Name: Ekta Rathore
College: National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi
Course and year of study: B.A. L.L.B. (Hons) (Specialization in International Law)
Note: You don’t have to be a law student to apply for this internship. Students of social work and other relevant fields can also apply.
Details of the Organization, office and the team
People’s Watch (PW) is a human rights organization which began its journey in 1995. It is based in the small temple city of Madurai, in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is an internship you must consider if you are passionate about human rights and sick of interning in New Delhi, home to most human rights organizations.
Mr. Henri Tiphagne, a lawyer and a globally renowned human rights activist is one of the founders and the Executive Director of the organization.
PW focuses on various aspects of human rights, rehabilitation of torture victims, violence against children, legal intervention, fact finding, monitoring and human rights education being some of them.
The team consists of about 25 people.
How to apply
You can reach them at [email protected] or 9994368540. The office is situated at 32, Besant Road, Chokkikulam, Madurai.
PW also has offices in New Delhi, located at G-66, Second Floor, Saket, New Delhi. (Contact: [email protected]@org)
Duration of internship
PW accepts both long and short term internships. I was there from 6th of January, 2018 to 2nd of February, 2018.
Application procedure and contact details
The application procedure is simple. You can directly apply through their website.
I had applied in the beginning of 2017. A few weeks later, I received a mail from Mr. Tipghagne confirming my internship.
Here is an interesting anecdote. I had originally applied for July, 2017 and my internship was confirmed for that month. But, for some unprecedented reason, I could not commit for July. After a simple email, PW rescheduled my internship for January, 2018. That’s almost six months, no questions asked! That formed my first impression about PW as a kind, friendly organization.
Mr. Tiphagne scheduled a call with me in November, 2017 to discuss what I would be working on during my stay in Madurai. He detailed every possible task/s I could take up, and we eventually settled with the Citizenship Education Module. Read further for details!
PW was kind enough to take it upon itself to arrange accommodation for me, understanding that I do not speak the regional language, Tamil, and there was communication barrier. Everything was taken care of and all I had to do was show up. I stayed at Devis Women’s Hostel, which is right next to the PW office.
The team works for 6 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturdays are sometimes converted into half days/off days. I stayed late when I needed to, which wasn’t a problem, given that my hostel was nearby, and there was no nagging about what is called “in timing” (*Scoffs*)
I was greeted by a friendly receptionist who asked me to wait. Within a few minutes, I was being warmly received by Director Administration, Ms. Cynthia Tiphagne. She went on to give me an orientation, describing in detail how PW came into being, how it evolved, what challenges they had faced and were facing and how they have managed to keep going.
I have interned in many human rights organizations, but this was one which made me realize how difficult it is to do solid work, pressurize the authorities and challenge the system. I was handed over some compilations of the organization, which I spent the day going through.
Most importantly, I was introduced to the mass sufferings of the people of Kanyakumari who were the victims of Ockhi cyclone towards the end of 2017. PW had conducted a public inquest and had come up with a detailed report by January, 2018, which was to be released the coming week. I was asked to accompany the team in the release of the report, an amazing experience to know about which you must keep reading!
Details about work
So, I started my internship with a short trip, for the release of the Ockhi Cyclone Report. It was around 5 hours away, a journey the team merrily covered. It was a great way for me to get to know everyone. The release was a three hour affair, during which I was asked to send out the soft copy of the report to the journalists who were attending the release.
We then moved on to participate in a protest, about half an hour away, organized against the government lethargy before, during and after the Ockhi cyclone. It was almost the end of the afternoon, and we moved to Kanyakumari beach, where three water lords meet. We didn’t make it in time for the much celebrated sunset of the place, but everyone had a gala time. We reached Madurai by 1 a.m. And that was just the second day!
After that, I started working on the module on citizenship education. It was something I feel very connected to, and I had, in the months following my call with Mr. Tiphagne, given it a lot of thought. It was a module that was to be taught to students of classes 9 and 11 in certain schools of Tamil Nadu. PW had successfully been arranging texts, reading material and training for human rights education for classes 6, 7 and 8.
Going through those modules, I realized how fruitless factual, knowledge based education is. Those modules were scrupulously drafted to enhance emotional acumen of children, to educate them about their rights and duties, and more importantly, inculcate in them respect for humanity.
To emphasize how impactful this program has been, I must tell you that one of their young students had, a few years back, successfully stopped a new born girl from being murdered! (Google it for more information on the incident)
With direct guidance from Henri Sir, I continued my work on the module while I was there, for which I undertook extensive reading, wrote some stories, retold some stories, some well known (Anne Frank, Solomon Northup) and some unknown ones (stories of stateless Rohingyas, Tamil refugees and many more)
Meanwhile, I also undertook some other tasks-like drafting RTI on behalf of the Working Group of Human Rights in India and the UN (WGHR) to inquire the government actions before and after the third cycle of Universal Periodic Review, writing appeals against authorities that had refused to provide information requested in RTIs filed.
I also got to accompany Henri Sir in one of his trips to Kanchipuram, and I must say, that was more informative than all my legal education combined. We went for a protest against extremist activities trying to get a stronghold in the region. That trip was a memorable one for me, for we had lunch with a small commune, Kanchi Makkal Mandram, consisting of about 40, lovely, strong ladies, who not only lived together and shared their resources, but also fought extremism hand in hand!
About four days before the internship was supposed to end, I had already finished the first draft of the module, consisting of nine chapters. For the rest of my stay there, I offered help to anyone in the team who needed it.
I was given a loving farewell on my last day at the office. That was one overwhelming occasion, for some of the team members gave some very touching and encouraging speeches for me!
Work Environment and People
As I have repeatedly emphasized, the team is extremely helpful, nice and friendly. Not only are they always there for guidance, they were ever ready to translate Tamil for me. I remember how Cynthia Ma’am, during our Kanchipuram visit, spent hours translating Tamil speeches for me. As cliché as it may sound, but PW team really works like a close knit family.
They have been facing a lot of resistance because of their work, but they are holding strong and working against all odds. The biggest take away from my experience was how challenging human rights advocacy is. It is easy to sit in air conditioned offices in metropolitan cities, but working together in harsh conditions, making a difference on the grass root level is not. And this is where team PW shines!
The office is not only home to their amazing work, people in need, people they know, stay inside the office, pursuing their education, work, and what not! Not only do they keep regularly lookout for instances of human rights violations, they are also directly approached by victims on almost a daily basis. Now that is a real human rights organization, isn’t it?
Best and Worst Things
As I have said, the most important thing I got to learn was how real, grass-root activism works. To someone who is aspiring for a career in the field, it was the most precious education possible.
And oh yes! Their library houses a beautiful collection. I spent all my free time in it. Pure heaven for you bibliophiles out there.
There was no bad thing as such, but to non-Tamil speakers, there is an obvious communication gap. However, the team is always ready to help you out, trust me.
Fun things to do
Madurai was a breath of fresh air for me. It is a small town full of serene temples. I even took a small solo trip to Pondicherry and Auroville. An added perk, just about 300 kms away!
As of places to eat, there are a lot near the office, and it’s just walking distance.
How it ended
It all ended with a short farewell, where everyone had many kind words for me. I was even gifted a symbolic lamp by the team.
All in all, a beautiful and educational experience, where not only did I get to be involved in meaningful work on something I feel so strongly about, but also met many nice people, experienced a different culture and discovered that I am an amazing solo traveler.