Hello Reddit. I'm Maja Daruwala, and I have been the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) since 1996. (I've also been a British Airways flight attendant and an Indian Supreme Court lawyer, although not simultaneously.)

CHRI is an international NGO (headquartered in New Delhi, with offices in Ghana and London) that advocates for good governance and the building of open societies. The issue-areas we focus on include police and prison reforms, sexual minority rights, and the right to information. We are an information hub and a watchdog, engaged in pre-legislative consultation and post-legislation advocacy with lawmakers and opinion-makers globally.

My work has taken me all around the world. Please feel free to ask us anything about police and prison reform, the transformative power of the right to information, LGBTI rights, press freedom, the Commonwealth, airplane food, the operations of an international NGO in shifting circumstances, or anything else of interest. If you're interested in our work, please join us on Twitter and Facebook.

Pl note: that I work a heavy schedule and usually can reply only after working hours and spend about 45 minutes on this. Pl make allowances for time differences as well. GMT+5.5

Comments: 92 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

lordbuddha9 karma

When any wild animal has killed a human, it is termed as a man eater and hunted down. Why dosent the same apply to a terroist/murderers?, where he/she has killed atleast a few people.Why do you think they still deserve human rights?

MajaDaruwala6 karma

You deserve human rights because you are human. Actually it is not always a happy circumstance to be defending unpopular causes or people; but that is the whole point of human rights; they are for just those kinds of moments. One of the best things that happened in India has been the trial of Mr Kasab. He could only be punished after he was properly and fairly tried. This was not only for him. But an assurance to each of us that justice is best served when it is even handed and applies to all. All people are given equal treatment before the law; there is due process and you are punished accordingly or let off. It is not a perfect system but it is the best we have. The alternative is arbitrariness, accusations by the powerful that become irresistible whether true or false, oppression of the weak, no access to justice and an easy ride for abuse of power.

digjam2 karma


MajaDaruwala5 karma

The rights of the people he killed are protected when the state catches, tries, and punishes. We cannot anticipate every wrong doing but we can ensure that the consequences are delivered. The rights lives happinesses of those he killed are gone. Right there. And justice was served. So often it is not.

Electron_cloud7 karma

Female infanticide, sexual harassment, domestic violence are just few of the problems faced by Indian women. Where does CHRI stand on these issues ?

Edit: Second question was irrelevant.

MajaDaruwala7 karma

What you speak of is one of the manifestations of a very complex set of social economic and political circumstances. As an organisation CHRI works on changing systems and through that improving the situations you speak of. Its a longer agenda but if one thing changes a lot of knock on effects take place. Presently we are looking at women in policing and are preparing ourselves to work on police response to women's complaints.

Electron_cloud3 karma

Thank you for your reply. I think that police apathy to vicitims of sexual crimes in India is a major issue that needs to be addressed now. It is not humane to inflict more trauma, born out of our anachronistic social norms, on a victim of a henious sexual crime. I compliment you for your efforts and wish you all the best in your endeavour.

MajaDaruwala2 karma

Thank you. I wish there were more impacts and improvements to show for all the energy effort sincerity and hard work of my team.

MajaDaruwala1 karma

What you speak of is one of the manifestations of a very complex set of social economic and political circumstances. As an organisation CHRI works on changing systems and through that improving the situations you speak of. Its a longer agenda but if one thing changes a lot of knock on effects take place. Presently we are looking at women in policing and are preparing ourselves to work on police response to women's complaints.

yattoyatto7 karma

What are some of the challenges and possible opportunities when it comes to the advancement of rights for hijras in India and elsewhere? Do you see them progressing over the next decade?

MajaDaruwala8 karma

Yes I do. Culturally there is a lot of tolerance of the live and let live type. At the same time family rejection etc has caused them to create a culture which is self exclusionary but gives protection where there is none. I think as the country progresses in terms of civil liberties and issues of equality and discrimination so will the lot of hijras.

saffronsaint2 karma

How should the issue of extortion by hijras be handled? What ever their situation, when they start behaving like criminals, they should start being treated like ones. Right?

