Dance and Spice Market Link Immigration Lawyer to Her Heritage


When Roli Khare Rastogi says that the type of North Indian classical dance called Kathak is “…very similar to what lawyers do…” well, that requires a brief explanation.

“Kathak is about provoking emotion in the audience. It’s the idea of being able to convey a message,” says Khare Rastogi, an immigration lawyer who was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and stays deeply connected to her heritage through dance and volunteer work in India.

She describes Kathak as an intricate dance that uses footwork, facial expression, body language and breathing techniques to develop a dialogue with the observer. She says this form of oral storytelling “…flows naturally from my day job where I convey stories for a living.”

Khare Rastogi has also been involved volunteer projects to help women in India develop skills and organizational structures to help them earn a living.

That’s where red and yellow chili, turmeric and coriander come in.

She took a sabbatical in 2012 to go to Uttarkhand, India to develop a grant proposal for the Self-Employed Women’s Association. The project has helped fund a microenterprise for women farmers – a spice market program.

The SEWA works to make sure that women get a fair price and timely payment for their produce. It’s an organization working to change the culture that has allowed women to be exploited by local dealers who pay them low prices and hold back payments for petty excuses.

Now Khare Rastogi is taking on a bigger challenge, this time working in partnership with her mother. Their volunteer efforts are aimed at a village in India where prostitution is a way of life for women, passed down from generation to generation and considered a means of economic survival for the community.

“Every girl child goes into the flesh trade,” said Khare Rastogi. “The entire village.  It’s sanctioned prostitution. My mom and I read about it. Now we’re raising funds to help with training for the women, so they can learn embroidery for clothing or purses.”

She admits it will take time to teach women skills that will help change this disturbing cultural tradition of prostitution, but taking the first step is where change begins.

Her hands-on interest international development began in high school, where she volunteered with the non-profit group Free the Children. Later she studied in India and taught informally in Delhi, where the students were girls, some as young as 11 years old, who were working in factories or as domestic help.

The mission that began in high school continues with her volunteer work today, offering information, education and training with a global perspective.

In some ways, it has elements related to her day job as a lawyer, assisting businesses and families in navigating the complexities of immigration issues. She often takes on pro bono clients for asylum and naturalization issues.

Khare Rastogi’s pro bono work in asylum issues, her volunteer for women and girls in India, and the classical Indian dance Kathak provide inspiration and rejuvenation. She says her Wednesday evening Kathak class in New York City gives her a chance to dance away her day job, by going deep into the stories and rhythms of ancient India.

Lawyer Lightning Round

1. What’s the best part of being a lawyer? Being able to empower individuals to help themselves.

2. What’s the best part of being an entrepreneur or having a business or passion outside your legal work? The best part of being an entrepreneur is living life on my own terms. Having a passion makes life more colorful.

3. How does your legal background help with what you love to do? I understand the importance of telling stories and being a voice for the voiceless.

4. If you could change one thing about the legal industry, what would it be? The mentality that your identity is your profession and navigating ethical dilemmas.

5. What’s the secret to juggling the practice of law and living a full life outside of the law? Haven't found it completely, but realizing there is more to life than work. Also, engaging in a spiritual practice - life is short, so unchartered waters are half the adventure.

6. What’s your advice to lawyers thinking of changing careers, starting their own business or just taking some time off? Do it. Don't wait, because you don't know what tomorrow brings. Plan in advance to save up, talk to lots of people in the industry that you fancy. Go travel.

7. Do you have one memorable horror story from your legal work, not mentioning any names? When UPS lost my client's H-1B petition - on the due date. I had to scramble to reassemble the package in a matter of a few hours.

8. What’s your next big adventure? To continue travelling the world with kids in tow.

9. Where do you want to be five years from now? Want to be at peace with myself, having deepened my spiritual practice and understanding of Kathak.

10. If you could pass any law you wanted, what would it be? Before getting married, every individual is required to go through marriage counseling. It would prevent so many cases in family law that we see.

Roli Khare Rastogi is co-founder and Partner at Basso & Khare and is an admitted attorney in New York and New Jersey. She has signed on with Hire An Esquire.