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Celebrating Graduation Together While Apart

A global pandemic and no relatives in New Zealand, didn’t stop 26-year-old Divya Rathore from celebrating her graduation from the University of Auckland with her family in India.

Last night, as she stepped onstage to receive her Master of Laws (LLM), 12,000 kilometres away in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, her proud family – mother, father, sister, and grandfather – were watching her triumph via livestream.

Divya, an international student at Auckland Law School, arrived to study in New Zealand before Covid-19 closed international borders. Unable to travel home, she has had to watch helplessly as her country has been ravaged by contagious disease.

At home her family have all been in lockdown since March 2020. As Divya was finishing her prize-winning dissertation on the legalisation of same-sex marriage in India, a double tragedy occurred as she suffered the loss of her beloved grandmothers.

“I was grateful to be able to speak to both of them by phone before the end, but it has been really difficult not being together with my family to grieve,” she says.

“My grandmothers had such a profound influence on me. They were my ‘iron ladies’, and I dedicate my achievements to them in honour of their precious memory.”

In a month Divya will begin her doctorate at Auckland Law School, specialising in family law, with particular focus on forced marriages.

Despite missing her family and hoping the borders will reopen soon, she says her time in New Zealand has been eye-opening.

“I have experienced freedom in an altogether new light,” she says.

“While women’s rights have come a long way in the past few decades in India, there is still ground that needs to be covered. Drafting good laws is usually the first step, but what is more important is to see them being effectively implemented. Importantly, what matters most for women is a change in societal mindsets which have evolved from strong patriarchal traditions.

“In New Zealand I have experienced the effects of positive societal transformation towards women and their rights, which has dismantled several layers of oppression that women in India still face,” she says.

Living in the University Halls of Residence has stopped Divya from feeling too lonely by introducing her to new friends.

“The diversity of people I have met and getting to know their stories has helped me gain new perspectives and has widened my horizons,” she says. She also feels extremely grateful for the support and academic guidance she received from her faculty members at Auckland Law School during her postgraduate study.

A top scholar who received the Fowlds Memorial Prize in 2020, she is also a talented artist and sportsperson. She is trained in traditional Indian painting and classical Indian singing and has played badminton at university level.

Raised in an academic family, Divya, who completed her undergraduate degree in India, says she is blessed with a family who have always stood by her, fought for her rights, and unconditionally supported her dreams.

“They all encouraged me to pursue postgraduate study abroad. I am so excited that they got to see me graduate, even though they couldn’t be physically here.”

After completing her PhD, Divya wants to work in the field of family law and use her education to make positive change in society.

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