MajaDaruwala3 karma

Yes of course. But perhaps only some do. Its important not to stereotype but to treat each individual as an entity and judge his/her actions accordingly.

sdpatel225 karma

Do you think India will ever legalize same-sex marriage in the foreseeable future? What are, if any, the plans for LGBTI rights in India?

MajaDaruwala4 karma

I dont know. But I will certainly support actions that prevent discrimination and create more and more tolerance within society.

po-leece5 karma

How do you expect to improve policing?

I find that recruitment is one of the most important things, and without good recruits, you get idiots with weaponry.

MajaDaruwala4 karma

There is a whole skien of related issues from training, internal management and performance that require addressing. Recruitment on merit and based on intellectual ability should be premier considerations rather than only physical attributes. Presently recruiting is in many jurisdictions a matter of patronage, money and connections.

TL_Engineer3 karma

How do you think RTI and freedom of speech (and that includes freedom to speak against the government/policies maninly, religion....without pointing out a particular person of course go together) ? Why freedom of speech and expression suck so bad in India ?

MajaDaruwala3 karma

I think there is a lot of space to speak out in India. But there is also too much intolerance and hate speech which is not properly curbed. it all boils down to ensuring that those that have the duty to uphold and enforce the law do so evenhandedly with an understanding of the Constitution and are guided solely by that rather than guided by instructions from those that are momentarily in power.

TL_Engineer1 karma

I appreciate you replying. Now coming back to that hate speech. That term has been so loosely defined and people take offence so quickly at anything. Specially the government. Dare criticize any political leader and then see the consequences (remember those two girls from Maha who wrote just a comment on Thackrey). How does one go combating that topic ? You see I'll be very frank here. India is a bloody gunpowder keg. Hell, partition riots and so many after those. The thing is, government actively uses that as an excuse to curb freedom of speech and expression. How do you challenge that in and out of court ?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

People do challenge injustice; they try; but systems have become so debased; the use of muscle and violence to get your way is so frequent and selectively addressed that it is feeding on itself to reduce the space for all of us.

Imabonbon3 karma

What is the biggest issue surrounding police?

MajaDaruwala6 karma

In our part of the world as with many developing countries the issue is of unreformed policing. Policing that was developed to control a foreign and subject population by rulers who needed law and order to prevail rather than the rule of law. At independence there should have been a full reconsideration of what kind of police we needed and wanted to follow our constitutional provisions. This did not happen. So the whole design and ethos is wrong. Then you have the issue of overlays of abuse of power, illegitimate, political interference in management and day to day functioning, and even in investigational outcomes. Then there is the shortages of training and infrastructure manpower and worst of all(or as a consequence of all the above) lack of accountability for both wrong doing and every day performance.

razorbit3 karma

What is the best way for an ordinary bloke to help your cause?

MajaDaruwala3 karma

Depends on the ordinary folk and her talents and her time commitments and lots of other stuff.

ek_khiladi2 karma

Any awareness or agenda about the living and working condition for the under-priviledge such as childrens/young adults with autisms, blindness, deafness, and other disabilities? Thanks for doing the AMA.

MajaDaruwala2 karma

No not really.

Omnipotent_Boner2 karma

Are you looking for any young interns looking for experience?

MajaDaruwala4 karma

Yes we are always looking for committed folks who want to work long term. Short term interns are not that easy to accommodate.

twogunsalute2 karma

What is the point of the Commonwealth in the 21st century and do you think it will last much longer?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

I think it is losing its relevance fast fast. But it will last out of inertia that allows it to go forward without energy or principle.

SgtCrinklecream2 karma

What's your thoughts on airplane food?

MajaDaruwala10 karma

Eat before boarding.

SgtCrinklecream0 karma

Good enough. If you were forced to, what airplane food would you eat?

