A Passion for Democracy

Dr. Mrinal Kashyap, an Irwin Cotler Fellow for 2023-2024 from India, is determined to understand the history, complexities, and challenges of Israeli democracy in comparison to those faced by his own country, the world’s largest democracy.

Mrinal first came to Israel roughly two and a half years ago to broaden his research horizons in phycology, the study of algae. Israel, renowned for its thriving algae-based start-ups, offered a fantastic opportunity to bridge the gap between research and marketing endeavors in his field. Despite encountering rocket sirens during his stay during the May 2021 Operation Guardian of the Walls, he found himself profoundly influenced by the scientific initiatives and projects he witnessed. This experience fueled his desire to return as a postdoctoral fellow to TAU, a position he has held since August 2022.

Beyond his scientific goals, Mrinal is eager to make use of his time in Israel and of the valuable resources of the Cotler Fellowship program to explore further the challenges posed to democracy, particularly racism and other human rights issues. For example, Mrinal noted that although he had been to Rabin Square multiple times before joining the Cotler Fellowship program, he never fully grasped its significance until a recent field trip organized by the Cotler program coordinators. This trip, and others like it, have expanded his knowledge of the dangers political intolerance, religious fundamentalism and extreme right politics pose to democracy.

Despite the harsh lessons of the past, Mrinal’s time in Israel has left him with a strong sense of optimism. During his trip to Jerusalem, for instance, he walked through the city’s different quarters and was struck by its diversity of people and their largely peaceful coexistence. He was also surprised to discover that some shopkeepers knew a few Hindi words and that a particular shop was selling pashmina shawls—handmade Kashmiri shawls from India. This reminded him of his home country and made him hopeful that peaceful coexistence would also last there.