‘Women’s Human Rights and Migration’: Professor of Law, Sital Kalantry, on Her Latest Book and Professional Journey

by Nur Kara – 

Sital Kalantry wears many hats as a distinguished professor, author, and scholar of law. She serves as a Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School, while simultaneously directing the International Human Rights Policy Advocacy Clinic and co-directing the Migration and Human Rights Program. Professor Kalantry received her Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University, her Masters in Development Studies from the London School of Economics, and her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Over her career, Kalantry has become an expert in international human rights, focusing on gender and education rights within India and the United States. She regularly travels internationally to present her work and has received many awards and grants, including a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Research Scholar grant to conduct research in India on the Indian Supreme Court. Moreover, Professor Kalantry is a member of the lawyer’s advisory committee of Peace Brigades International and has served on the International Human Rights Committee of the New York City Bar Association.

Her recently published book, Women’s Human Rights and Migration: Sex-Selective Abortion Laws in the United States and India, critiques the legislative processes and discourses surrounding sex-selective abortion bans in the United States, as parallel to those in India. I was fortunate to gather more insight on her latest book and chat with Professor Kalantry about her professional aspirations and personal journey until now.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My parents came to the United States for a better future and left me to be raised by my grandparents and aunt for four years. I remain close to my relatives in India because my parents sent me to visit them every summer as I was growing up. Hindi was my first language and I am able to speak it fluently since I spent so much time in India as I was growing up. By shuttling back and forth from the rural village in India, where I was born, to Queens, New York, I became keenly aware of the opportunities I had in the United States that would not exist for me as a girl growing up in a very traditional Marwari family. This is what inspired me to work to promote the rights of girls and women.

What inspired you to write Women’s Human Rights and Migration: Sex-Selective Abortion Laws in the United States and India? 

I was puzzled about why pro-choice women’s rights groups would support a movie about sex-selective abortion in India and China that was funded by groups that want to restrict women’s right to choose in the United States. The National Organization for Women, Ms. Magazine, and liberal human rights centers around college campuses were screening the so-called documentary, “It’s a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words.”

The documentary offensively framed Indian people as murderers of female fetuses and female infants, and white women as their saviors. I wanted to try to uncover why people who are so suspicious of anti-choice groups when it comes to the rights of women in the United States are ready to accept the way in which an anti-abortion group would frame abortion in other countries. Of course, one reason pro-choice groups accepted this film is because the funding sources are hidden in the movie’s marketing materials, as I explain in greater detail in a Slate article.


As I did more digging, I discovered that there was a national campaign underway to pass legislation in state legislatures to punish doctors for performing abortions if a woman was aborting the fetus due to its sex. Since 2009, more than half of state legislatures and 8 states have passed these laws, with the claim that Indian American women widely abort fetuses just because they are female.

Why do you think Americans are willing to accept one-dimensional depictions of sex-selection in India and why do they assume the practice is occurring widely in the United States?

Pro-choice Americans are willing to accept the anti-abortion narrative that claims that sex-selective abortion is violence because of a hatred for girls, and this occurs on a wide-scale basis because they lack the necessary knowledge about the nuances of what is happening in India to critically evaluate these claims. They are also willing to accept stereotypes about foreign peoples as misogynist and women as oppressed in those cultures. Human rights and feminist theory and practice have not adequately appreciated that something that is considered a violation of women’s rights in one country, may not be a violation of women’s rights when it emerges among immigrants in another country.


What are your hopes and goals for this book?

My hope is to create some nuance between universal theories of human rights and culturally relativist theories. When migrants undertake practices like veiling in their country of destination, people assume that because veiling may be mandated in some countries and traditionally has been a way to repress women, it carries the same significance in the new country.

This book aims to develop a transnational feminist approach to sort through questions about women’s human rights in migrant-receiving countries using an in-depth exploration of sex-selective abortion bans in the United States to showcase this approach.