MajaDaruwala1 karma

I eat the cheeses, the salad and sometimes the dessert, and all the bread. Last port of call is the main dish.

agentbigman2 karma

Since you have travelled extensively, Where do you think India stands right now when you compare it to the rest of the world. No parameters but just as is inside your head with your experiences?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

I think at a difficult place. Almost at a nadir. There is every potential to be great, rich, wonderful, but we seem to miss every opportunity and are drifting downwards unable to stop. I am reminded of the poem " The Second Coming" but it is too dark a thought to contemplate. As someone said" The best way to predict the future is to invent it." I guess that's what we try for.

chinchpokli2 karma

  • How do you make sure that human rights are enforced in different government organizations that you work with? e.g. Police and prisons.
  • Has it ever been a case in which part of a government organization was found accused of human rights violation and violators were actually punished? Which was it?

MajaDaruwala3 karma

I cant make sure; but I can try. By getting systems to change sometimes; sometimes by drawing attention to a bad practice; sometimes by going to the law; sometimes by talking with the media on the subject; but trying all the time. There have been cases of punishment, of compensation, of penalties and dismissals but not enough to cleanse the system. What we need is to incentivise being good. this is not there in the system today.

da_dope2 karma

What is your take on Binayak Sen ?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

Good man

UlmoWaters2 karma

  • What are your feelings on judicial activism?

  • How does someone get to be a flight attendent AND a supreme court lawyer, albeit not at the same time?

  • What is your pet cause?

MajaDaruwala3 karma

I think judicial activism has been a great boon to India. I think it would not be so necessary or so welcome if other institutions of state worked as they should. I think too much of it is not good and puts the judiciary in jeopardy. Also it is often confined to the Supreme Court and occasionally to the high courts when it is needed in the lowest courts. Not activism like you are thinking of but just doing the job in the lower courts for what you are there and not doing it for the convenience of lawyers administrative convenience. How does one get from flight attendant to a SC lawyer - boredom :) evolution? its a long story. Lots of pet causes; justice is a big one. Getting people to think about justice - big one.

UlmoWaters2 karma

Thank you for replying. Will be following CHRI and its works.

MajaDaruwala1 karma

TooMuchProtein2 karma

What is your favorite thing about life?

MajaDaruwala2 karma


Chuttad_Singh-3 karma

Daru ka maja

MajaDaruwala3 karma

too often heard to be original. sorry.

cnj29072 karma

Hi Maja! I think you belong to a handful of jolly Parsi community people! Maja tame Maja Ma Chho ne?

I wanted to know how to end License Raaj of local governing bodies and police departments for running small and medium scale business ventures. I have burnt badly with that particular thing and I have taken it as a mission of my life to take on the police department and local body (Ahmedabad Municipal Corportation to name it precisely) for having authority over my right of running a credible legal business in independent country. Please shed some light on this as there are many more people out there who might have suffered for it.

Also, I want to join the causes you have started. How do I do that? Any offices in Ahmedabad?

MajaDaruwala3 karma

No offices in Ahmedabad. But good folks I know in Baroda who may be of your spirit. Nakrik Adhikar Kendra. Work on RTI and civic education. There are other folks closer to you who may be of help. Great if you started a police watch group of your own.

cnj29071 karma

Thanks. Where can I guidance to stat such kind of group? Regarding legal guidance and all.

MajaDaruwala1 karma

will find out and let you know.

saffronsaint1 karma

Several questions regarding prisons

About undertrials in prison. because of delays by the courts, it has happened people who are convicted have served more time than their sentencing. Do you have any idea about this problem, whether it is a big thing or only isolated cases. Do you think there should be a provision for undertrials to be released, even though their case may remain on going, after a certain number of years.

About the hierarchy of prisoners, I hear that people who have committed rapes or molested minors are singled out for harassment by other prisoners. Do you think this is wrong, or do you think that these 'scum' deserve the extra punishment that they are getting.

