an Indian SIM card as well as a Travel Card for the Delhi Metro System and familiarized myself a bit more with my neighborhood. I also got the opportunity to accompany Ajay to the CHRI office, to gain a first impression and to memorize the road to work.
I stayed in the Saket neighborhood of Delhi, at M-Block, where I shared a flat with another CHRI staff member, Raja. The flat was quite spacious, clean and was equipped with all basic amenities necessary (bathrooms, fridge, kitchen, AC, wireless internet). Saket is a middle-class district in South Delhi, which is rather upscale, compared with what I have seen in other parts of the city. In the vicinity of my apartment (five minutes walk) there were two large mall complexes, “DLF Place” and “Select City Streetwalk”, a plaza with numerous shops for groceries and food stalls called “J-Block Market”, and one of India’s top private healthcare providers, “Max Super Specialty Hospital”, was also just a fifteen-minute walk away from my place (just in case). During my time in Delhi I would frequently go to the malls to try out a new restaurant, buy books or apparel, get a haircut or just buy food and beverages to stash in our fridge (there was a shop at DLF that had all the international brands). On the other hand, J-Block Market had more of an Indian vibe to it and there you would perhaps also find more reasonably priced stuff. Also, there is a post office there, so when I wanted to send some postcards to my family or my friends, this was the place to go.
As I mentioned we had a kitchen at our disposal in the flat, but I actually never cooked anything during my two months in India. Instead, I would order food online from either Zomato or directly from one of the many great restaurants Delhi has to offer and have it delivered to my place (or to the office). In the mornings, always around 8 a.m., there would come two ladies to clean the apartment and, upon request, they would also cook some breakfast meal for you. In exchange for a small token (approximately 15 Swiss Francs) they also took care of my laundry for the entire time I stayed there.
It is generally advised to avoid visiting Delhi during August and September, given that it is Monsoon season, with very high temperatures and very high humidity. The first two or three weeks I spent in Delhi, I did not experience a single day when it would not rain. Towards the end of my stay, however, the rain stopped almost altogether, while temperatures remained high, vacillating between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius. Whenever you stepped outside the door, you knew you would be covered in sweat within few minutes. In addition, permanently changing from staying in cooled, air-conditioned rooms to stepping outside into the blistering heat and humidity can have its toll on the body, and I frequently experienced symptoms of a cold. Apart from that, though, I fortunately never suffered from serious health problems.
The CHRI premises in Delhi are located in the Siddharth Chambers building in Kalu Sarai, in the vicinity of Hauz Khas. From my place in Saket, there were two options to get there: either take an auto rickshaw (“auto”) or walk up to Malviya Nagar station, ride the metro to Hauz Khas station and walk the rest of the way to the office. Given that not many auto drivers spoke English well and/or did not know the way to the office, option two would frequently be more convenient whenever I was going to the office on my own, even though it would take me a bit longer (25 to 30 minutes as opposed to about 15 minutes, but that was not necessarily always the case, especially when there would be bad weather conditions or traffic jams). As I mentioned above, I acquired a Travel Card soon after arriving in Delhi. This card is very useful because you can use it for the entire Delhi Metro Rail network and you can recharge it at will with any amount between 200 and 1000 rupees. It is generally advisable to use the Metro in Delhi as often as possible, because it is quite cheap (for Western standards), even for longer routes, and it allows you to avoid Delhi’s crazy traffic. It may be a bit crowded, though, especially at important intersections such as Central Secretariat or Connaught Place or during lunchtime or rush hours in the morning and evening.
At CHRI, I was part of the Strategic Initiatives Program (SIP), which operates through strategic interventions all throughout the Commonwealth towards the practical realization of human rights. When I arrived at CHRI the program was in a phase of transition, so at the beginning we were only two people working within SIP. This gradually changed, and by the time I left staff within SIP at the Delhi office had grown to five.
My main task during my internship was gathering data for a report that analyses the performance of Commonwealth countries in the United Nations Human Rights Council since its inception in 2006, and that the SIP team plans to publish towards the end of the year. Amongst others, I gathered data on Commonwealth countries’ voting behavior, voting trends and bloc behavior, changes in voting patterns as well as Commonwealth statements and interventions at the Council. Towards the end of my internship, I had the opportunity to present my findings to the entire office staff. Generally speaking, this task required stamina given that it not only involved a lot of number crunching, sometimes from scratch, but also a fair amount of analytical and interpretative efforts. However, it was also rewarding, because it allowed me to gain a better understanding of what the role of the HRC is, how it works, what the most contentious issues are and of course what role the Commonwealth plays within it. Besides my main task, I performed a number of ad hoc duties, such as doing research on the work of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, with a special focus on how the Group dealt with countries that violated the Harare Declaration; creating a Universal Periodic Review Process Timeline for Commonwealth members; or gather media sources on the threat of Islamic terrorism in Maldives.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that I was part of a great team of young people at SIP that always lent a helping hand whenever I had a question or a problem, also outside of work, and that all CHRI staff treated me in a very friendly and supportive manner.
Being one of the world’s megacities, Delhi offers a sheer infinite range of things to see or to do. It is certainly worth to go visit the ancient historical monuments, such as Humayun’s Tomb, a 16th century garden complex that, among other monuments, hosts the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun, or the Red Fort, which was the Mughal Emperors’ residence until 1857, and from where today the Prime Minister of India always delivers a speech on Independence Day. Another site that I personally really enjoyed and that is certainly worth a visit is the Lotus Temple, a Baha’i House of Worship open to all religions and notable for its flowerlike shape. Apart from these monuments and temples, Delhi offers some beautiful and peaceful parks where you can find refuge from the stress and noise of the city for some time, for example Lodi Gardens. Regarding the culinary landscape, Delhi has something to offer for every taste, be it North or South Indian cuisine, street food, South East Asian food or just some burger joints that we also know in the West. Shopping can be done at one of Delhi’s sprawling malls, at trendy Hauz Khas Village with its many hip boutiques (and a vibrant nightlife), or at Dilli Haat, an open-air bazaar located conveniently close to INA Metro station, where you can find artisanry, fabrics and food from all the states of India.
Of course, you may also want to venture outside of Delhi. For example, a trip to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal is certainly due. There are different ways to reach Agra from Delhi. I booked a day-tour package that included a shuttle-service from my place to Agra and back (Agra is about three hours by car from Delhi), entrance fees to Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, a private guide and lunch in a restaurant in the city.
All in all, I had a marvelous time in Delhi (even though there were also challenges from time to time) and I can absolutely recommend doing an internship with CHRI. Not only will you be able to gain work experience, but you will also get the chance to immerse yourself in a new culture and get to explore a fascinating part of our world.