I have had the great fortune of spending the last week in Mumbai, at an international law debate competition hosted by the Government Law College of Mumbai. There were law schools from across India competing alongside teams from Russia, the United States, Maurtania, Ethiopia, and Australia. The remarkable feat of both the competitors and the incredibly gracious hosts was that the competition became a global community where cultures, languages, and customs were shared. Such competitions are a small example of a country like India can benefit from a dialogue between societies in the global era. Such events can inspire students not only to understand their place in the world but make a more informed decision about their own identity, national or personal.
To say a few words about Mumbai itself: the physical landscape of urban development alongside the preservation of the historical shadows of the British rule reminded me of Lahore. I found two things remarkable about the city, and perhaps indicative of the nation. The first element was the lack of physical space between the rich and poor, as I have observed before in Pakistani cities. For example, in Lahore, there is an utmost layer of protection afforded to the elites of the city through the heavily guarded “Defense Colonies” which allow for a physical barrier between the rich and poor. While there may be such communities in Mumbai, the explosive population growth of the city has broken down much of the physical space between classes. This was evidenced by the presence of homeless people and street-dogs populating every part of the city, affluent or otherwise.
The second sign I observed was not just the level of business that occurs on through street corner vendors, but that some vendors were selling books from the nation’s top 100 best-seller list. Even while booksellers in the United States are closing their doors due to a lack of consumer interest, I found it remarkable that there was enough readership in India to call for street vendors selling English and Hindi literature. This may not prove that India’s model of education has been completely successful, but it certainly is positive evidence to the fact that the nation’s people are engaged in an intellectual dialogue through the simple act of reading for pleasure.
This sort of intellectual curiosity was the exact environment that turned my experience at the international law debate, into an exchange of cultures and ideas from across continents. While the competition lasted three days, the shared living quarters and congenial attitude amongst teams allowed for a rapid exchange of ideas and descriptions of cultural norms from around the globe. In meeting the teams from Australia and England, I first learned of the deep rivalry between the two countries that automatically brought my mind to Pakistan and India’s brotherly rivalry.
Further, I had the great pleasure of speaking with an American who was working in Ethiopia and had established the first law school in the nation, bringing a team of two Ethiopians to the competition. I was truly inspired by his accounts of attempting to assist the common-Ethiopians in gaining access to simple human rights like water and medicine. Indeed, one part of the conversation struck me and made me recoil at the joy of my competition experience. He told me that some Ethiopians call NGO’s and aid organization workers “five-four-threes”- they stay in five star hotels, they drive four-wheel-drive cars, and they eat three meals a day.
He described the bitter attitude felt by the nation’s poor towards these aid workers in such a succinct way, it made me think whether I was guilty of the same sin. India suffers from the greatest poverty levels known to the planet, and while children roamed the streets begging for scraps, and I was content to sit in air conditioned rooms and discuss esoterics and cultural norms. This was my first most base reaction, but it was not at all the belief I carried after contemplation.
There is no way to deny the incredible poverty and problems that exist across the developing post-colonial world, however, there is power in knowledge just as in economic wealth. Nations and cultures have all followed different paths in their development, but the problems faced by human survival have been the same across the globe. Thus, in finding solutions to problems like poverty, it is important to have drawn from the experiences of other civilizations that have dealt with the same issues. And this can happen by allowing opportunities for the youth of a nation to have the ability to intellectually interact with people from across the world.
By instituting such international competitions and exchanges, the people of India benefit and can progress in addressing those problems that plague the nation’s poor. I am certain that my own world-view was greatly enlarged by this experience, and I can all but guarantee that my Indian counterparts felt the same way. Thus, we should encourage such intellectual and scholarly programs to develop in Pakistan as a method of allowing the students both in the country and abroad to develop their world views and personal identities.
I would like to personally thank the D.M. Harish Trust who sponsored the Government Law College’s International Moot Court Competition, and the student organizers including Raunak Shah, who were the most incredible hosts one could hope for. Special thanks to the Office of Congressman Gerry Connoly and Marvin Weinbaum for helping to make this experience possible.
Waris Husain, representing Howard University School of Law, received the honor at the GLC Competition as the Best Oralist, and his team , including Ral Nwankwo and James Harris Chappelle ,progressed to the quarter-finals. Mr. Chappelle was ranked fourth best overall oralist