I hope to aid scholars and policy-makers to evaluate the practices they are studying or legislating in their own country context and resist the tendency to decontextualize, while also being careful to understand all aspects of the issue they are considering, both in the United States and in the country of origin.


I also want to ensure that when people discuss or evaluate the behavior of migrants and their progeny, they do not just make conclusions based on information from other countries and stereotypes.


Do Asian Americans abort fetuses because they are female?

Laws to regulate sex selection began popping up after a 2008 article by two economists was widely misinterpreted in the media. What the economists found was that, at most, hundreds of Asian American women aborted or used IVF to ensure that they had a boy when they had prior girl-children. Our more recent analysis of birth data of Asian Americans showed that a small number of women seemed to also sex-select in favor of girls when they had prior boy-children. It is plausible to assume that, when taken together, some Asian American families desire to have both boys and girls and are using pre-implantation means such as IVF and PGD or abortion to achieve these goals.

How do you propose we view the practice of sex-selection and better educate people on the topic?

The point of my book is to distinguish how we should understand the practice of sex selection as it actually exists in the United States versus as it exists in other countries. Because of the strong role of universality in human rights theory and feminist theory, we often fail to appreciate this difference.

A practice gains meaning as discriminatory in the context in which it occurs. In India, the practice of sex selection reflects and further perpetuates gender inequalities. But the factors present in India that drive this practice are not present in the United States. Some argue that the practice of dowry causes people to prefer sons, but this practice is not common in the United States. Families in the United States often share the costs of marriage. In India, parents may want to have at least one son because parents in India rely on sons for support in old age. In the United States, though maybe not adequate, the government does provide health care and other retirement benefits. In India, a patrilocal system, in which the daughter leaves her parents’ family and joins her husband’s family after marriage, may also lead to desiring to have at least one son. This patrilocal system is not present in the United States. In India, daughters may also be more likely to be pressured into relinquishing any claims to their share of paternal wealth and inheritance. This is also not true in the United States. Thus, the societal motivations for sex selection and the institutions that shape our understanding of the practice as discriminatory in India are generally not present in the United States.


How long did the research and writing processes take and what steps were involved?

I started to study this issue with a team of law students, economists, and human rights leaders, Miriam Yeung at the National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and Sujatha Jesudesan. We analyzed U.S. demographic data from 2008-2012 to see if there was any truth in the assertion that sex-selective abortion bans were necessary to stop Asian Americans from aborting female fetuses at a great rate and, therefore, protect women’s rights and gender equality – we found there was none. We released a report in June 2014 documenting the empirical findings and disproving other misrepresentations made by supporters of sex-selective abortion bans in the United States. This book built upon my collaborative work with these experts as well as my own individual work on sex-selection. I started to work on this project in 2013 and published the book in 2017.

[Read Related: President Donald Trump Reinstates Anti-Abortion Rule Endangering the Lives of Women Globally]

What are your upcoming publications and projects?

Recently, I co-led a team of students in India and the United States, along with Indian law professors, to research and write legislative reports on surrogacy in New York and India. We published a report for the New York state legislature recommending the de-criminalization of surrogacy. We also submitted a memo to the Indian Parliament, where we presented the views of Indian surrogates in regard to pending legislation in India. The Indian Parliament standing committee agreed with our views.

I am working on an empirical project with co-authors Aparna Chandra and William Hubbard to study the Indian Supreme Court. We are going to publish a book that examines the current problems facing the court, including long adjudication times for cases, procedures for judicial appointments, lack of precedent, and corruption.


What are some challenges, personal or professional, that you have faced in your human rights work?

Progress is often incremental when it comes to human rights. On a day-to-day basis, this can become frustrating, especially when things appear to be moving backward rather than forward. Take, for example, the rollback we are facing on dignity and human rights for many communities today, including immigrants. But then sometimes we achieve victories and those keep one going.

What is some advice that you would give to fellow South Asian girls and women impassioned to take on similar human rights work?

