12 Moments with Sangeetha Iengar

April 2020

A human rights barrister practising at Goldsmith Chambers, Sangeetha sits on the board of Fenix Aid, aiding refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos; is an Associate Member of the Border Criminologies Faculty at Oxford University; author of an EC book championing the rights of undocumented children and families, and has lived in conflict zones advising governments on access to justice issues. 


1…Describe your moment of Zen

I live a very high-octane and busy life, so Zen for me is about surrendering to something bigger than myself.  Those Zen moments of complete surrender come most easily when I’m outside, exploring in nature.  In London, I love nothing more than to get lost and roll around in the tall grass of Hampstead Heath.  It immediately soothes any whirlwinds in my mind.



2…What are you reading / watching right now?

An incredible jewel of a book called Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. It’s set in Palestine in 1948 and follows the fate of the Abulheja family and their ancestral village of Ein Hod as it becomes occupied by Israeli soldiers.  I’m fascinated by human stories of displacement, identity, occupation and refuge, and they are captured so vividly in this book.  The author writes so poetically and illustratively, I feel immediately transported to Palestine and to the refugee camp in Jenin with every page I turn.



3…What was your earliest ambition as a child?

My parents boast that I told them I wanted to be a lawyer at a young age.  I’m not so sure!  I remember being fascinated with how things work and transform.  I think my earliest ambition was to become an inventor.  I remember having a little book of ‘ideas and inventions’ and grand ambitions of having a laboratory too.  The Jetsons were a strong source of inspiration!  But earliest attempts involved deconstruction more than construction – as I tended to take apart anything I could get my hands on!



4…What has been one of the greatest highlights of your life?

All the connections I’ve forged along each of life’s paths.  I look at the roads I’ve taken, and the roads I’ve been taken on that I hadn’t planned to take, and wherever they went, each one has brought new and unexpected friendships and connections into my world.  They have all enriched my journey and brought ‘masala’ to each chapter of my life.


5… How did you come to do what you’re doing right now?

 I have always been acutely aware of how different my life is to those of my extended family in India.  I have easy access to healthcare through the NHS, wonderful libraries filled with books that I can read, and safe water to drink from all the taps at home.  They’re luxuries my family don’t have access to in India, and I only have them because my father dared to leave and seek a better life for himself. His actions gave me a huge advantage in life because of where I was born and what passport I was given.

Growing up with a real sense of this injustice, I was determined to help people suffering simply because they weren’t lucky enough to be born somewhere else.  It’s why I became a human rights barrister, and why I dedicate my practice to representing vulnerable groups around the world.


6…What is the biggest challenge you’re facing in life / work?

Right now, I’m kept up at night thinking of the asylum seekers trapped in unsanitary, unsafe camps all across the globe.  I panic at the thought of what will happen to the 21,000 people trapped in Moria Camp in Lesvos when Coronavirus hits it.  The biggest challenge is that with everyone around the world struggling with so much uncertainty, it’s hard to highlight new sufferings and bring about the changes we need to save lives.


7… If you could say one thing to a room full of world leaders, what would it be?

Leave this room!  Stop listening to the echo chamber of other global leaders and go listen to the individual human stories that need to be responded to.  The best leaders listen to the people they represent, first and foremost.


8… Is there anything you have lost you that wish you could have again?

We moved a lot when I was a child so I quickly learned not to become too attached to ‘things’ because I either lost them or they had to be left behind.  That said, I wish I could have the ability to play the flute again.  I learnt to play at school and loved it, but now I fear I’ll hardly be able to read sheet music any more.  I’m envious of adults who still have a relationship with musical instruments they learnt as children.  Those relationships carry so many of life’s stories within them.


9… If you could have four people from any moment in history at your dinner table tonight, who would they be and why?

  1. My beautiful paternal grandmother who died long before I was born in a pre-partition India. I would want to hear her whisper all the untold stories of my family and sing the lullabies of my father’s childhood.
  2. Aga Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri poet who writes about exile, loss and yearning that is sadly still true today.
  3. Amelia Earhart, the American adventurer and feminist who lived life to break rules and prove women could do anything that men could do.
  4. Maya Angelou: a poet, singer, memoirist and civil rights activist and whose words I go back to at least once a week. I’m certain she would get the party started too!



10… Coffee, tea or hot chocolate?

South Indian Masala Chai.  I just cannot get enough!




11…If you had to leave your home this instant, what are the three things you would take with you?

  1. My little leather-bound journal from Turkey.
  2. My passport so I can move around if I need to.
  3. The old photo of my loved ones that sits on my bedside table in a little blue antique Indian frame.


12…What’s the saying you live your life by?

You can be absolutely ANYTHING you want to be.  Don’t believe anyone who tells you that some things are not for you.  They are wrong.

To learn more about Fenix Aid, please see HERE.