RJ Anderson, Intern at Bangalore Mediation Center


RJ

India is a country of diversity. Each state retains a localized culture, multiples languages, and numerous religious and social identities – and everywhere there is a swirling buzz of life penetrating the air with color and smell. Travelling to Bangalore this summer through the Victor Schachter Rule of Law award, I could hardly imagine the transformative experience that lay before me. Together with my fellow recipient, a German lawyer from UConn Law, we set out to report and observe the daily functioning of alternative dispute resolution in India. This comprised trips to Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore to investigate the various methods – mediation, arbitration, conciliation, and lok adalit – through which Indians settle their disputes outside of the courtroom.

This trip provided crucial insight due to the dynamic context of the Indian legal system. In a country of 1.2 billion people, court cases are naturally backlogged more than in other places. For instance, a trial that would take five years in the US could easily extend well over ten years in India. I actually had the opportunity to observe a mediation case that had been in courts for thirty-three years. Approaching this set of obstacles from a human rights standpoint, it became clear that preserving human dignity meant an efficient, expedient, and fair legal alternative must be developed. Alternative dispute resolution, and mediation in particular, provided this outlet to Indian citizens.

Mediation also allowed me an ethnographic portrait of Indian society that bridged intersectional lines of identity. Everyone in India utilized mediation regardless of traditional boundaries to legal access such as caste, socioeconomic status, physical location, or gender. Disputes themselves often touched these divides, with individual or family privilege and oppression taking center stage. Mediation, in this sense, served as a form of empowerment for parties without a voice, and as a form of efficient legal recourse for all. As a whole, my observational experience enlightened me to the many social constructions of human character, while also strengthening my understanding of human universality. For example, in every case, regardless of constructed status, people encountered universal emotions – happiness, sadness, love, hate, and so on. In many ways, these emotional universals intersected with socially constructed status to contextualize a picture of humanity that could not have been gathered through classroom exercises.

Finally, my time in India was also experiential. The lessons I learned in mediation rooms carried over into conversations with people from across the country. In this respect, my human rights education proved incredibly useful. As an interdisciplinary major, I was able to tie together the various conversations and connect them with the overarching political and economic structures that mediated Indian life. Comparing this to my own American context, I sought to find the power embedded within human rights discourse. Though I consider myself an amateur, there is an incredible strength that human rights brings to global discussions. It is the idea that everyone has agency, the ability to lead a life of value in the ways one chooses to live. It is that global ideal of an equal and socially just society which motivates people to engage in the project of building a better social world. Mediation, as a structure which enables that agency to flow freely across identity configurations, taught me these lessons alongside the individuals who lived in India itself. I am extremely thankful to the Human Rights Institute and Vic Schachter for allowing me to have this opportunity. I will end by stating that internships are incredibly valuable because they teach lessons that cannot be learned without experience. As such, they play a pivotal role in one’s education, and I definitely recommend them for students interested in truly understanding human rights discourse on a global scale.