India Law Center launched at Cornell to promote U.S.-India engagement

Ambassador Richard Verma and Prof. Sital Kalantry, faculty director of the India Law Center.

The Cornell Law School announced the launch of the Cornell India Law Center Sept. 27 to promote engagement in the U.S. legal academy with Indian legal institutions and foster international collaborations among legal scholars.

At a distinguished lecture launching the center, Richard Verma, Vice Chairman and Partner at the Asia Group and former U.S. Ambassador to India delivered a talk on the history of India-U.S. diplomatic relations and the challenges that lie ahead.

Noting that by 2030 India will lead the world in almost every category, Verma said while India’s strategic location and its position as a democracy “in a tough part of the world” make it an important ally, the country still faces many “risk factors” such as significant climate risks, governance issues across the country, and for many of its citizens, a lack of access to clean water and electricity.

“When you go to India, you can feel the excitement, you can feel the energy. People know that this is an exciting time.” Verma said, adding, “We don’t spend enough time thinking about India.”

The center’s program will include a speaker series as well as conferences bringing together legal scholars and lawyers from India and the United States. It will also feature a visiting scholar program for legal scholars from India interested in visiting Cornell Law School to conduct research and participate in faculty events. Cornell Law School will also offer a fully-funded summer internship for Cornell Law students to work at a public interest organization in New Delhi, starting in the summer of 2020. 

The Center is guided by a distinguished advisory board and affiliated faculty from law schools in the United States and India.

“We are extremely excited for this next chapter of Cornell Law School’s engagement with Indian law and legal institutions,” said Prof. Sital Kalantry, faculty director of the Center and Clinical Professor of Law.

She said India, which is the largest democracy in the world, shares a number of similarities with the United States, including the common law heritage and a pluralistic society.

“Historically, however, only humanities and social sciences disciplines have studied India. We hope the center will encourage legal scholars and lawyers to consider India as a rich source for comparative studies going forward,” Kalantry said.

“Yet, we have not seen a similar engagement with India in American law schools. This, despite the fact that, there are so many similarities between India and the United States – we share a common language, a legal system based in the common law, we are both pluralistic and diverse countries, and democracies. In American law schools, the field of comparative law has involved studying Europe though that this is changing, and this center is aimed at bringing India into greater focus within the American legal academy,” Kalanrtry told India Abroad.

The center builds on the strengths of the existing India-related programs at the Cornell Law School which has partnered with Jindal Global Law University in India on a fast-track dual degree program, allowing students to earn Indian and American law degrees in just six years, two years less than what it would otherwise take.  Students enrolled in the International Human Rights Clinic regularly travel to India to conduct research on human rights issues. 

Verma said he was delighted to be part of the Cornell Law School’s India Center launch as this is a critical time for the U.S. and India to be working with each other to combat shared challenges across the Indo-Pacific and to help each other.

“The students and faculty at Cornell are well-positioned to help lead the way, providing important legal scholarship, speaking out for the voiceless, and reinforcing the shared values that provide the special bond between our two nations,” Verma said.

While much of his lecture focused on his experience as a diplomat, Verma also discussed the responsibilities a lawyer has to the broader communities and the unique position they have to help others. “I think being a lawyer is a great privilege, it comes with certain obligations too. You have a skill set and an ability to do things that other people in society can’t do. It’s incumbent upon all of us that have committed to the study of law to use our skills in that way,” Verma told The Cornell Daily Sun in an interview.

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