Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) – Experience Report 2017

July – August 2017

by Elena

Organization of the internship
CHRI required me to get a working visa and not a simple tourist visa. The working visa costs approximately 400 CHF and requires more bureaucratic work than the tourist visa. CHRI provided me with all the required documents necessary to apply for the visa (contract letter, registration of the organization, etc…). Once all the documents were collected and submitted to the VFS office in Bern it took approximately five days for the visa to be issued.
CHRI offered to help me to find an appropriate accommodation according to my budget. I ended up in one of the flats CHRI owes to accommodate its staff. I lived with other three colleagues in a spacious flat in Sarvodaya Enclave, one of the best neighbourhoods in south Delhi and only a 15 minutes walk from the office. My room was big and furnished with a king size bed, a desk and a chair as well as a wardrobe. I shared the bathroom with one of my flatmates. The flat was well furnished and had all the kitchen supplies and a washing machine. For 4500 rupees a month (~65 CHF), a cook came once a day to cook food and clean the floors. This was very convenient. I did not cook once while in India. However, the food she cooked was very spicy and it took me a week or two to get used to it. In the enclave there also was a small market were it was possible to buy groceries. There also was a very nice big park very close to the flat. Every morning and evening I walked to the office and I always felt save. The rent for the flat was 10’000 rupees, approximately 150 CHF which is a fair rent.
Living room

Working at CHRI
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an NGO based in Delhi but with branches in London and Accra, that focuses on the respect of human rights in the Commonwealth. Traditionally, its main areas of work are prison reform, police reform and right to information. More recently also a strategic initiative program (SIP), to which I was allocated, was created with the aim to advocate for human rights in all Commonwealth countries and to engage at the international level (mainly with the Human Rights Council). While I was there, the SIP team was working on a SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) report, as well as engaging with the CMAG (Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group) and the UPR (Universal Periodic Review of human rights) mechanisms. During the first three weeks, I did some media research on Cameroon, Togo, the Gambia and Australia. Later I had the chance to participate at a civil society seminar on the UPR process which was very interesting. In the last weeks I helped my supervisor to find founding for an office in Geneva to support the Commonwealth’s small states to interact with the Human Rights Council. After my internship was over, I also had the chance to participate at a side event to the Human Rights Council meeting at the UN in Geneva organised by CHRI.
Overall, the work I did was very varied. At the beginning, it was a little bit boring. At times, it seemed as if they did not really had a plan on what tasks to give me. But it is also true that a major report on which the SIP team was working just got published a few days before my arrival and that the team still had to decide on what to focus next.
The working environment at CHRI is very friendly. During the first weeks of July there also were many other interns from the US and Canada mainly but by August only me and another intern were left. The employees at CHRI are very young (often it is their first employer after graduation) so it is easy to find likeminded people to hang out with. After work, people would often come to our flat to hang out, have a chat and drink tea or beer.

Living in Delhi
The city of Delhi is very polluted and dirty and there also is a lot of traffic and noise on the streets. As already mentioned I was living in one of the best enclaves where it was clean, quiet and save. While sightseeing in Delhi I never had problems or felt in a dangerous situation. However, my colleagues and flatmates always advised me to be careful when roaming around the city on my own. If on my own, I always made sure to be able to reach home by dawn.
There are many possibilities to move around the city. The one I liked the most was the metro since the traffic on the streets is sometimes unbearable. Alternatively, there also are uber and ola taxi (Indian version of uber) which are very reliable. For shorter distances, there also are the auto rikshaws. However, as a foreigner, you always have to argue on the price and the drivers do not have a very good reputation. Overall, I had a good experience with rikshaw drivers.
Educated people in Delhi speak very good English but many shopkeepers, waiters, taxi drivers etc… in nontouristy areas do not. However, in my experience, Indians are very eager to help you out when they see you in difficulty or when asked for help. As a foreign woman, it may sometimes be necessary to deal with unwanted attentions such as stares, people following you and people asking for pictures. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between strangers with good and bad intentions. As a rule of thumb, it is better to avoid isolated places and getting overfriendly with strangers on the street.
July and August are rainy months but also very hot. Luckily both in the office and in my room there was air conditioning. However, it is better to pay attention not to catch colds. Moreover, because of the rain there are many mosquitos spreading dengue fever and other illnesses. It is therefore better to protect oneself against mosquitos by covering up and using repellents. It is also advisable never to drink unfiltered water. The flat where I was living had a filtering machine so I did not have to buy bottled water.
In Delhi there are many beautiful places to visit. On the weekends, I never got bored. Moreover, Agra (where the Taj Mahal is) is only a two-hour ride with the direct train from Delhi and Jaipur a 5 hour ride by bus. Due to time constraints, I only visited Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, both very beautiful places.
Typical street in Delhi
Market near Jama Masjid
Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi