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Menaka Guruswamy    

Lawyer & LGBTQ Advocate; Helped Overturn Anti-LGBT Laws

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

She fought for LGBT rights by successfully campaigning to overturn India’s Section 377 law, which rendered all sexual activities that were considered “against the order of nature” punishable by law in September 2018. Along with another public interest litigator, Arundhati Katju, Guruswamy decided to have individual LGBT Indian citizens approach the court and not institutions like nonprofits or advocacy groups in an effort to humanize LGBT Indians to the court.

The ruling has already made a difference to LGBT Indians: Lower courts now cite the ruling to send local police—who previously were using the penal code to keep same-sex couples apart—to protect gay citizens from intimidation from their families or communities.

Dr. Guruswamy has practiced law in New York, as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell. 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.

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, challenged colonial-era laws that criminalises consensual same-sex relations. She is amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court in a case concerning 1528 alleged extra-judicial killings by the military and security personnel.

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. Most recently, 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 is currently working on a book on South Asian Constitutionalism. She is also a columnist for the blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law.

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