Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Menaka Guruswamy – Choosing Between Destinies: Designing Constitutional Institutions in South Asia

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

12:00pm – 1:30pm

Birkelund Boardroom, Watson Institute

RSVP to stephanie_abbott@brown.edu to receive the chapter in advance 

Join us for this workshop of Menaka Guruswamy's forethcoming book: Choosing Between Destinies: Designing Constitutional Institutions in South Asia.

What must a constitution do? Must it enable peace? Or should it prevent partition of the country? Is a constitution made in waves spread across regimes, movements, histories and time? Or is it a finite special law making process that has a definite beginning and an end? Are there universal constitutional values, or simply regional constitutional cultures? What are strategically appropriate constitution-making methodologies for post conflict, feudal societies?

The book examines the formation, endurance, and demise of constitutions in South Asia.  This book is unique in that it compares constitutional institutions: specifically, constituent assemblies, parliaments, judiciaries and militaries. Each of these institutions has the ability to deeply influence the constitutional fabric of a nation. The role that each institution adopts with regard to interaction with the others is usually a result of critical constitutional choices made before, during and after the drafting of the constitution. This book is not simply a thematic study of each institution, but adopts an inter-locking approach to understand how each institution influences and in turn is influenced by the others.

The book explores constitutionalism in three neighbouring parliamentary democracies: India, Pakistan and Nepal.  India and Nepal are both secular constitutional republics, while Pakistan is a constitutional theocracy. All three countries are deeply shaped by a common British colonial instrument the Government of India Act, 1935. The three countries make an excellent sample for a comparative study as they demonstrate that countries can experience dramatically divergent political outcomes despite common historical, constitutional and social origins.

Dr. Menaka Guruswamy practices law before the Supreme Court of India. She is also is BR Ambedkar Research Scholar and Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School. 

In her litigation practice in India, she focusses on large constitutional rights claims, and has successfully brought reform of the bureaucracy in the country, defended federal legislation that mandates that all private schools admit disadvantaged children and is amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court in a case concerning 1528 alleged extra-judicial killings by the military and security personnel. Most recently, she represented petitioners who challenged and successfully overturned India's 158 year sodomy law in the landmark decision of Navtej Singh Jauhar v Union of India delivered on September 6, 2018.

Dr. Guruswamy has practiced law in New York. She has advised the United Nations Development Fund, New York and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), New York and UNICEF South Sudan on various aspects of International Human Rights Law and has also supported the constitution-making process in Nepal. 

Dr. Guruswamy read law as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where she was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Law (D. Phil.) and as a Gammon fellow for a Masters in Law at Harvard Law School. She has been Visiting Faculty at Yale Law School, Columbia Law School and New York University School of Law. Dr Guruswamy is also presently distinguished faculty at University of Toronto Faculty of Law.  She was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin/Institute of Advanced Studies, Berlin for 2016-2017.

Her most recent publications include essays on Constitution-Making in South Asia, in Handbook on Comparative Constitutional Law (Edward Elgar, Forthcoming (2018) and ‘Crafting Constitutional Values: An Essay on the Supreme Court of India’, (An Inquiry into the Existence Of Global Values, Hart Publishing/Bloomsbury: (2015). She has written widely for newspapers including the New York Times, the Indian Express and The Hindu and is currently working on a book on South Asian Constitutionalism.