About the overcrowding of prisons. How big a problem is this and what suggestions do you have to deal with this.

MajaDaruwala2 karma

About undertrials: I work on that issue. About 60% of all prison population are people awaiting trial. Most of them are first time and petty offenders. There are many safeguards against their getting lost in system: periodic review committees, non official visitors, official visitors, district magistrates mandated by the SC to visit and check, legal aid lawyers available to the impecunious, sections of the criminal procedure code that give the right to bail after 60 or 90 days as the case may be depending on the accusation; still it doesnt work to reduce pre-trial detention or make sure that folks dont get lost in the system. The police arrest too many people; the magistrate does not do what he should on first hearing to ensure that the accused gets his minimum fair trial rights; prison authorities dont report overstays; boards of visitors dont sit; nothing is properly implemented so - short ans there are too many people in prison who should not be there and should not be there for as long as they are. No one does anything to change it because no consequences flow from not doing your duty as a state actor or as a defence lawyer.

MajaDaruwala2 karma

Sorry in reply about scum: I dont know what goes on in intimate terms. I think the weak get harrassed whether they are in for stealing milk or for raping folks. The punishment for rape is going to jail and losing your freedom beyond that I dont think I agree that there is some justification for violence in custody as 'additional punishment'. I mean come on guys look at the folks outside!!

cryorac831 karma

Recently India was referred to as a banana republic. With the separation of Andhra Pradesh for votes, all the scams being swept under the rug, the amendments to RTI and the economy and the rupee devastated by poor policy and corruption...do you think its time the masses rose again? Take power back from the new Raj? It may seem extreme but India should have had an Arab spring way before the Middle east did. The problem is, Indians have a phenomenal ability to thrive in hostile, detrimental conditions and would rather adapt than revolt.

MajaDaruwala3 karma

I incline to agree with you, but contrariwise, we hear only the bad news, the turmoil the scams, the misery. Its all unacceptable. But there is another India that is progressing, coming out from abject poverty into some kind of subsistence living; lots and lots of folks are finding opportunities where there was none before; lots are finding freedoms they never had before; so that too is preventing revolution. There is a lot of protest and what we see coming out in public is also a symptom of the lively spirit that wont stay subjugated. At least I hope so.

cryorac831 karma

Thank you for replying. Yes, I do think there tends to be a lot of focus on the negative. However, I think where I disagree is that even though we are seeing progress, poverty and opportunities, it is not anywhere near what it could have been. Unless we fix the foundation, we are heading towards a very shaky future. Heres a modified quote from my favourite movie - Braveheart - "You're so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Sonia's table that you've missed your God given right to something better. There is a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with opportunity."

Thanks again...

MajaDaruwala2 karma

I agree with you entirely. That is why the complaining and disappointment right now. We are not where we can be where we should be and too many of us are asked to live on scraps of largess when we should be availing rights. We can do much better.

snstrsnctyslckr1 karma

Do you have advice for an undergrad who is interested in working in human rights in my future?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

yes. Find a good mentor; work at it very hard; know the law and the philosophy behind it and steel yourself to work very hard with great conviction and without flagging for a long time - especially when the going is tough.

lionnel1 karma

Hi Maja ,

Thanks for doing this AMA. I had one a question.

If you had the power to change one law in India, what would that be?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

I'm not sure; some of laws on marriage and the differences in the personal code to which women are subjected might be a good place to start. Id love to revamp the whole law on policing for sure.

MaiBsquared1 karma

We have the same name. High five! Do you find most people mispronounce it?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

Hi 5 ! yes they do mispronounce it; I pronounce it Maya. But its a conversation pc every time I meet someone new.

199nein1 karma

I'm currently studying for my MSW with a clinical/therapeutic focus in America and I am extremely interested in doing international work with things such as education, HIV outreach, human rights advocacy, rehabilitation (mainly for drug abuse and criminal offenders), general community building, and the legislation that surrounds these topics. I plan on doing an internship in the spring in Grenada doing outreach with teenage mothers as well as advocating for women's rights and child welfare.