No one has become successful without working hard. No matter how brilliant you are, I think everyone still has to put in the time and effort to achieve their goals. It is also important to continually build networks and communities. But do not just expect and ask others for things. You should be generous and giving with your time to the extent you can to both your mentors or mentees. Finally, do what you love. That will make you want to work hard and encourage others to do the same. As South Asian women, we face certain other hurdles from parents and family that impose their own vision of success on us and larger society that may judge us through the lens of stereotypes. Challenging those are additional burdens we face, but can overcome.


Purchase Women’s Human Rights and Migration: Sex-Selective Abortion Laws in the United States and India from Amazon or from the University of Pennsylvania Press. You can also visit Sital Kalantry’s professional website.

Nur Kara is a medley of Indian ancestry and East African heritage. Being part of a refugee history and having lived through these various lenses inspires her to similarly share in others’ stories. A self-coined “skeptiste,” she questions the uncommonly questioned.

By Brown Girl Magazine

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Introducing Vaksana: Guyana’s First Sustainable Women’s Retreat

Menakshi Babulall

Sustainable development practices can be utilized as a model for addressing gender inequities worldwide. Empowering women with the resources to gain opportunities, learn skills and collaborate in a safe and welcoming environment is crucial to women’s growth and development as individuals. 

After witnessing the first-hand effects of gender-based violence growing up in Guyana, Menakshi Babulall founded the Canadian nonprofit A Different View Project (ADVP) to promote and implement sustainable development methods across Guyanese communities. Vaksana, which means “nourishing/refreshing” in Sanskrit, is a branch of ADVP exclusively aimed at developing Guyana’s first eco-friendly women’s retreat center.  The retreat will offer wellness activities, training services, regenerative farming and community outreach programs. 

[Read Related: Philanthropist Nirmala Ramprasad Champions Sustainable Development Through Green Dupatta]

Babulall was inspired by Guyana’s rich rugged beauty as a child. Her dual passion for preserving the environment and aiding underserved communities contributed to her studying International Development at Toronto’s York University before launching a public service career.  This eventually led her focus back to Guyana. Babulall talks to BG about her journey as the founder of ADVP, the progress of Vaksana and her perspective on sustainable and ethical charity work.

How and when did you create ADVP? 

“ADVP was founded in 2016 with the vision of empowering communities and fostering sustainable development. The idea stemmed from my desire to create an organization that could address pressing social and environmental issues through innovative and collaborative approaches. One thing that fills me with immense pride is ADVP’s unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, including those from the diaspora, to create impactful projects that make a tangible difference in people’s lives while also providing them with an opportunity to connect with their homeland.”

ADVP has worked on projects within Guyana’s fertile Pomeroon-Supenaam region, a vast expanse of hills and villages that dot the Essequibo Coast. Past projects include building a centralized outdoor recreation space for families and facilitating peer tutoring groups for children affected by COVID-related school closures. They also engage with the children of Queenstown Village through storytelling and interactive activities to nurture their passion for the environment. Overall, the focus of ADVP’s projects is geared toward education and sustainability while developing meaningful and positive relationships with the local community. 

Babulall’s remigration to Guyana during the pandemic to oversee Vaksana was a humbling experience. Living in rural Guyana allowed her to witness the benefits that wellness and eco-tourism can bring to a community, but also highlighted entrenched socio-economic struggles. It heightened her senses of resilience, adaptability and empathy; all key facets she believed essential to an effective leader. She soon realized the importance of cementing Vaksana as a catalyst for positive change in the region, particularly as a safe haven for women and gender non-conforming individuals who may face discrimination.

Explain the concept behind Vaksana

“The idea of Vaksana was born out of extensive research and a deep-rooted passion for creating a transformative space that combines wellness, eco-tourism and community development. The journey began with a vision to create a place where individuals could experience holistic well-being, connect with nature and promote sustainable living.

