Hyderabad: An Indian lawyer has won a space for Indians in the corridors of Oxford University by being the first Indian to have her portrait hung at Rhodes House, home of the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, in Oxford, England.
Dr Menaka Guruswamy, a leading lawyer practising in New Delhi, was honoured on September 16 for her contributions in the field of law.
The Hyderabad-born lawyer is the first Indian to have her portrait displayed at the university, at an event marking 40 years of Rhodes women. Her’s was one of the three portraits that were unveiled.
In her acceptance speech at Rhodes House in Oxford, she recollected how she had felt quite alien back in 1998.
“As I walked through the halls of Oxford and this house back then, I was struck by how no one in the paintings that graced their walls looked like me, or really anyone of my fellow Rhodes Scholars from India, or most of the scholars from African countries or really many of my fellow scholars from the rest of the world,” she said.
She adds, “The message overall seemed to be: you’re here, but you really don’t belong.”
Little did she know that, 19 years later, she would be on those walls, inspiring younger scholars to assert that they do have a space in this renowned institution.
With this felicitation, she made a strong point about the complex colonial relationship that she and the university shared because they, as scholars from different races, were utilising a scholarship meant for young colonists of the British university. However, she highlights she was privileged to make use of the same.
“We should use this privilege to good use by practising our professions in ways that better perpetuate equality. But we must not forget that Oxford and its higher education deg-rees are built on the backs of Africans,” she says.
In her 20-year long career, Ms Guruswamy had won multiple cases, including the one that sought a provision in the Right to Education Act to mandate private schools to provide education to the children of disadvantaged sections at free of cost. She has been a consultant for the United Nations and a professor of law at Yale University.