When I graduate, what steps do you suggest I take to help further pursue these interests?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

Depends on your inclinations. Do you feel you want to make money; contribute and be poor ( goes hand in hand); educate others and build capacity. Advocate at policy level. Its hard to give advice. Best advice; just do what you are doing now and keep thinking about what you are good at what makes you happy and a pathway will come.

199nein1 karma

I'd honestly like to contribute, even if it means being poor. I have learned via my last internship (therapy with at risk/troubled young men) that if you are looking to make an impact on personal levels you aren't going to make money. I loved doing it, and I feel that getting on the more administrative/policy/legislative side of things would lead to somewhat of a muting affect. It's great that people do it, and it really does help enact change for entire populations when it's done correctly. Still though, I think there would be somewhat of a lack of the human contact that really drives who I am and what I want to do.

In light of your answer, how did you get started? I know this might be an extremely drawn out answer if you intend to be thorough and I don't want to take much of your time away from answering others questions, but I am very curious.

MajaDaruwala1 karma

Always believed in justice and being of service; fell in with very good people; and had a very good mentor; it all helped. But you can see it annoys some people.

Zomg_A_Chicken1 karma

What is the difference between ethnic cleansing and genocide?

MajaDaruwala1 karma

ref; wikipedia and the UN sites.

throwaway_loser231 karma

Hi Maja,

Indian here.

Prejudices of an average Indian against women, gay, hijras, HIV people, sex workers and child abuse come from the same root cause - the immensely sex-negative culture. Anything sexual is kept secret and not talked about. Do you agree?

If so, how much is an NGO willing to make discussions about controversial sex issues more open, considering that it might create a negative image for itself?

Thanks. :)

MajaDaruwala1 karma

In a country with so many people living in so many different cultures some static some dynamic its hard to give a two line ans. There is undoubtedly a lot of people who are sexually suppressed in habit speech and action and there is also an amazing amount of sexual freedom in other pockets and cultures. We are amazingly tolerant and also very discriminatory. If we had more even handedness in dispensing justice and the government and political parties worked within the Constitutional mandate a lot of what you are pointing to would go away.

DAVVAD1 karma

Do you really think these human rights organizations actually achieve anything? Besides a few major groups like the red cross that are more humanitarian aid organizations does having 500 paper pushing lobbyists complaining all day really stop any human rights violations? Besides creating "awareness" what actions/tools do you employ to directly confront and stop abuses.

*Serious Question

MajaDaruwala2 karma

I think you have to take a long view. Would women's rights be where they are today if someone had not fought for them for 100 years. Same with environment, discrimination, death penalty, conservation, freedom of speech, access to information, holding governments to account, and so on. But there are high and low points. Just when you think you have won something permanent there is role back. But you got to think: why do the powerful fight so hard to curb human rights? What have they to hide, what have they to lose? How much would we lose as little people to the powerful if there were no "paper pushing lobbyists" who put themselves at risk speaking truth to power - or at least trying to.

Skruffee1 karma

How would you have tried to end WWII, if you could take control of any one nation excluding Germany or Japan?

MajaDaruwala3 karma

Beyond my salary grade

runningeek0 karma

What are the top 5 reforms, that your organization believes, should be implemented in the Indian prison system?

MajaDaruwala2 karma

People always ask such complex questions and want itemised ans. its complex. its linked to judicial reform; to reform of the prosecutorial system; and lots more. Internally i would want the prison service to be a completely separate career service where you go from security warden to inspector general; good training in rehabilitation; an independent prison inspectorate service; segregation of prisoners by virtue of crimes committed and security risk assessment. Open prisons; a separate cadre under the judiciary to bring prisoners to court; courts held in prison so that there can be quick relief for those awaiting trial. modernised prisons with some outlets for talent and the possibility of rehab.One needs to do so much. But its a low priority for government.