Friday in Focus: Dhvani Mehta
When I first came to Oxford to read for the Bachelor of Civil Law in 2009, an entirely new way of thinking opened up to me. I entered a world of theoretical concepts and academic abstraction that challenged me intellectually in ways that I hadn’t imagined. This was exciting, of course, but it was easy to forget that the law affected real people and was supposed to solve real problems. The Oxford Human Rights Hub and Oxford Pro Bono in particular, kept me rooted, and reminded me why I had chosen to become a lawyer.
I returned to India in 2014 to help found a legal policy think-tank in New Delhi called the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, where I work on health and environmental law. A significant part of this involves providing civil society organizations legal research assistance to help them implement the law or bring changes to it. In the last year, we have argued before the Supreme Court to strike down archaic laws that discriminate against persons affected by leprosy, to ask for inclusive education for children with disabilities, and to gain legal recognition for advance medical directives. My approach to this work is shaped largely by my experience with OPBP.
At OPBP, one of our objectives was to conduct high-quality legal research to assist civil society organizations with strategic litigation. It taught me important lessons in engaging with our clients and how to think innovatively about using academic research in courts. The OxHRH continues to do very valuable work in this area through its podcasts on rights-based litigation.
Through the OxHRH blog, I learnt the art of communicating messages about human rights developments simply to the many different kinds of people and organizations that stand to gain from them. We are learning from this as we build our website, Nyaaya, which aims to explain India’s laws in simple language to the people who need to use them the most.
It also enabled me to stay in touch with grassroots organisations and legal developments in India while at Oxford and gave me a taste of the kind of work that I am now involved with on a regular basis. During my time with OPBP, we made submissions to an expert committee that was reviewing India’s laws on sexual violence against women and also prepared a thorough research memorandum on public participation in law-making for the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information. It was personally very rewarding as an Indian law student at Oxford to be able to contribute in some way to important legal movements at home. All I wanted to do was return and replicate, in some way, the important work that OxHRH was doing. In January 2016, we had the opportunity to host a joint conference with OxHRH on the right to education, and it remains one of the high points of my professional career so far.
In a world that is increasingly riven by factions of all kinds, the OxHRH stands out as a beacon in its efforts to create a global community of human rights practitioners. More than ever, we need to learn from each other, spread information about all the good that is still happening and the people who are working so tirelessly to achieve it. I am grateful to OxHRH for doing this and humbled to have been a part of this journey.