Neeti Nair

Associate Professor

234 Nau Hall
Office Hours: On leave 2017-18.
PDF icon Neeti Nair cv 2017 web.pdf

Field & 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


I am an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, where I teach South Asian history with a special emphasis on colonialism, nationalism, decolonization, and the afterlives of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent. I am the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India (Harvard and Permanent Black, 2011, pbk 2016). My articles have appeared in leading scholarly journals, including Modern Asian Studies, Indian Economic and Social History Review, and the Economic and Political Weekly, as well as the Indian Express and India Today

I have held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Institute of Indian Studies, and the Mellon Foundation. I am a resident fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C. in 2017-18.




Blasphemy: A South Asian History (in progress, under contract with Harvard University Press.)

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.



Articles and Essays


'Towards mass education or "an aristocracy of talent": non-alignment and the making of a strong India', in Gyan Prakash, Michael Laffan, and Nikhil Menon eds., The Postcolonial Moment in South and Southeast Asia, Bloomsbury, 2018, pp. 183-200.


'In many significant ways Nehru's vision for India seems passé', Talk Point, The Print, 14 November 2017. 


'What did Gandhi Stand For, And How Is His Legacy Faring in Today's India', Huffington Post India, 10 October 2017. 


'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


'Heroes of Hindu Nationalism', India Today, UP Front, 12 January 2015. [pdf]


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


'The uniformity project', The Indian Express, 26 June 2014. [pdf] Translated into Bengali and published as ‘English has now become an Indian language’, Ananda Bazar Patrika, 7 August 2014. 


'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.


'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.


riyaaz, saadhana, taiyyari: life practices’, Seminar Special Issue 'A Country of Our Own', No. 632, 2012, pp. 27-30.


‘“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.


Restraint vs. Denial: The Struggle between India and Pakistan’, Harvard International Review, 6 February 2009. [pdf]


The Truth of Geography’, Outlook India, 4 December 2008.


‘“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 in the American Historical Review, Current History, Social History, Journal of Islamic Studies, Journal of British Studies, Journal of Asian Studies, Contemporary South Asia, The Tribune, The Print, and Seminar. For details, see


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 am now working on a history of laws in the Indian Penal Code that were originally instituted to punish those who sought to insult religious beliefs, broadly construed. Titled Blasphemy: A South Asian History, the book will track these laws and their unforeseen consequences in India, 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).


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

Awards & Honors

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington D.C., 2017-18. 

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

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Fellowship, 2016.

Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University, 2016-17 Fellowship, alternate.

University of Virginia Sesquicentennial Fellowship, spring 2016.

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

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, 2016, 2015, 2010, 2008. 

University of Virginia Sesquicentennial Fellowship, 2009-2010. 

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. 


Courses Taught

Lecture Courses:

History of Modern India.

Twentieth-century South Asia.

India’s Partition: Literature, Culture, Politics. 


Undergraduate Seminars:

Imperial Encounters: Rules and Lives in Colonized India.

The Partition of India: Problems and Perspectives.

Narratives of post-1947 South Asia: New Archives, New Subjects.

Histories of Education and Nation-Making in India

The Subaltern in Literature and History. (Co-taught with Mrinalini Chakravorty, English)


Graduate Seminars:

Memory and Archive in South Asian History.

Histories of Education and Citizenship in India. 


Graduate Readings Courses:

Colonialism and Indian Ocean Studies.

Post-colonial developments in South Asia.


In the Media

"Woodrow Wilson 2017-18 Fellows Class", (Woodrow Wilson Center, 07/31/2017).


"Talk Point: What does Nawaz Sharif's disqualification mean for democracy in Pakistan" (The Print, 07/28/2017)


"Myanmar's Religious Hate Speech Law" (The Diplomat, 05/05/16)

"Blasphemy Law and the Constitution" (Mint, 03/20/16)

"ACLS announces 21 Frederick Burkhardt Fellows" (ACLS News, 03/08/16)

"Accolades: History Professor Nets $75,000 Burkhardt Fellowship" (UVA Today, 03/02/16)

The Crooked Lives of Free Speech” (OPEN Magazine, 01/30/15)

BJP stirs Bhagat Singh row, kin calls it politically motivated” (The Times of India, 02/24/14)

Booked, but not read” (The Telegraph, 02/15/14)

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

"Gandhi's No to Satyagraha" (Frontline, 08/13/11)

"Neeti Nair's Changing Homelands" (The Page 99 Test, 03/22/11)

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


(434) 924-7147
(434) 924-7891
M-F 8am to 4:30pm
Department Contacts