Vaksana’s foundation is built on three essential elements: tourism, community outreach and regenerative farming/agriculture. These elements were thoughtfully chosen to ensure a holistic approach to personal growth, community empowerment and environmental stewardship. By integrating these pillars, Vaksana becomes a powerful force for positive impact, both within the retreat center and the wider community.”

Vaksana is an ode to Babulall’s Indian heritage that was originally displaced and irrevocably transformed upon arrival to the Caribbean. Like its namesake, individuals have the opportunity to reclaim and reinvigorate themselves. Future plans for Vaksana include a kitchen/restaurant alongside sustainable farming, a workshop/training facility and a multipurpose room offering wellness classes such as meditation and yoga in consultation with a behavioral psychologist and holistic therapist. Collaborations with local businesses and partnership with the University of Guyana ensures that Guyanese citizens are actively involved in every aspect of the project, providing employment opportunities and allowing them to take on leadership roles.

What is the current progress of Vaksana, and where do you hope to see the project in one year? 

“As of now, Vaksana is in an exciting phase of planning and development. We have made significant strides in securing the land and are eagerly awaiting the approval of the lease for our carefully chosen site. Our dedicated team is diligently working on the architectural design and construction plans to bring our vision to life.

In one year, we envision Vaksana having completed its initial construction phase, with the retreat center standing proudly amidst the natural beauty of Guyana. We anticipate being fully prepared to open our doors and welcome our first guests to experience the transformative journey that Vaksana offers.”

Babulall believes in transparency regarding the difficulties faced with running a non-governmental organization. She has overcome several obstacles such as limited resources and bureaucratic hurdles by seeking collaborations, leveraging available resources and engaging in open dialogue with members of the community.

When asked about the misconceptions of running an NGO, she replied, “Many NGOs actually strive for financial independence by implementing income-generating initiatives and fostering partnerships that create long-term sustainability. Another misconception is that NGOs are not as efficient or effective as for-profit organizations. In reality, NGOs often have lower administrative costs and are driven by a strong sense of purpose and commitment.” 

She also disagreed with the belief that NGOs only focus on aid/handouts and says, “Many NGOs prioritize community-driven development approaches, working with local stakeholders to identify their needs/strengths and supporting capacity-building initiatives that enable communities to thrive independently.”

By debunking these perceptions, NGOs such as ADVP can continue to attract like-minded individuals to participate in the diverse work they undertake to address social challenges and advance a more equitable future.

How would you suggest those get involved in ethical public sector/charity work?

“I would recommend starting by identifying your passions and areas of interest. Research and connect with organizations that align with your values and goals. Volunteer your time, skills or resources to make a tangible impact. Stay informed about social and environmental issues and advocate for positive change. Collaboration and learning from others in the field are also crucial for personal and professional growth.”

What is your ultimate goal and future plans for ADVP and Vaksana?

“My ultimate goal is to continue building ADVP as a leading organization in sustainable community development, promoting social and environmental justice. With Vaksana, we aim to establish a renowned wellness and eco-retreat center that serves as a model for sustainable tourism, community empowerment and holistic well-being. We envision expanding our impact, fostering collaborations and creating positive change at both local and global levels.”

Guyana’s raw and authentic lifestyle has left a profound impact on Babullal as an individual and a leader. While embarking on the Vaksana project has not been without roadblocks, she is grateful to have gained the strength to confront difficult realities head-on in hopes of creating a safe place for individuals to learn and flourish. She has found contentment in the beauty of Guyana’s lush surroundings and hopes that others find its premise rejuvenating and inspirational. 

To learn more about ADVP visit their website here or follow them on Instagram.

To donate to the Vaksana project, visit their GoFundMe page.

Featured Image: Menakshi Babulall | Photo Courtesy of Menakshi Babulall

By Priya Deonarine

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Philanthropist Nirmala Ramprasad Champions Sustainable Development Through Green Dupatta

Nirmala Ramprasad
Nirmala Ramprasad

To overcome global challenges, collective investments and groundwork are fundamental in advancing an equitable future across diverse communities. Sustainable development — a development that promotes growth through social, economic and environmental progress without compromising natural resources — is essential for human survival. At the young age of 21, Nirmala Ramprasad founded Green Dupatta, a sustainable development charity organization, and advocated for its importance through multiple pageant ambassadorships. As a philanthropic representative for the Indo Caribbean diaspora, her work showcases how individuals of any age have the ability to be changemakers for social advancement in areas such as environmental and agricultural protection and education. 

