Editor’s Note: Dr. Gonsalves in his lecture inspired a hall full of students to pick up social justice litigation after law school. He justified his exhortation on the grounds that a combination of social activism with law as a career would breed spontaneity through interaction with people while also giving one the unmatched reward of peace of mind and self-satisfaction.

Dr. Colin Gonsalves, Senior Advocate practicing at the Supreme Court and Founder-Director of Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) visited NALSAR on the occasion of the 68th Republic Day and addressed a gathering of students and faculty members at the packed MK Nambyar SAARCLaw Centre. The Vice-Chancellor, Prof. (Dr.) Faizan Mustafa was in attendance as well. Dr. Gonsalves drew from his vast experience to deliver an inspiring and insightful lecture.

Dr. Gonsalves spoke of his experiences with human rights oriented litigation and how combining social activism with law sharpens legal ability and breeds spontaneity as a result of one’s engagement with the people. He advised the students to break out of their cocooned existence and prepare themselves for a turbulent political and economic future by attempting to decipher reality and think for themselves. He also touched upon how young lawyers should build up their own style of delivery and communication, as opposed to imitating their seniors. He called upon the young fraternity of law students to pick up social justice litigation as a career after their law school.

While recalling his experiences as a young activist, Dr. Gonsalves stressed on the importance of keeping one’s conscience and spirit alive. He credited his understanding of labour law to his interactions with workers and seeing the world through their eyes. Citing the example of Mahatma Gandhi, he asked students to learn to determine when and where law is redundant and go ahead to freely break the law in such cases. Dr. Gonsalves’ belief that no country could be run on hate and fear, without the goodwill and collective participation of the people resonated with the audience. He spoke of the fundamental changes coming about in the lives of young people and cautioned the students against getting into the rut that lawyers often get into.

Dr. Gonsalves further apprised the students that it is possible to do choose a different career path that involves engaging with people and evolving a human rights practice. He attempted to mitigate the popular perception that human rights litigation does not provide for a decent living, adding that the largest volume of work could be found in the human rights sphere. Praising India’s constitutional law system, he stated that India is the global centre of jurisprudence for human rights. Dr. Gonsalves briefly discussed various pertinent judgments in the sphere of human rights. These included the judgment on Right to Food, the AFSPA case, Chattisgarh’s Salwa Judum case (Nandini Sundar case), the Singur Land Acquisition judgment, the Jeeja Ghosh case on disability,  judgment on the commutation of death sentences in the case of Shatrughan Chauhan, and the Supreme Court’s order to Sikkim regarding protection from sexual harassment at the workplace.

Dr. Gonsalves concluded that in a world where no one is willing to take up the cases of the poor, if the students as future lawyers keep their doors open and take up the cases of the marginalized, this would in turn yield the unmatched reward of great peace of mind and satisfaction.