Bangalore Mediation Centre Internship Experience

My name is Jonathan Sykes and I’ve been at the University of Connecticut since Fall 2009, and have gradually been developing on both a personal and an intellectual level since that point. My first year, I engaged in activist work with other students in UConnPIRG, my second year I began my exploration into international affairs and comparative politics, my third year I became a resident assistant, and by my fourth year I considered my life effectively “figured out” – I intended to apply to graduate schools to obtain a graduate education in Political Science and Human Rights. In Spring 2013, I had the opportunity of being selected as one of two recipients of the Victor Shachter ‘64 Rule of Law Award by a panel of esteemed staffers of the Human Rights Institute. I’d hoped that the experience would teach me about myself and make human rights advocacy more real – but little did I know the magnitude of the experience in the coming months would far surpass my expectations.

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The Virupaksha Temple in the Hindu holy city of Hampi, about 6 hours north of Bangalore.

I sought to find something entirely different than my own life experiences in applying for the internship at the Bangalore Mediation Centre, and I found just that. I was thrust into a world that despite a history of English colonialism was philosophically different than anything I’d experienced in the United States. The European and cosmopolitan influences were not entirely absent, especially from Bangalore itself, but adventuring out into the rest of the country, they certainly lost prevalence. We found temples and cities half a millennia old, wedged our way through ancient streets two and a half meters in width, and ventured into holy sites rich and vibrant in history and beauty. We experienced music, food, and ways of life entirely different than our own, which was invigorating.

The organized chaos of the heart of Bangalore was an entirely new experience for me on multiple levels – I had never lived in a city for longer than a period of a week, and the impact it had on daily life was fascinating. Each morning, my cohort and I would wake up and ride a taxi to work; the commute would vary day to day depending on what portion of the city was under construction, which driver we rode with, and whether or not luck would have it that the narrow back alleys were moving in our direction or the opposite direction. Upon arrival to the center, we reported to the office of the Director, with whom we would discuss matters of politics and daily life. These discussions were invaluable; as our trip progressed, we would discuss each development, comparing and contrasting with life in the United States and Brazil (the home of my cohort). The result was not just observation of alternative lifestyles and norms, but thorough explanations and analysis of the thought processes behind them.

After each meeting, we would proceed with the work for the day by sitting in and observing mediators resolving disputes between parties who had brought legal action against one another. Due to the proximity to the local family court, the mediation center received an abundance of marriage disputes and divorce cases, another fantastic view into the daily lives of Bangaloreans. Yet these were not the only cases we attended – property disputes were also common, as was the breach of contract between businesses. As each session concluded, we would speak with mediator and party alike to receive impressions on the process. Each mediator was a senior lawyer with years of experience, all working at the mediation center pro bono to give back to the community. Many of the parties were extremely grateful for their access to the center, shortening the time required to resolve their dispute.

As the weeks continued and the depth of our conversations increased, we began to involve ourselves in fundamental debates of the nature of mediation as a process. What role do mediators play in bringing a resolution to the conflict – if should that be their goal at all? We discussed matters of mediation from all angles, as if roleplaying as policymakers, academics, lawyers, and mediators. These issues became increasingly complex as we delved further and further into them, especially upon our trip to New Delhi, where we visited the local mediation center and engaged in mediations. As the two most prominent mediation centers in India, the Bangalore Mediation Centre and the Delhi Mediation Centre each offered their own unique organizational structures and perceptions on mediation as a practice.

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Where elephants were kept and cared for.

I could easily write volumes about my experience in India thanks to Victor Shachter and the Human Rights Institute – but I’ll cut it short. Right now, the selection process is coming to a close. The selection committee is likely meeting with the last batch of candidates in an interview process, and then the next arduous days will be spent figuring out which of the candidates is the best choice. For the next recipient of the reward, I wish you a fantastic trip; if you’re like me, with no international experience, this will be monumental. If you do have international experience, the way that Indian society functions will still shock and awe you. Be prepared to experience an emotional rollercoaster that will take you to extreme highs and potentially extreme lows, and be ready to push your boundaries – because if there’s anywhere in the world that does it, it’s India. Good luck, and have fun.

Jon Sykes and Fernando

On the left is the other 2013 Intern at the Bangalore Mediation Centre, Fernando Vieira Luiz.  In the middle is the President of the Mediation Centre, Hon’ble Justice K.L. Manjunath.  On the right is the author of this blog post, Jon Sykes