Education

Portrait of Human Rights Lawyer Menaka Guruswamy To Go Up at Rhodes House

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Menaka Guruswamy, an advocate in the Supreme Court of India, became the first Indian woman Rhodes scholar whose portrait went up the walls of the Oxford University. Guruswamy’s portrait was hung at the Milner Hall in Rhodes House on Sept. 16.

The 43-year-old Hyderabad-born lawyer highlighted the issues of diversity and privilege, and acknowledged it in her acceptance speech at Rhodes House.

“I came to Oxford and to Rhodes House as young person of 23-24 years in 1998, full of excitement and curiosity,” she said. “But, as I walked through the halls of Oxford and this house, I was struck by how no one in the paintings that graced their walls looked like me, or really anyone of my fellow Rhodes Scholars from India, or most of the scholars from African countries or really many of my fellow scholars from the rest of the world,” Guruswamy added.

“The message overall seemed to be: you’re here, but you really don’t belong.”


Guruswamy, who has earlier worked as a Human Rights Consultant to the United Nations and taught at the New York University School of Law, is currently a private advocate in New Delhi.

Further in her speech she makes points about Privilege. “How is it then – that one reconciles moral integrity with the enjoyment of such privilege that the Rhodes Scholarships and an Oxford degree bring? One does so, by deploying this privilege to good use: by that I mean to push the envelope in ways that this privilege allows you to,” she said.


Rhodes scholarship has been awarded to women for 40 years now. The first time a female Rhodes scholar’s portrait was hung at Rhodes House was as recently as in 2015 when Zambian activist Lucy Banda Sichone’s image was put up in the gallery.

There are, however, other black-and-white portraits hanging somewhere else in Rhodes House that feature Indian women, a spokesperson of The Rhodes Trust told HuffPost India. HuffPost.

Along with Guruswamy, portraits of two other women scholars were unveiled at the Rhodes House — American University president Sylvia Burwell and former US President Barack Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice.

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