Sexual and Reproductive Rights
Old Members Trust Travel Grant Report – Gauri Pillai, DPhil. Law
My name is Gauri Pillai, and I am a first year DPhil (Law) student, under the supervision of Professor Sandra Fredman. I was recently awarded the Old Members’ Trust Graduate Conference and Academic Travel Grant 2018-19, which enabled me to attend a conference titled ‘Sexual and Reproductive Rights: Legal Battles and Social Movements’ at Bangalore, India on April 14 and 15, 2019. The conference was organised by the Centre for Law and Policy Research (Bangalore, India), Centre on Law & Social Transformation (University of Bergen) and the University of Sussex. It brought together academics, activists and lawyers to map the work done so far on sexual and reproductive rights (‘SRR’) in India, and discuss strategies for taking this work forward in the future. The conference had panels on a wide variety of issues, ranging from judicial formulation of reproductive rights to SRR of marginalised communities such as LGBTQIA+ persons, persons with disabilities and adolescents. To me, a crucial theme underlying the conference was the need to locate sexual and reproductive experiences of persons within the overall societal context in which they live their lives, and through this, adopt a holistic approach towards guaranteeing SRR.
I presented my doctoral work at the conference, as a speaker on a panel titled ‘Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Courts in India’. My doctoral thesis examines how constitutional provisions on equality and non-discrimination could be used to reimagine the constitutional and statutory framework on reproductive rights in India. Courts in India currently use the right to life and liberty as the constitutional foundation for reproductive rights. My thesis argues why these rights present an inadequate constitutional basis for reproductive rights, and on the need to conceptualise reproductive rights as invoking not just a woman’s right to life and liberty, but also her right to equality and non-discrimination. My presentation, as part of the panel, used a landmark judicial decision on maternal mortality in India as an example to elaborate what an equality perspective would add to the conceptualisation of reproductive rights. I received encouraging feedback, both on my presentation and on the theme of my doctoral work. I also received offers to present my work at a later stage at the University of Sussex and the University of Bergen.
Further, the conference gave me an opportunity to engage in conversation with others who have extensive experience in working in this field in India. This will be helpful, as after my DPhil, I wish work on issues of SRR in courts in India. Hearing from advocates and activists working on the ground was helpful in allowing me to formulate and refine my arguments, to ensure that they have not just academic value but also practical significance. The conference also allowed me to better locate my arguments against the particular socio-economic context in India. In this manner, the conference presented a valuable academic opportunity for me.
Thank you for awarding me the Old Members’ Trust Graduate Conference and Academic Travel Grant 2018-19, which enabled me to attend this conference.