Swarnabh Dutta on working as an Eligibility Associate with the UNHCR

Q.1 Could you please introduce yourself, professionally and academically, to our readers?

At present, I am working as an Eligibility Associate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at Bangkok, Thailand and previously, completed two years with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees at New Delhi, India. I pursued my 5 years B.A.LL.B course from Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad, Gujarat and won the Gold Medal in Constitutional Law (Hons.). After completing my graduation, I pursued my LL.M. in Human Rights from National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, Karnataka and won two gold medals on the completion of the degree.

Q.2 What motivated you to pursue law, as a discipline and a career?

Many a times I have been asked this question and almost all the time I have responded to it frivolously (but truthfully) that I didn’t get into anything else and law was the only area that was left for me to be tested. Though there is an element of truth to it as I was a science student in 10+2 and gave all the engineering exams that were expected out of me be it IIT, AIEEE, VIT, etc. But I believe this is the right platform to tell you all about my decision to go with law. And the answer lies in two words, ‘my parents’. Both of them belong to the teaching fields in commercial arts and visual arts, but never did they force me to take up anything against my will. The story is very simple to comprehend, I always saw Baba getting entangled into one or the other cases, regarding property, promotion and financial matters, and I saw him struggling on the days when his matters used to come up and the courts simply went on adjourning the matters for a new date. It causes great impatience to see someone who has taught you how to walk and talk suffer so much because of our time consuming hence archaic legal system. I was eager to know where the roots to the problems lie and what could be done about them, and that’s how the interest in law took its shape and I worked to get through CLAT and then Nirma happened. One of the most beautiful and learning experiences that I have ever had in my life so far, began from ILNU. Even though it might seem highly unlikely, this story truly is the only reason for me to take up law as a career.

Q.3 Please tell us about your time at ILNU. What experiences during these five years would you consider key?

It seems like yesterday, the life at ILNU. Such fond memories of the place and you put me in a difficult position when you ask me to remember the key experiences in those 5 years because there have been a plenty of them. I owe everything that I have today on my CV and as an individual, to the ILNU. And it’s not just the name but all the people behind that name who I have to thank and feel obligated towards. We were the second batch of law after ILNU was established and we were the ones who had a plethora of opportunities ahead of us. And ILNU gave them to us served on the platter. The rigorous course structure followed at the Institute enabled me as a student to constantly undertake research and to explore the new dimensions to an impugned law that affected us as a society and individuals. Be it from being a student in the class, to being a master of ceremony, to participating in the moots and to representing the Institute at the national and international levels, to becoming the first President of the Student body, it was all a blessing from the Institute and with the immense confidence of Prof. Dr. Purvi Pokhariyal in me. And that is how much I value my Institute. It helped me stand where I am and made me who I am. If it wasn’t for the Institute, perhaps I might not have been interviewed like this today.

Q.4 Do you feel co-curricular activities played a role in shaping your personality and in forming your subsequent career choices?

Absolutely!! I am of the humble opinion that both academics as well as co-curricular activities are essential to build one’s persona and to learn how to take on new challenges with the most effective solutions. It’s always a matter of prioritization that plays a very crucial role. One cannot be only limited to the four walls of the classroom and learn everything there is about the law. I can share with you and tell you for sure that no matter how much you prepare for a case that you are going to present before the Bench in the moot court competition, no matter the extensive research you have accomplished in the given time, until and unless you go out there, argue it out, respond to all those scary questions being thrown at you, you would never really appreciate the dimension of law, which the course is meant for. I remember the times when I was unable to speak with confidence to prove my point till the time at present working with a UN Organization. You get to learn something new each time you put yourself on there. A lot has changed since then and this could have only been achieved because of my participation in activities outside academia.

Q.5 Please tell your experience at NLSIU. How far LLM played role in shaping your career?

Another beautiful chapter of my life. The 1 year at NLSIU was a blessing in disguise. Being a student at the premiere University played a massive role in developing my career. It was through this, that I was able to procure the opportunity for an internship with UNHCR which later led on to become an integral part in shaping my professional career. The unparalleled level of faculty and manner of classroom teachings, the intense discussions amongst the students from across the nation and different law school made up for the unique experiences at this place. The environment and culture at the University, the challenges for completing the recommended courses and projects in a period of 1 year (being the first batch for 1 year LL.M.) made a lot of difference. It did push us to our limits and tested us at each and every step. It can be put like this that ILNU shaped by personality, both academically and personally, and NLSIU polished and fine-tuned my legal knowledge and skill sets.

Q.6 What are your future plans?

To travel the world and taste every delicacy and cuisine there is. I hope you were not looking for something in relation to the profession, because it would not be appropriate for me to be able to answer you the exact plan, as I have none. I believe, one step at a time perhaps. During my times in Delhi, I had never thought/planned to have worked outside India and for the cause of international peace and development. But here I am, doing every possible bit from my end to make this world a better place to stay in. At least this is what I believe in.

Q.7 How far Internships play role in shaping you as a Professional and share your important internship experiences?

In a span of 6 years of my academic life, I was able to manage to complete 9 internships, and they ranged from working with a NGO at the grassroots in Rajasthan to the Human Rights Watch and the UNHCR at the international arena, and including several law firms and senior advocates in India. How have they helped me? The answer to that would be, a lot. Now I have the capability to work under the most stressful conditions and to understand what is demanded from your end. And this is how the internships mold you and that’s one lesson that I have learnt, how to get the work done efficiently and expeditiously, and how to survive in the lowest and the highest of pressure working environments. But one must never fail to enjoy your college life and make the most it.

Q.8 How would you explain your work as Refugee Status Determination Assistant Officer at UNHCR to our readers?

Given that UNHCR has the highest levels of confidentiality involved in the nature of work that is done, perhaps I may not be at liberty to discuss in details and at length about the nature of my work as the RSD Assistant previously and as the Eligibility Associate, presently. However, if one is curious, they can always have a look at the Procedural Standards for RSD under the UNHCR Mandate to have an understanding about the same. In a nutshell, refugee status determination means an examination by a government authority or UNHCR of whether an individual who has submitted an asylum application or otherwise expressed his or her need for international protection is indeed a refugee, that is, whether his or her situation meets the criteria specified in the applicable refugee definition as per the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Q.9 What would your advice to students who want to make career relating to Human Rights?

A very dear friend of mine, also my colleague Tanima Bansal, once mentioned it to me casually and I am privileged to share that thought with you. She said that for making a career in relation to human rights, all you need is to have a heart, which can feel and understand, which can allow you and your conscience to work continuously for the betterment of others. Quoting Martin Luther King, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ and one must be passionate enough to acknowledge the times we live in and no matter what people tell you, ideas, words and your own inspiration can change the world. Never let go of that fire which drives you to achieve your excellence.

Q.10 What would be your message to budding lawyers and law students?

To me, this is the most delightful part of any interview, because this is where I can simply go on and quote the two things that have always inspired to me in my life. One is from my Maa and Baba, who have made me understand that ‘we either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong, the amount of work required in both is the same’, written by Carlos Castaneda, and the other one is from my favourite movie Batman, which goes on to say that ‘why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up and rise.’ There might be many a times during the course that law students would feel low as I have also had those times whilst I was in college, but you alone have the capacity and the ability to change things and make the most of any situation at any given point of time. If ever in your life you lag behind, run faster, never surrender to the adverse circumstances, and rise up against all the odds.

 

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 + 20 =