Profiles in Public Interest: Jaskaran Kaur ’03 Starts From Scratch

BY ANDREA SAENZ

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Job: Executive Director, ENSAAF, a start-up non-profit organization that focuses on human rights violations in India, including torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial executions of Sikhs in the state of Punjab. “Ensaaf” means “justice” in several South Asian languages.

HLS resume: Was on the Human Rights Journal. Did summer work at the Center for Constitutional Rights and fieldwork on disappearances in Punjab, India. Kaur points out, “The Human Rights Summer Fellowship changed my life by giving me the opportunity to go abroad, conduct documentation work, and see first-hand the realities lived by people who have suffered serious human rights violations.”

The daily grind: Being in charge of a new two-person non-profit means there is no typical day at ENSAAF. Defines programs and projects, organizes studies, writes reports on human rights abuses, articles, and legal briefs, interviews torture survivors, manages volunteers, and stays connected through community events and coordination with other human rights organizations. “The work does not get boring; I am constantly learning how to stretch my skills in the legal field and beyond.”

Beyond doc review: Jaskaran and co-founder Sukman Dhami report to no one; they run the entire operation and are wholly responsible for ENSAAF’s direction, funding, and results. Despite little experience managing an organization, they’re making use of networks of support: “We’ve found that seasoned human rights activists, lawyers and academics are always willing to provide guidance and feedback.”The human connections are the most rewarding part of the work for Jaskaran, including meeting with survivors struggling with medical and health problems who still open their homes, kitchens, and wallets to advance the organization’s fight. “Their struggle to reconstruct their lives after suffering so many losses has helped give perspective and meaning to my life. Their generosity is humbling.” Jaskaran even has the opportunity to “stretch her skills” with children in the communities she serves: “I spent last Thanksgiving playing Twister with 6-year old twins whose parents each lost a sibling to extrajudicial executions. This year, we move onto Charades.”

Money matters: Both Jaskaran and Sukman had fellowships that supported them for the first couple years after graduation. Since they spent the first year or and a half developing strong programs and respect among lawyers, activists, and torture survivors, fundraising wasn’t the first priority. Jaskaran is honest about the challenges: “The financial aspect of the work is the hardest. Now, as we’re working to raise funds from the community and foundations, neither of us receives a salary. We hope this will change in a few months.”

Jaskaran’s advice for students: “1Ls should definitely use their first summer to explore something exciting that they would not ordinarily do. It won’t hurt their future chances at law firms or public interest groups.”

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