“Figure out your purpose in life, have a larger vision and chase that, you are more than your job, your accomplishments and your possessions”- Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary, Commissioner, Immigrant Rights Commission, San Francisco, California, United States

This Interview has been published by Pragya Chandni  and The SuperLawyer Team

Ma’am, can you please share the pivotal moments or experiences that led you to pursue a career in law, especially focusing on your journey from studying at the Army Institute of Law to earning an LL.M. at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy?

I always had a justice oriented personality and the choice was either between Law or Journalism for me when I was growing up. I also was very clear since very early on that I wanted to work in the field of women’s rights and gender based violence and with that I decided that Law would be a path best suited for me. At 22,   I published a novel on the human trafficking of women in Nepal to India after the Nepal earthquake and after completing Law from the Army Institute of Law I went on to study at the Fletcher School where I focussed specifically on gender based violence and International Law. I wouldn’t say that there was one moment that defined my trajectory but I’d say that just the conviction that  my aim in life is to use my education, privilege, knowledge and expertise to help women led me from Law School to graduate school to the positions I’ve held thereafter. 

Your LL.M. focused on International Laws, and you received the Honos Civicus Award for Civic Engagement. How did these experiences shape your perspective on the intersection of law and civic engagement, and how do you see it influencing your current work?

I feel both Law and civic engagement have a symbiotic relationship for example it was Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s advocacy against ’Sati’ to legally put an end to it in the 1800’s and today we see the role of civic engagement in creation and abolishing of laws over matters important to the current times. For me, being active and participating in the community, advocating for one’s community and influencing positive change is my mantra and I live these beliefs by being involved in groups and advocacy over issues that I am most passionate about like women’s rights and immigrant rights. 

As a law clerk specializing in asylum law and gender rights at the Law Office of Robert B. Jobe, can you elaborate on how your work has involved strategizing refugee and asylum claims based on gender-based persecution? What challenges and successes have you encountered in this role?

In my previous role, I worked with battered women who were fleeing persecution that they suffered in their home countries and it involved documenting their persecution, highlighting issues that were in tandem with the theory of their case. My journey with a client often started from building rapport with them which sometimes can be hard when they have suffered immense trauma in their lives, to creating a safe space where they can feel comfortable in expressing themselves and sharing their stories. One challenge with this work is that sometimes the other person is not open to seeking therapy or doesn’t live in a community that would help them work through their trauma; I learnt how to tackle this bump over the years and I feel the more you grow as a professional and person, there are different approaches you can use to understand their resistance to therapy while also giving them other suggestions to seek support from a place of empathy. 

You’ve engaged with governmental organizations like USCIS and the Executive Office of Immigration Review. Could you share how these partnerships have contributed to your work in supporting vulnerable populations, and what impact your stakeholder engagement strategy has had on your cases?

My engagement with EOIR and USCIS as a Law Clerk was limited to the work I was doing but given my position as the Vice Chair of the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission, I have more freedom to persuasively raise and inquire about immigrant issues with USCIS that impact immigrant population of San Francisco. That said both EOIR and USCIS are Federal bodies and stakeholder engagement with them happens at the Federal level that hopefully I am a part of at some point in my life.  

Serving as a Commissioner for the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission, you’re involved in developing strategies for human rights and labor rights for immigrants. How do you balance your advocacy work with the practical aspects of implementing policies and programs to address these issues?

San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commission works on conducting special hearings to make recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on Immigrant rights issues which span from creation of employment for asylum seekers to housing for immigrants to taking a stance on H1B layoffs to standing in solidarity with DACA recipients whenever the country fails them. Once we have a special hearing, we review the recommendations, debate them and then forward them. This debate is often rich and detailed with every commissioner bringing practical questions to the mix and we also have the San Francisco Attorney’s office and Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs to help us through the procedure. At the end of the day, the aim is to be an accurate representation of the issues of the immigrant community and should there be a gap between the recommendations and the practical implementation of policy, the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors may reject it. 

Your role as the Chair of Women’s March San Francisco involves designing and implementing human rights programs. Can you provide insights into the specific programs you’ve developed, and how collaboration with government and grassroots organizations has played a role in advancing these initiatives?

The Women’s March San Francisco is an inactive group right now but in the past I have worked on organizing First Amendment Marches in San Francisco on reproductive rights and have collaborated with different initiatives like we have co-hosted panels on equal pay for women followed by a movie screening (on the discrepancy of pay between the men and women’s football teams in the US) and we led a workshop on how to be active beyond the marches. The beauty about a group like WMSF is that it is an all volunteer group founded by women who are epitomes of  ’stand up fight back’ and has been around since 2016. WMSF has also amplified the work of other grassroots organizations for years and has provided support (whenever possible) if needed.

As a Research Assistant for Prof. Dyan Mazurana on the topic of child brides in humanitarian settings, how did your work contribute to addressing evidence gaps in child marriage during crises, and what lessons did you draw from this experience?

My work as a Research Assistant was to assist with a literature review on the topic and then identify key stakeholders who possess experience and practical knowledge in the field of child brides in humanitarian settings so that they could be interviewed and their insights could be recorded by Prof. Mazurana. As my first assignment as a graduate student, a lot of my work revolved around planning logistics for interviews and communicating with the interviewees from INGO’s and governments around the world and I definitely learnt a lot in this process. 

Lastly, what advice would you give to fresh graduates aspiring to make a positive impact in the legal and humanitarian spheres based on your journey?

Figure out your purpose in life, have a larger vision and chase that, you are more than your job, your accomplishments and your possessions. AND give back to your community!

Get in touch with Kudrat Dutta Chaudhary-

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