[Read Related: Melissa Ramnauth’s Fight to Support Caribbean Businesses and Preserve Ancestry]

Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Ramprasad acknowledges her passion for service was inherent since elementary school.

“My exposure to the nonprofit sector during my formative years really helped to shape my understanding of how complex, complicated and time-consuming philanthropy work can be,” Ramprasad said.

Additionally, she credits the values and ideals seen in Indo Caribbean culture as critical to her personal identity and crucial to her work in sustainable development.


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A post shared by Nirmala Ramprasad (@nrampsy)

In conversation with Ramprasad, the following answers have been edited for clarity and concision. 

Growing up, did you resonate with your Indo Caribbean heritage? What ideals do you most connect with and want to pass on in creating positive change?

As a mixed-race person who grew up primarily within the Indo Caribbean community, I have always felt deeply connected to my culture and heritage. As a child I was fully immersed in all things Guyanese (I refused to wear anything but a lehenga to every school picture day). From a young age I was exposed to, and learned about, our music, food, political climate, history of indentureship and the importance of our cultural connection to India. 

In regards to my nonprofit work, one of the most important lessons I take from my Indo Caribbean culture is the significance of ancestral knowledge and practices. One of the main tenets of my nonprofit work is sustainability and I have found that the most effective and practical sustainability practices can be found when we look back at the way our ancestors treated the land they lived on. 

Although we are all changemakers in some way, I always advocate for community involvement in not only development, but also sustainability practices.

Can you describe what Green Dupatta is?

Green Dupatta is a sustainable development non-profit that I started when I was 21 and have since completed projects in Canada, Guyana, India and Trinidad. I work directly with project participants to co-create community-based spaces and programs that increase environmental awareness, food, water security and access to quality education through sustainable development models.

While most of Green Dupatta’s fundraising efforts take place in Canada, community projects are mainly done in Guyana and India. 

In 2020, Ramprasad traveled to Guyana to work with locals in the town of LeonoraTogether they replaced leaking zinc roofs, restored plumbing to old drains, re-poured concrete exteriors and repaved and repainted buildings to be used for yoga and meditation classes, affordable daycare and community gardens. To ensure donations are maximized, local contractors are always utilized. Green Dupatta aims to repair and reuse as many materials as possible. It does not dictate what the spaces should be used for, instead assists the community in having the agency select programming that benefits residents.


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A post shared by Nirmala Ramprasad (@nrampsy)

Across India, Ramprasad detailed Green Dupatta’s completion of seven projects in seven weeks in an eight-part YouTube docuseries. With partnership from JDS Public School in Varanasi, Green Dupatta constructed two sports facilities for student health, engaged in community outreach awareness campaigns on women’s empowerment and environmental conservation, aided in scholarship opportunities for students, helped create a community garden and provided the school with a system to harvest and irrigate water. 

After this, they traveled to Devdaspur, a village with no clean water, to install a well with a shower enclosure, a water purification system and reservation tank, and a fenced enclosure food plantation. With their new ability to easily access clean water, people in Devdaspur showed an increase in social, economic and health outcomes. The community now had the resources to lower the percentage of water and hygiene-related illnesses, increase food and water independence, increase school attendance for children and increase productivity for adults, seeking work, without having to take time to filter or find clean water for their families. 

Through successful sustainable development projects, resources are conserved and enhanced to empower communities to meet their needs, irrespective of their size or location. Like many sustainable development nonprofits, Green Dupatta’s international service delivery was significantly impacted by COVID-19 due to limitations with travel and in-person fundraising. 

