These students want to make a difference, help in ‘nation healing’

  • Gauri Kohli, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 20, 2016 12:23 IST
Rishika Sahgal of National Law University, Delhi did a research project on the administration of death penalty in India.

Meeting people of the conflict-ridden Tuensang area of eastern Nagaland was a life-changing experience for Joel Rodrigues. He decided to document their experiences and play a role in encouraging locals to maintain peace and justice in this remote area.

Rodrigues is a student of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati, pursuing a master’s in peace and conflict studies, believes that by taking up this programme he is contributing to ‘nation healing’ and wants to pursue research on the subject.

“For my dissertation, I am recording the experiences of people behind the customary law practised in the Tuensang area of eastern Nagaland. Recognising that the Naga villages functioned as independent republics and because these areas were inaccessible, the British administration introduced customary laws in the Naga Hills and Tuensang area. After colonial independence, the Indian Constitution recognised the same in Article 371 (A). According to the provision, no act passed by Parliament pertaining to religious and social practices of the Nagas, their customary law and procedure or ownership or transfer of land will have any effect in the state unless it is agreed upon by the Nagaland Legislative Assembly by a resolution. At this juncture, I involve myself in projects that help people access justice and move towards honest reconciliation,” he says. Through academics, research and co-curricular activities, students like Rodrigues are playing key roles in working on areas of national interest.

Rishika Sahgal, of National Law University (NLU), Delhi, has been a teaching assistant for a programme on constitutional law and has assisted a senior faculty member to write a chapter on the right to life and personal liberty for the Oxford Handbook on the Indian Constitution to be published in March 2016.

“The course on constitutional law gave me an insight into integral issues of fundamental rights and constitutional governance, such as the right to equality, reservations and affirmative action, the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and expression, federalism, independence of the judiciary, etc,” says Sahgal who has been selected as a Rhodes Scholar 2016 to study at Oxford University.

Sahgal was an integral part of the death penalty research project at NLU Delhi, the first-ever attempt in India at a practical study of the administration of the death penalty. She interviewed prisoners on death row across India, and their families, to document the socio-economic profile of such prisoners and to understand their experience of the criminal justice system. “I learnt that death row prisoners do not have access to quality legal representation, and important criminal justice safeguards were flouted in their cases,” she says.

For Jyoti Mishra, a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, the master’s programme in political studies built the ground for research. “I am currently focussed on Indian politics. While pursuing my master’s, I got an opportunity to attend a workshop on understanding quantitative methods in political science. This was conducted by a Delhi-based research organisation Lokniti: CSDS. Its core area is to study Indian electoral system and democracy using quantitative methods. During that workshop, I got exposure to study survey methods, quantitative tools,” she says.

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