BY TRONE DOWD
Judge Ushir Pandit-Durant has made tremendous strides for the Indian American community. Not only has she climbed to the top of her profession of choice, but she is trying her best to make sure the baton of success is passed to the next generation.
Born in Gujarat, India – birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi – Pandit-Durant came to Flushing at the young age of 10 in 1972. She came with her parents, who were seeking opportunity and a chance at a better life for the family. Her father came to New York in 1971, saving up and preparing the family for the big move.
“It was not easy adjusting at first,” she said. “We came in December so it was very cold. I didn’t speak the language that well and I missed my friends and family. I wanted so badly to go back to India.”
As time went on, Pandit-Durant became adjusted as she began to make friends. She said that within six months to a year, things began to fall into place, especially at school. She is the product of the New York City public school system, attending PS 20, MS 189 and John Bowne High School. She was an all-around student growing up, but was drawn to certain subjects over others.
“I was pretty good in math, okay in science,” Pandit-Durant remembered. “When I was growing up, all of my friends chose careers in medicine or pharmacy, the traditional careers that a lot of the Indians or South Asians chose. I was more interested in speaking and the English language.”
She attended St. John’s University, majoring in Government and Politics and minoring in Psychology. From there, she attended the New York Law School, graduating from the institution in 1987. Pandit-Durant cited the often exciting portrayal of courtroom drama depicted in television and movies sparked her interest in the field.
After graduating, Pandit-Durant began working for the Queens County District Attorney’s Office. She worked there a total of 25 years, serving as the Senior Assistant District Attorney under DA Richard Brown.
In 2015, Pandit-Durant broke another glass ceiling when she was elected as a Civil Court Judge. She is the first South Asian person to earn that honor. But she said that she doesn’t want it to stop with her. She also started the South Asian Bar Association of New York in hopes of uniting others like her in the field of law.
“In law school I was the only South Asian or Indian lawyer in my class,” she said. “I was certainly the first ADA in Queens County because not many of us choose law over becoming a doctor. It was strange to not have too many people like me.”
The group is open to all nationalities, but promotes issues that may be of interest to the Indian community, and helps and supports South Asian lawyers advance their careers. The group is 300 members strong and growing.