As a result, Ramprasad turned to her career as a special education teacher and utilized her knowledge to focus on a project that would directly help Toronto’s families and their schoolchildren.

Created as an emergency response to COVID-19 school shutdowns, Green Dupatta’s ‘Furnishing Minds’ project, is based on a circular economy model in which slightly-used educational resources are redistributed to families in need.”

Since the program began in 2020, more than 1400 pounds of educational resources and curriculum-based materials have been redistributed within the Greater Toronto Area. Its success led to the project being formalized annually. Green Dupatta currently showcases free online guides to the Ontario curriculum, by grade level, for families looking for strategies to help their children’s academic growth and achievement.

Is Green Dupatta currently looking for more educators? How can people get involved?

I am always looking to expand my team! We are really lucky to have dedicated volunteers from a variety of different sectors and backgrounds. Nonprofit organizations can always use all the help they can get — we have general volunteers, event volunteers and sub-committee program volunteers. Anyone looking to get involved can directly message us on Instagram or our website.


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A post shared by Green Dupatta (@greendupatta)

What is your vision for Green Dupatta in the next five years?

In addition to co-creating new community projects and programs, I hope to continuously expand current Green Dupatta projects. With a larger team and additional funding, I would like to strengthen and scale our Furnishing Minds program, as well as increase our international presence, to fill needs and advocate for these communities. In order to build organizational capacity we are always looking to partner with like-minded individuals, businesses and other nonprofit organizations. In the past we were lucky to work with supportive organizations that provided valuable services, resources and expertise.

Outside of Green Dupatta and teaching, Ramprasad has a history of competing in pageants that reflect both her Indo Caribbean heritage and passion for service. She won the Miss West Indian Canadian pageant in 2015 and subsequently became the first Canadian representative at the Divali Nagar Queen Pageant in Trinidad and Tobago where she was awarded second runner-up. In 2020, she was invited to compete as Guyana’s representative in the Miss Face of Humanity Ambassador Search, an international event that showcases female changemakers from around the world. Ramprasad believes that competing in pageants offered, “a platform to educate others about my organization, and the importance of sustainable development as well as an opportunity to showcase myself as an individual capable and dedicated to carrying this torch.”


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A post shared by Nirmala Ramprasad (@nrampsy)

How was it representing Guyana on a global stage at the 2020 Miss Face of Humanity? What platform did you run on, and what message do you have for the next generation of Indo Caribbeans?

The Miss Face of Humanity competition was a unique experience for me as I was given the opportunity to represent both Guyana and the Green Dupatta Charitable Organization. I explored their intersection and looked at how my homeland and culture has impacted both my core values and philanthropic work. 

Being part of a diasporic community is a uniquely beautiful, but also quite complex, place to be. All of our experiences are vastly different — some people feel deeply connected to their communities and some feel very far removed. Although there are many struggles that come from being once, or twice-removed, people are facing much different struggles in the places our ancestors called home. 

My advice to the next generation of Indo Caribbeans is to remember that a diasporic community is very different from a local one. Although some of us may feel very connected to our communities and cultures as they are practiced abroad, we should make space to amplify the voices of our motherlands and remember to give back to places that have given us so much.

Ramprasad says juggling work and leading a nonprofit can be deeply taxing; often fielding criticism and making personal sacrifices. Nonetheless, she loves what she does and is eager to implement sustainable development practices around the world.  Through these projects, communities are equipped with the techniques, tools and knowledge to uplift themselves. Ramprasad is forever grateful that she was drawn to a life of service and believes that it is of utmost importance to actively collaborate with communities in order to preserve the environment and improve the access to quality education.

To learn more about Green Dupatta,  visit their website. You can follow Nirmala’s journey on Instagram @nrampsy.

Featured Image photo courtesy of Bert Pierre.

By Priya Deonarine

Priya D. Deonarine, M.S, NCSP, is the quintessential Pisces who has been dramatically shaped by her experiences and emotions. She … Read more ›