Kalyani Ramnath


Ph.D. candidate, History

Graduate Associates

Kalyani Ramnath is a doctoral candidate at the Department of History, with research and teaching interests in modern South Asia, legal history, and law and empire. 

Her project looks at legal conflicts in aftermath of decolonization in South Asia. Madras in British India became an important clearinghouse for Tamil speaking migrants displaced by World War II around the Bay of Bengal. They had fled Ceylon after Japanese air raids, and trekked across mountains from Burma after Japanese forces occupied it. Titled ‘Boats in a Storm: Law, Politics and Jurisdiction in South Asia’, the project looks at legal cases filed by these migrants after the War, in South Asian courts in Madras, Malaya, Rangoon and Colombo. Through these cases, they encountered postwar legal regimes that drew on ethnic and racial identities to restrict freedoms of movement and residence. Using previously unexplored judicial archives, she explores changing meanings of jurisdiction, as national identities, before they were fully formed, splintered into ethnic, linguistic and territorial identities, leading to civil wars and political tensions in the region that last to the present day.

Outside of her dissertation research, she is interested in histories of criminal procedure, and has published on the criminal jury trial in India and on ways in which civil liberties groups in South Asia  challenged emergency legal regimes. 

Her work has been supported by the American Historical Association, American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies and the Hart Fellowship for Tamil Studies. In June 2017, she was a Fellow at the Hurst Institute for Legal History, and in 2016 – ’17, she was nominated to the Fellowship for Woodrow Wilson Scholars. In 2017 – ’18, she is a Graduate Fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. 

She holds a B.A.,LL.B. (Hons.) (J.D. equivalent) from the National Law School of India University and a Master of Laws (LL.M.) from the Yale Law School.