Posted by: lexilachal | December 22, 2010

First Impressions of India

By Lexi Lachal

Working in India, in Mumbai no less, has certainly proved to be an experience so far. The simple act of getting to the office, which I do via a 40-minute train commute, presents the question of how this city even manages to function at all. I am one of approximately six million people who board Mumbai’s commuter trains everyday to head into the city for work. I have read that at peak hour trains meant for 1,700 people routinely carry 4,700 people with 17 bodies crammed in a single square meter of space….and this is a statistic which (as absurd as it sounds) does not surprise me. This may conjure up an image of utter mayhem but as I have learnt very quickly, there is an intricate system, which dictates everything from who may command a seat to where you must stand at every stage of the train journey to be able to make it out onto the platform at the right station. And so somehow Mumbai still manages to function and everyday I somehow manage to get very quickly in and out of the city to work. This is the sort of strangely ordered chaos that typifies life in India.

I am interning with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, a position currently held by Indian lawyer Anand Grover. So far I have been involved with preparing urgent appeals to countries who are claimed to be breaching their obligations vis-à-vis the right to health and assisting in researching and writing reports regarding recent country missions to Guatemala and Syria. Anand has also initiated the Right to Health Litigation Project, which involves building an online database of case law relating to the right to health from every jurisdiction in the world, and so I have been involved with preparing and writing case summaries. One thing I have learnt so far is that even the functioning of an organisation like this one is not immune from the India Effect. Just today my Australian co-worker was complaining that she had asked the accounting department several times to send her the finance statements so she could prepare an urgent report. Each time she was met with a head waggle and “Yes. Sure. Right away” and yet she had received nothing. It was not until she ventured down to the department and sat and enjoyed a cup of chai with them that she managed to secure the necessary documents. The Indian way of life therefore dictates everything – from train etiquette to writing a finance report. And trying to introduce any sort of foreign logic to this delicate equation just ends in frustration.


  1. Hey Lexi!

    Sounds so interesting and so so true. I have wondered many a time how the country manages the way it does*) You are so lucky to be in Mumbai! One of my supervisors actually worked for several years at Lawyers Collective and her boss was Indira Jaising, Anand’s husband. It truly is such a small world. When I go to Geneva, I think i will get to see Ms Jaising who heads the other office and a CEDAW committee member.

    I have heard some really interesting stories about what Lawyers Collective has been involved in. One of particular interest to me was Mary Roy’s Case in Kerala, India, defended by ms Jaising herself i believe.

    After reading the Booker prize award book” the God of Small things” by Arundathi Roy, i have a new found interest for human rights in Kerala(also because that is where my forebears came from). I look forward to reading about more insights into the health situation in India and what you get to experience.

    all the best!

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