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Truman Scholar Indivar Dutta-Gupta
- A Life Dedicated To Public Service
His single-minded devotion to the purpose of securing human rights, and a rare maturity that belies his age makes 21-year old Truman Scholar Indivar Dutta-Gupta our Role Model of the Fortnight.

A native of Roswell, GA, Indivar has been deeply involved in human rights and public service; as a Midwest co-coordinator for Amnesty International and a founder of the University of Chicago’s American Civil Liberties Union chapter. He is currently studying law, letters and society and political science and was one of few Indian Americans to win the prestigious Truman Scholarships for the year 2004. .

Born in Kolkata, but raised in the suburbs of Atlanta…

We immigrated to the United States when I was 3 years old. My father worked long and odd hours when I was young and my mother taught and studied to finish her Ph.D. at 
Georgia State University. I also had the pleasure of growing up with a wonderful older sister who graduated from Vanderbilt University last year. After several jobs, my father decided to start his own business (ASFT) with my mother's help; it has since become wildly successful. I had always attended public schools in suburban Atlanta before I enrolled in the University of Chicago for my undergraduate education.

I noticed that I wasn’t like others in my school…

Fortunately I wasn't the only Indian person in my schools, though I was usually 
one of less than a dozen or so. Being Indian definitely played a role in 
developing my interests, but in strange ways. Of course, there were certain 
expectations of me-- generally being obedient and excelling academically 
especially in math and science-- which I certainly fell short of. More 
importantly, I was lucky to have the opportunity to combine my academic 
learning with the experiences of visiting India and living in the United 

First, visiting India exposed me to widespread deprivation and corruption, 
especially in West Bengal, which has a permanent psychological effect on a 
visitor from the US. Second, I was in many ways a minority in my schools, 
which were predominantly Christian, white, and wealthy. I was none of these, 
although my father's business did make my family quite wealthy by the time I 
was leaving middle school. I not only noticed I wasn't like others in my 
school, but being in the South, our family was also particularly exposed to 
discrimination. Not being foreign may have made this difficult to notice and 
understand. Also, I was always proud of the way India had won independence and sustained a liberal democracy in the face of innumerable obstacles.

John Rawls's Theory of Justice influenced me to dedicate my life to public service and social justice…

I was challenged by a high school teacher on my support for the death penalty. This led me to do some research into the subject and I began to find it troubling that so many apparently arbitrary factors influenced one's prospects for receiving capital punishment. Through my research, I came across the "human rights movement" and many human rights NGOs that seemed to be doing something about such injustices. I joined my high school Amnesty International group, but this was a minimal commitment. Then, a friend of mine gave me a copy of John Rawls's seminal work, Theory of Justice, which made me think more and more about the priority of justice and how we could reconcile our notions of what people deserve with the world as it is. I think this text more than anything influenced me to dedicate my life to public service and social justice, particularly by becoming an active participant in the global movement for human rights. Since reading this book, I have become deeply involved with organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International USA, along with the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. I try to balance administrative and strategic human rights work, including organizing, with direct activism and action. Currently, I have become more interested in the promotion of economic and social rights so I am interning in Accra, Ghana with the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions this summer. I have just been appointed to Amnesty International USA's Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Advisory Group and I represent the Midwest on their National Campus Advisory Council.

Truman scholars are meant to be those individuals who are not only committed to a life of public service, but who are in particular interested in changing institutions and attitudes in whatever their field of 
interest may be. 

It takes a lot of good luck to win the Truman scholarship! I cannot emphasize this enough. Not only was every finalist I met equally or more deserving, so were many people I know who were not lucky enough to make it to the final interview stage. While it is difficult to generalize, Truman scholars are meant to be those individuals who are not only committed to a life of public service, but who are in particular interested in changing institutions and attitudes in whatever their field of interest may be. Initially, we must get nominated by our schools, which can each nominate up to four students. Schools have different processes for selecting their nominees. My school required short versions of the full Truman application along with personal interviews. Those who do win a nomination then fill out a full application, compile 3 recommendations: one for academic ability and potential, one for leadership ability and potential, and one for commitment to public service. Thought the application is only 5 pages, every sentence, and every word counts, so I spent over 60 hours on it. Out of the 600-700 nominees that usually apply for the scholarship, about 200 receive final interviews in the state for which they applied. We are again judged on the same qualities, though probably even more so on especially personal qualities like poise, articulateness, and confidence. 75-80 Truman Scholars are then selected, usually one from each state and two-three from larger states, though this is flexible. Usually Georgia receives one Scholar, but this year three Georgians won.

Dedicated to securing human rights…

Eventually I want to be a policy advisor on a national and/or international 
level, with a focus on human rights. I hope to accomplish this either through 
NGO work or government work in the United States, though I am also interested 
in intergovernmental organizations like those in the UN system. I hope I can 
contribute to the global movement to secure human rights and dignity by 
improving our understanding of, and activism in relation to, political, social, 
and economic institutions. I think the role of non-legal arenas is not 
prominent enough in the human rights movement and much of the struggle for 
human rights will in fact have to be one outside of the courtroom. I am 
especially interested in the relationship between economic policy and 
institutions and human rights. Specifically, I would like to further the 
substantive use of economic and social rights in the policy realm.


July 1st issue: VINITA THAPER

June 1st issue: SHEZI SARDAR

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