Neeti Nair

Associate Professor

234 Nau Hall
Office Hours: Tuesday 11:00 - 12:30 and by appointment

Field & Specialties

Modern South Asia


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


I am an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia. I teach survey courses on 18th-20th century South Asia as well as upper-level seminar coures and graduate courses on the Partition of the Indian subcontinent, and blasphemy politics in South Asia. I am the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India (Harvard and Permanent Black, 2011, pbk 2016). I have just completed a second monograph on a comparative legal and political history of "hurt sentiments" and state ideology in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Tentatively titled After Partition: "Hurt Sentiments" and State Ideology in South Asia, the book is currently under review with Harvard University Press. 

I have co-edited (with Michael Kugelman) a special issue of Asian Affairs titled 'Ghosts from the Past? Assessing Recent Developments in Religious Freedom in South Asia'. The special issue is now also available as a book from Routledge. I am also the editor of a forthcoming special issue on 'Citizenship, Belonging, and the Partition of India' that is to be published in Asian Affairs in early 2022. The papers presented at the symposium, on zoom, are available here

My research over the last two decades has been supported by fellowships from the American Institute of Indian Studies, the Taraknath Das Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies' Frederick Burkhardt Fellowship for recently tenured scholars, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I was a non-residential Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars from 2018 to 2020. 



After Partition: Hurt Sentiments and State Ideology in South Asia (under review with Harvard University Press)

Ghosts from the Past? Assessing Recent Developments in Religious Freedom in South Asia (edited with Michael Kugelman), Routledge, 2022. Reprint of a special issue of Asian Affairs, 49:2, 2018

Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, and Ranikhet: Permanent Black, 2011; Paperback 2016

  • A Washington Post WorldViews Recommended Book, 2013

  • Reviewed in The American Historical Review, Journal of Asian Studies, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, Oral History Review, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, Journal of Genocide Research, Indian Historical Review, Canadian Journal of History, H-Net Reviews, Contemporary South Asia, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, The Hindu, India International Centre Quarterly, The Daily Star (Bangladesh), The Book Review (India), Asian Affairs, Social History, Choice, Countercurrents.orgSouth Asian Review, Refugee Watch Online, among other publications. Extracts are available here


Peer reviewed articles

'Toward Mass Education or an "Aristocracy of Talent": Nonalignment and the Making of a Strong India', in Gyan Prakash, Michael Laffan, and Nikhil Menon eds., The Postcolonial Moment in South and Southeast Asia, London: Bloomsbury, 2018, pp. 183-200

'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. Reprinted in The Law Weekly 2016-3-LW, Vol. 199, 1 JS - 20 JS and The Law Weekly (Criminal) 2016-1-LW (Crl) 48 JS - 68 JS

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


Current Research

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 anticolonial national movements even as they simultaneously 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 troubling, seemingly eternal question: was Partition inevitable? 

I have just completed a book manuscript with the working title After Partition: Hurt Sentiments and State Ideology in South Asia, which is under review with Harvard University Press. Through a history of foundational moments such as the Gandhi Murder Trial, the lawsuits against secular forces during the mobilization in Ayodhya, and debates on the meaning of 'Islamic state' and 'secularism' in Pakistan and Bangladesh, I examine the shaping of state ideologies by "hurt sentiments" in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In the process, I ask what it has meant for India to be a secular republic, for Pakistan to be an Islamic republic, and for Bangladesh to be a secular republic that also enshrines Islam as the state religion.

I am currently editing a special issue of Asian Affairs on Citizenship, Belonging and the Partition of India which is based on a symposium that was held, via zoom, at the University of Virginia's Institute of the Humanities and Global Culture and the Royal Society for Asian Affairs. The presentations are available here and the special issue will be out in early 2022. My next book project is on a coursebook titled India's Partition: Politics, Culture, Memory that has been commissioned by Cambridge University Press. This is based on courses on Partition that I have regularly taught at the University of Virginia.

My other interests lie in the fields of India-Pakistan relations, foreign policy, education policy, memory studies, and oral history. 

Awards & Honors

Mellon Humanities Fellow, Institute of the Humanities & Global Cultures, University of Virginia, 2020-21

Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Research Grant, fall 2020

Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington D.C., 2018-20

Fellow, Public Voices, The OpEd Project, fall 2019

Public Policy Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, summer 2019

Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2017-18

Frederick Burkhardt Fellow, American Council of Learned Societies, John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress, 2016-17

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Fellowship, 2016

University of Virginia Sesquicentennial Fellowship, spring 2016, 2009-10

American Institute of Indian Studies Senior Short-Term Fellowship, 2014

University of Virginia Faculty Stipend for Summer Research, 2020, 2012, 2011, 2009, 2008, 2007

University of Virginia research support in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, 2020-21, 2016, 2015, 2010, 2008

Mellon - MIT Inter-University Program on International Migrations, 2002-03

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

Media Appearances

Interview with Matthew Berkman, 'Hurt Sentiments' and Forbidden Speech in India, Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania, January 21, 2021; Podcast  here

MIT Center for International Studies, Democracies on the Crossroads?, Starr Forum, October 23, 2020 

Interview with G. S. Mudur, 'CAA-NRC a road to Hindu Rashtra', The Telegraph, December 18, 2019

Interview with G. S. Mudur, 'Ayodhya case verdict: Secularism not easy to crush', The Telegraph, November 10, 2019 

Writers Read, March 25, 2011

The Page 99 Test, March 22, 2011

Interview with Rukun Advani, 'Event, Metamorphosis, Memory: Opening the Curtain on a Minority View of Partition', Permanent Black Blogspot, January 5, 2011