"Delhi, in the summertime?"
Kirk Rys, '99
"Delhi, in the summertime? Are you mad?" I received this response from a partner in an Indian firm, referring to the heat, when I inquired about the possibility of a summer position. I arrived in India in the searing heat to participate in a study abroad program and to extern in an Indian law firm. I had thoroughly enjoyed past experiences on the Indian subcontinent, and this program presented a fantastic opportunity to increase my familiarity with other aspects of the region. It also served as the perfect excuse to once again enjoy the food, people, and geography of India, and to explore possible future employment options.
Touro College of Law sponsors the only ABA-accredited study abroad program in India. Courses were available in Indian and Tibetan Law and Philosophy, International Human Rights, and International Business Transactions (with a focus on Tibet/China issues). In addition to the course work, the school does a fantastic job arranging extracurricular activities that encourage students to learn more about the law, history, culture, and religions of India.
Thankfully, the initial part of the program took place in the hill station of Shimla, the summer capital of the British Raj. We, like the British, escaped the heat of Delhi for the cooler climate of the foothills of the Himalayas. Activities included trips to the state's high court, and to historical and religious sites in the region. Numerous lecturers were also arranged, including B.K. Nehru (nephew of Jawaharlal Nehru, first Prime Minister of independent India), the state governor, and the leader of the state's communist party. Daily classes in astrology, yoga, and Indian dance and music were also available.
After three weeks in Shimla, the program moved to Dharmasala, home of the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama. Our arrival here was planned around a two-day conference on human rights, attended by numerous NGO's (non-government organizations) from throughout Southeast Asia. We also had the opportunity to learn about Tibetan Buddhism. At the head monastery, we sat in on prayer sessions, debates, discourses and other cultural and religious activities.
Upon our return to Delhi, I began an externship that was to continue for the remainder of the summer. With the help of a professor from the study abroad program, I arranged a position with Anand & Anand, one of the top intellectual property firms in India. Although I had no prior experience with intellectual property law, I was excited to get this position. The job was a fantastic learning opportunity, and I owe much to the members of the firm who made it a very worthwhile experience. They provided me with crash courses in intellectual property law and Indian civil procedure, and almost immediately allowed me to contribute to cases for clients such as IBM, Samsonite, and the Discovery Channel.
This combination of study abroad and work provided me with an excellent introduction to a foreign legal system. Although there are vast differences between the American and Indian systems, our common ties to England create a similar background. While the official language of the Indian legal system is English, and they share our common law traditions, striking differences do exist. In India's secular democracy, there is no set of statutory rules. The "Hindu Code" exists as the source of law on issues such as estates, family law, marriage, divorce, and adoption for those considered Hindus. Muslims are judged under their own code for similar issues. Another difference is that the Indian courts more often rely on cases and academic writings from foreign countries when faced with issues new to the Indian legal system. Standing requirements are also much less strict in India, as are the requirements for filing a case, at least for the poor and rural masses. The courts have been known to accommodate citizens who have approached judges at their homes or left notes at their doors because of their unfamiliarity with the legal system.
My 'unofficial' experiences would require a small book to relate. I think of the daily occurrences and laugh, sigh, or even cringe. I have been fortunate to have been able to share in such a fascinating place, and it makes me only more anxious to return. I hope my relationship with the region will continue.