Rice University senior, Sukhdeep Kaur, has received the Roy and Hazel Zeff Memorial Fellowship – a $25,000 grant, which will allow her to study issues of human rights and access to justice in areas around the world. “I knew I wanted to work with law and justice but wasn’t really sure whether to focus on civil rights or human rights,” Kaur said. However, after taking a human rights course her sophomore year and her personal study of the violence toward Sikhs in India in 1984 and subsequent human rights violations, she decided to make this the focus of her field work.
Last summer, Sukhdeep traveled to India where she interned with Ensaaf – concentrating on documentation, consolidating data, and training local staff. She also volunteered at Aman Biradri, working with the Nirvair initiative – focusing on rights for widows of 1984. Finally, she collected data for her senior thesis, interviewing families across Punjab. In her thesis she argued that the Indian courts have been insufficient in distributing justice and how a grassroots movement is necessary. One thing that struck me about her experience in India was the apathy towards human rights from Punjabis themselves. “I was surprised that so few people living in Punjab knew about Jaswant S. Khalra, the issue of mass cremations, or the on-going court cases,” Kaur said. After her fellowship next year, she hopes to begin law school with the ultimate goal of pursuing a career in public policy on human rights and justice issues. Furthermore, she hopes this fellowship will give her better insight to how other countries deal with human rights issues and what can be learned for the case of Sikhs in Punjab.
There are many things that inspire me about Sukhdeep Kaur, but more so than anything else, is her spirit. When asked about the obstacles and challenges she and others faced in India while doing research- lack of support by the government, interference by the police, and the tiring legal process, she said,
“The process is meant to deter us. It is meant to deteriorate our hope and strength. But as Sikhs, we cannot give up. We cannot stop fighting.”