University of Virginia Professor to Give Lecture on Free Speech Case Laws in Postcolonial India and Pakistan

nairNeeti Nair, associate professor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia, will give a lecture at Washington and Lee University on Nov. 15 at 4:30 p.m. in Northen Auditorium, Leyburn Library. The reception will begin at 4 p.m.

The title of Nair’s talk is "The Historian as Judge: Free Speech Case Laws in Postcolonial India and Pakistan.” It is free and open to the public. It is sponsored by Department of Religion, the Philosophy and Religion Fund and the dean of the college.

“Headlines from South Asia these days routinely refer to the lynching of Muslims and Dalits for transporting or consuming beef in India and to the trials and tribulations of Christians facing charges of blasphemy in Pakistan,” Nair said. “The laws under which these offenses of causing religious hurt are allegedly committed date back to colonial times, but were retained by the postcolonial governments of India and Pakistan.

“The questions posed in this lecture include, how have specific colonial laws been used and interpreted, both in the decades just after Pakistan’s independence, as well as more recently? Is there a meaningful difference in the way the same laws have been interpreted in India and Pakistan? And how does recourse to history contribute to the debate on reform?”

Nair’s first book “Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India” (2011) traces the politics of Punjabi Hindus in the first half of the 20th century. Her second book, “Blasphemy: A South Asian History,” is in progress.

She is also working on a history of laws in the Indian Penal Code that were originally instituted to punish those who sought to insult religious beliefs. “Blasphemy: A South Asian History,” will track these laws and their consequences in neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh. An early piece of this research was published as “Beyond the ‘Communal’ 1920s: The Problem of Intention, Legislative Pragmatism and the Making of Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code” (The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 2013).

Nair’s research and teaching interests span a wide range of topics in modern South Asian history and politics including colonialism, nationalism, the Partition, the place of religion and other markers of identity in politics, foreign policy and the history of education.

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