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Hurt Sentiments

Secularism and Belonging in South Asia

Neeti Nair

ISBN 9780674238275

Publication date: 03/07/2023

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An insightful history of censorship, hate speech, and majoritarianism in post-partition South Asia.

At the time of the India-Pakistan partition in 1947, it was widely expected that India would be secular, home to members of different religious traditions and communities, whereas Pakistan would be a homeland for Muslims and an Islamic state. Seventy-five years later, India is on the precipice of declaring itself a Hindu state, and Pakistan has drawn ever narrower interpretations of what it means to be an Islamic republic. Bangladesh, the former eastern wing of Pakistan, has swung between professing secularism and Islam.

Neeti Nair assesses landmark debates since partition—debates over the constitutional status of religious minorities and the meanings of secularism and Islam that have evolved to meet the demands of populist electoral majorities. She crosses political and territorial boundaries to bring together cases of censorship in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, each involving claims of “hurt sentiments” on the part of individuals and religious communities. Such cases, while debated in the subcontinent’s courts and parliaments, are increasingly decided on its streets in acts of vigilantism.

Hurt Sentiments offers historical context to illuminate how claims of hurt religious sentiments have been weaponized by majorities. Disputes over hate speech and censorship, Nair argues, have materially influenced questions of minority representation and belonging that partition was supposed to have resolved. Meanwhile, growing legal recognition and political solicitation of religious sentiments have fueled a secular resistance.


  • Neeti Nair’s seminal work is bookended by one of the most significant issues of our times: the contentious and divisive Citizenship Amendments Bill…Its vast sweep of history, dating back to pre-Independence, straddles the space that sits between erudition and expatiation as well as reflection and retelling without descending into pedagogy and pamphleteering.

    —Radhika Ramaseshan, The Tribune


  • Neeti Nair is the author of Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India and coeditor of Ghosts from the Past? Assessing Recent Developments in Religious Freedom in South Asia. Professor of History at the University of Virginia, she has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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