Nithya Rhea Rajshekhar ’18 LL.M.
2017 – 2018 Human Rights Fellow
When Nithya Rajshekhar ’18 LL.M. was in law school in India, she assisted her mother, a pathologist, by drafting HIV test consent forms for her laboratory.
That inspired her to research the discrimination people living with HIV faced in India and around the world. Seeing such widespread violations of human rights, she decided to pursue a career in social justice lawyering, especially focused on “right to health” issues.
“I’ve always been very interested in medicine,” says Rajshekhar, whose grandmother was also a doctor. “And this ended up converging with my interest in human rights law.”
After graduating in 2014 from WB National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata, she took a job at the HIV/AIDS Unit of Lawyers Collective, an NGO in India, where she focused on litigation, advocacy and research on HIV, access to medicines and the right to health. Rajshekhar worked with Anand Grover, director of the organization and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health. Grover was instrumental to her understanding of human rights advocacy and public interest litigation in India.
“At Lawyers Collective, the importance given to community empowerment and participation in human rights advocacy shaped my thinking about the role of human rights lawyers beyond just providing legal services,” she said.
Rajshekhar assisted advocacy efforts to pass the HIV/AIDS Bill, 2014 prohibiting HIV discrimination by private actors, and helped to mobilize affected communities for a national campaign to access Hepatitis C treatment. She also assisted Grover in his Supreme Court litigation practice, gaining experience in Indian constitutional law and public interest litigation.
She decided to pursue an LL.M. degree to delve more deeply into international human rights law, with a focus on socio-economic rights and human development. Through the Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, taught by Professor Sarah Knuckey, she is working on a project focused on the impact of Yemen’s armed conflict on the mental health of civilians.
“The exposure to a wide range of human rights and social justice opportunities here at Columbia, and the diversity of my peers will allow me to develop a well-rounded understanding of the field and help me contribute meaningfully to rights-based law and policy in the future,” she said.