Neeti Nair

Neeti Nair

Associate Professor (2006 )

On Leave: Fall 2015 to Spring 2016

Office Hours: N/A

Office: 234 Nau Hall

Phone: (434) 924-6417

Email: nn2v (at)

Fields & Specialties

Modern South Asia, Legal History, History of Education



B.A. – St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, 1998
M.A. – Tufts University, 2000
Ph.D. – Tufts University, 2005

Personal Website



The Blasphemy Laws: A South Asian History (in progress). 

Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press and Delhi: Permanent Black, 2011, 356 pages including notes, bibliography, and index. 

    A Washington Post WorldViews Recommended Book, 2013

   Reviewed in The American Historical Review, Journal of Asian StudiesThe Indian Economic and Social History ReviewOral History Review, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Journal of  Genocide ResearchCanadian Journal of History, H-Net Reviews, Contemporary South AsiaThe HinduThe Daily Starand several other publications. Extracts are available here




'Indo-Pak Relations: A Window of Opportunity that has Almost Closed', Economic and Political Weekly, December 20, 2014, Vol. 49, No. 51.

'Beyond the "communal" 1920s: the problem of intention, legislative pragmatism, and the making of section 295A of the Indian Penal Code', The Indian Economic and Social History Review, July 2013, Vol. 50, No. 3, pp. 317-340.

'Delhi University's Undergraduate Programme: Notes from the Archives', Economic and Political Weekly, May 25, 2013, Vol. 48, No. 21.

Articles on 'Hindu Mahasabha’, ‘Pt Madan Mohan Malaviya’, ‘Rangila Rasul’, ‘Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’, ‘Sanatan Dharm’, ‘Shuddhi’, ‘Swami Shraddhanand’ in Ayesha Jalal ed., The Oxford Companion to Pakistani History, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012.

‘“Partition” and “minority rights” in Punjabi Hindu Debates, 1920-1947’Economic and Political Weekly, Special Articles, December 24, 2011, Vol. 46, No. 52, pp. 61-69.

‘Bhagat Singh as “satyagrahi”: the limits to non-violence in late colonial India’Modern Asian Studies, May 2009, Vol. 43, No. 3, pp. 649-681.

‘“We Left our Keys with our Neighbors”: Memory and the Search for Meaning in post-Partitioned India’, Rosemarie Rogers Working Paper # 29, MIT, November 2004, 30 pp. 

Book Reviews

Review of Army and Nation: The Military and Indian Democracy since Independence by Steven Wilkinson in The American Historical Review, forthcoming. 

'Freedom and Faith in India', Review of Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right  edited by Wendy Doniger and Martha C. Nussbaum in Current History, April 2015, pp. 157-59. [pdf

'On a Personal Note', Review of Strictly Personal: Manmohan & Gursharan by Daman Singh in The Sunday Tribune - Spectrum, 21 September 2014.

Review of Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971 by Yasmin Saikia in The American Historical Review, 118, 1, 2013, pp. 169-70.

Review of Pedagogy for Religion: Missionary Education and the Fashioning of Hindus and Muslims in Bengal by Parna Sengupta in Social History, 37, 3, 2012, pp. 341-43.

Review of The Partition of India by Ian Talbot and Gurharpal Singh in Journal of Islamic Studies, 21, 3, 2010, pp. 464-67.

Review of Witnessing Partition: Memory, History, Fiction by Tarun K. Saint in Seminar No. 610, June 2010, pp. 57-61.

Review of Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire in India by Stanley Wolpert in Journal of British Studies, 47, 2, 2008, pp. 475-76.

Review of Precolonial Punjab: Society, Economy, Politics and Culture edited by Reeta Grewal and Sheena Pall, Journal of Asian Studies, 66, 2, 2007, pp. 568-71. 

Review of India: A National Culture? edited by Geeti Sen, Contemporary South Asia, 14, 1, 2005, pp. 113-15.

Review of The Aftermath of Partition in South Asia by Tai Yong Tan and Gyanesh Kudaisya, Seminar, No, 534, February 2004, pp. 74-76.


In the Media

"An offence nonpareil" (The Hindu, 06/13/2015)

"The Crooked Lives of Free Speech" (OPEN Magazine, 01/30/2015)

"Heroes of Hindu Nationalism" (author, India Today, 01/12/2015) [pdf]

"The uniformity project" (author, The Indian Express, 06/26/2014 [pdf]. Translated into Bengali and published as "English has now become an Indian language" (Ananda Bazar Patrika, 08/07/2014)

"What our foreign correspondents are reading" (Washington Post, 05/22/13)

"riyaazsaadhanataiyyari: life practices" (author, Seminar, 06/2012)

"The First Year in Academia" (Grad Matters: The Blog for Tufts' GSAS, 02/27/12)

"Restraint vs. Denial: The Struggle between India and Pakistan" (author, Harvard International Review, 02/06/09) [pdf]

"The Truth of Geography" (author, Outlook India, 12/04/08)

Selected Awards and Activities

American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Short-term Fellowship, 2014-15. 

University of Virginia Sesquicentennial Fellowship, spring 2016; 2009-2010. 

University of Virginia Faculty Stipend for Summer Research, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007. 

University of Virginia research support in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences funded by the Dean of Arts and Sciences, 2015, 2010, 2008. 

Mellon - MIT Inter-University Program on International Migrations, 2002-2003. 

Columbia University, Taraknath Das Foundation, Southern Asian Institute, 2002. 

Harvard University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, 2002. 

Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Summer Language Training Fellowship, 2001. 

Tufts University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Award for Outstanding Academic Performance, 2001. 

Research Interests

My research and teaching interests span a wide range of topics in modern South Asian history and politics - colonialism, nationalism, the Partition, the place of religion and other markers of identity in politics, memory studies, legal history, foreign policy, and the history of education.

My first book Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India (Harvard and Permanent Black, 2011) traces the politics of Punjabi Hindus in the first half of the twentieth century. A religiously defined minority in undivided Punjab, these Hindus aligned themselves with Punjabi Muslims and Sikhs during various critical anti-colonial national movements. But almost simultaneously they inched eastward, towards the rest of Hindu-majority India, styling themselves 'communalists' and their politics 'communal'. I study their politics, mark their particular motivations, and account for the suddenness with which Partition and Partition violence struck - both in history and in memory. I also raise and answer the critical question: was Partition inevitable? 

I am now working on a history of the many amendments and additions to section 295 of the Indian Penal Code, a law that was originally instituted to punish those who sought to insult the religious beliefs of Indian subjects. Tentatively titled The Blasphemy Laws: A South Asian History, this book will also track the different journeys that this section of the penal code has traversed in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. An early piece of this research has been published as 'Beyond the "communal" 1920s: The Problem of Intention, Legislative Pragmatism, and the Making of Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code' (IESHR, 2013).

I am also working on debates on higher education in the early years after independence / Partition. I explore how deliberations over the place of secularism in the wake of India's Partition, the promise of autonomy for diverse states from a newly created center, and a foreign policy of 'non-alignment' during the Cold War, were used to try and mould India's higher education, a legacy of colonialism. A piece of this research is being written up in the form of an article titled 'Towards mass education or "an aristocracy of talent": manpower needs and the virtues of non-alignment.'  

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
Nau Hall - South Lawn
Charlottesville, VA 22904

tel: (434) 924-7147; fax: (434) 924-7891
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