Interns and fellows of FORUM-ASIA: Interview with Nidhi and Javeria
5 February 2021 1:22 pm

‘It is an exciting place with a lot happening and definitely an exceptional example of dynamic female leadership.’

For this month’s e-newsletter, we interviewed a current fellow and a current intern at FORUM-ASIA: Nidhi Singh (India), Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow and Javeria Kella (Pakistan), South Asia Programme Intern.

They come from different places, have different backgrounds and different experiences, but they are each very enthusiastic about promoting human rights in Asia. They will be with FORUM-ASIA until mid-2021.

Let’s have a look at what motivates them, the challenges they face and what their most memorable moments are of working with FORUM-ASIA.

1. What is your background and how did you get involved with FORUM-ASIA?

Nidhi: I did my master’s in International Law and am particularly interested in International Human Rights Law and its intersection with the other fields of International Law. During my studies, I opted for elective papers that could enhance my academic knowledge of international human rights law and its relations with the other fields of law. FORUM-ASIA, being a dynamic and evolving organisation, seemed to perfectly align with my interests. Its domain of work, while primarily focussing on human rights, also includes a range of issues from environmental concerns to gender issues; from the refugee crisis to violations posed by the current pandemic. Their coverage of cross-cutting issues which runs throughout Asia, along with respecting and recognising the diversity of this region, were what attracted me to apply for the fellowship position.

Javeria: My educational background is interdisciplinary. I did my undergraduate degree in International Relations and Geography in Massachusetts and my master’s in Development Studies in Geneva. I had the opportunity and privilege to also study in Rwanda and Uganda, and intern in Liberia. I cannot pinpoint a single moment that defines my journey as it has not been linear, I continue to jump between many interests and passions, and hope to continue that.

My involvement with FORUM-ASIA’s South Asia Programme stemmed from a desire to move to a more regional focus, especially as I was working on issues in Kashmir. FORUM-ASIA covers a large geographical area and has a diverse portfolio of programmes to work with/in. I particularly admire its membership approach, which aligns with my values where FORUM-ASIA works closely with local organisations. It is an exciting place with a lot happening and definitely an exceptional example of dynamic female leadership.

2. What motivated you to get involved with human rights work?

Nidhi: I opted for courses related to human rights during my bachelor’s and master’s degree. The more I studied, the more I found myself inclined towards this field. During my first years of undergrad, I interned and volunteered in the field of human rights related to women and free legal aid for marginalised groups. I also got the chance to look into the international human rights law’s compliance of Commonwealth nations, India particularly, through internships during my master’s course.

My interest developed gradually. With continuous reading and internship experiences, I realised that there are many people who need help. The things some of us may take for granted could be lifesaving for others. This widening gap which prevails in many societies and the dire need to address it motivate me to work in human rights.

Javeria: My involvement with human rights work stems from early exposure to human rights violations. I may not have had the academic jargon on my fingertips then but as a minority in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I was always conscious of the precarity of life.

From my academic and professional experiences across continents, I have been able to gain in-depth understanding of the human rights issues through academic knowledge as well as interactions with activists, human rights defenders and policy makers. Each interaction had inspired me to work in human rights.

3. What are some of the challenges you have faced while developing your career/looking for opportunities in this field and how did you overcome them?

Nidhi: I feel that if you do not have enough international exposure, you might face a bit of a slow start in your career, particularly when you are interested in the international human rights regime. There might be some exceptions though. FORUM-ASIA has been one such exceptional case for me. FORUM-ASIA welcomed me even when I did not have much international exposure. Getting the most out of this fellowship is what I am doing to overcome this challenge.

Javeria: My struggles here are twofold  the lack of an interdisciplinary approach and my existential crisis around the field. I understand different issues in the sector through an intersectional lens, as things do not work in silos. The human rights violations intersect and overlap many other issues. However, the current approach in the field is quite boxed, and I find it challenging to restrict myself to one issue and find the lack of a holistic intervention frustrating. This triggers my existential questions around the field itself and the (lack of) impact we as practitioners are making.

To overcome my frustrations, I constantly question my motivations and surround myself with people who are critical of the current approaches and inspire me to keep looking for better integrated ways to make an impact. I also curate conscious practices that help me stay grounded in this field of work even with all the frustrations. Above all, I refuse to stagnate my growth and continue to stay inquisitive and curious.

4. What has been a memorable moment or what moment are you proud of from your internship/fellowship here?

Nidhi: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have not gotten a chance to meet my colleagues in person. However, my team ensured I was involved in the Annual Planning Workshop which not only allowed me to learn more about the organisation but also gave me a chance to interact with my colleagues. I was tasked to coordinate and oversee the use of online interactive tools which facilitated the workshop joined by colleagues spread across different countries and continents. These were tools I had never used before. Fortunately, everything went well, and my work was appreciated.

I was fascinated to know about the wide-ranging areas different programmes work on and got to learn about the groundwork that FORUM-ASIA does with its member organisation across Asia. It was enriching as well as an inspiring experience for me.

Javeria: Similarly, I have not had the chance to meet any of my colleagues nor work in Kathmandu and engage with my team in-person. However, I have enjoyed monitoring and researching human rights violations and repressive laws in South Asia, as well as its impact on South Asians. It has provided me with the opportunity to delve further into regional politics.

5. What are your plans after the internship/fellowship?

Nidhi: After the fellowship, I will look for jobs in a similar organisation which aligns with my career goals and interests.

Javeria: As I am in my early-career, I plan to job hunt in similar organisations working on human rights issues in South Asia, but I am also open to different kinds of work in South Asia.

6. If you could give a message to the new generation of people working on human rights or development, what would it be?

Nidhi: I feel that it is very important to develop your understanding and opinions on issues pertaining to human rights. To be well-read is one thing but to be well informed is another. Do not take news headline, cases and incidents at face value. Ponder over it, have a discussion with people and reflect on it to understand how the issue could affect you too. The human rights field is, and will always be, welcoming and accommodating to the voices and opinions of individuals. To my peers, formulate your voice based on your own sound rationale and understanding. This will not only help you in your personal development but also in your engagement with people in your community. Reflect over issues, especially those you may think do not relate to you or will not affect you. This will be a small step towards bringing a sense of sensitivity towards prevalent human rights issues.

Javeria: I would recommend introspection. Why do you want to work on human rights or development? What drives you towards it? You cannot make a difference if you do not understand your underlying motivations behind it. There are too many ways we can go wrong in the field and do more harm than good. As much as the work gives me purpose, I understand that I may never be truly content with it as there will always be more violations and more to do. Hence, I would recommend finding ways and outlets to channel that frustration and focus on the positive aspects so that you are better able to take care of yourself to give your best in a very dynamic but also frustrating field.

7. Will you recommend your friends to join FORUM-ASIA as an intern/fellow? Why?

Nidhi: Yes, I definitely will. In fact, I have already suggested FORUM-ASIA’s fellowship to some of my friends. A fellowship at FORUM-ASIA not only would develop your knowledge about human rights issues in Asia, it would also give you an insight about the work done at regional and local level by FORUM-ASIA’s member organisations. My experience as a fellow has been enlightening and I strongly recommend those who are interested in the human rights field to apply for the fellowship.

Javeria: Of course – I already have. I enjoy the fact that FORUM-ASIA is a membership-based organisation. The decentralised structure makes it a nice meeting point for top-down and bottom-up frameworks. It works with local civil society organisations as well as national structures resulting in a wider reach of its impact. It is a great opportunity to work on a regional level with a remarkable female leadership. 10/10 recommend.