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School of Law

Professor Ratna Kapur


Professor of International Law

Room Number: Mile End


Current Positions

  • Professor of Law, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London (September 2015-)
  • Senior Core Faculty, International Global Law and Policy Institute, Harvard Law School (since 2013).



Ratna Kapur has written extensively on issues of human rights, with a specific focus on women’s rights, the rights of migrants, sex workers, and religious minorities. She has also written about various aspects of Indian Constitutional law, in particular, the politics of secularism, the right to religious freedom, and equality.

Her current research interest is on developing a critique of freedom in human rights law and exploring other non-liberal emancipatory possibilities.



  • Gender, Alterity and Human Rights: Freedom in a Fishbowl (Edward Elgar Press,2018)
    • The Spanish translation of the book entitled “Género, alteridad y derechos humanos: Libertad en una pecera” is being published by Universidad de los Andes and Siglo del Hombre Editores, in the book series Nuevo Pensamiento Jurídicoin. The translation will be available February 2024. 
    • Reviews:
    • Laura Sjoberg, Book Review, 29 (2) Asia Pacific Law Review (2021): 429-433, DOI:
    • Ben Golder, “Critiquing Human Rights” 12 (2) Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development  (Summer 2021): 226-238, DOI: 10.1353/hum.2021.0014
    • Cara Röhner, Book Review "Gender, Alterity and Human Rights: Freedom in a Fishbowl" International Journal of Constitutional Law, Volume 18, Issue 2, July 2020, Pages 647–651,
    • Emily Jones, `Human Rights in a Wrong World’, Radical Philosophy 2.07 (Spring 2020), 
    • Sara Bertotti, 124 Feminist Review (2020):207-209, DOI: 10.1177/0141778919891556
    • Sari Kouvo, 30 European Journal of International Law (2019): 1454-1458, doi:10.1093/ejil/chz072 
    • Margot Young, 54(1) Law and Society Review (2020), first published 19 January, 2020 https://doi/org/10.1111/lasr.12464 
    • Vanja Hamzić, On Freedom Beyond the Liberal Paradigm: Reading Ratna Kapur's Gender, Alterity and Human Rights, 122 Feminist Review (2019): 177-180
    • Dianne Otto, Claerwen O'Hara, Daniella Alaattinoglu and Odette Mazel, "Review Essay: Fearless Speech - Seeking Freedom Beyond the (Liberal) Fishbowl" 20(1) Melbourne Journal of International Law (2019):1-13.
    • Claerwen O'Hara, Book Review, 82(3) Modern Law Review (2019):585-598,
    • Anthony Langlois, "The Snake, the Rope and the Fishbowl", 4 University of New South Wales Law Journal Forum ( 2019): 1-7
    • Swethaa Ballakrishnen, Book Review, 27(1) Feminist Legal Studies (April 2019): 109–114 ((Published online 2018
    • Rajshree Chandra , Alternate Realities, December 14, 2018,
    • Book Talks/Panels:
    • Law and Society, Washington D.C., May 30-June2, 2019
    • Duke University School of Law, January 14th, 2020
    • Queen Mary University of London, School of Law, October 30th, 2019
    • School of Law, Sussex University, February 28th, 2019.
    • Melbourne University, School of Law, Chair: Professor Dianne Otto, Co-panelists: Odette Mazel, Claerwen O'Hara, and Daniela Alaatttonoglu, November 29th, 2018.
  • Makeshift Migrants and Law: Gender, Belonging and Postcolonial Anxieties (Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2010; subsequent edition by Routledge Chapman and Hall, 2014; eBook edition 2014)
  • Erotic Justice: Law and the New Politics of Postcolonialism (Taylor and Francis, Cavendish: London, 2005; Permanent Black: New Delhi, 2005)
  • Secularism’s Last Sigh? Hindutva and the (Mis)Rule of Law, (co-authored) (Oxford University Press, 1999)(reprint, paperback, 2001)
  • Subversive Sites: Feminist Engagements with Law in India (co-authored) (Sage, 1996; paperback 1999). Open access link to the pdf version of the book available at:

Selected Publications

  • "The First Feminist War in all of History”: Epistemic Shifts and Relinquishing the Mission to Rescue the “Other Woman”, American Journal of International Law, Unbound (Cambridge University Press) Open Access. doi:10/1017/aju.2022.45. First published online 22 September 2022
  • “Race-making, Religion and Rights in the Post-colony: Unmasking the Pathogen in Assembling the Hindu Nation” International Journal of Law in Context (2022): 1-18, DOI:
  • “Transnational Law and Feminist Legal Theory”, in Peer Zumbansen ed., Oxford Handbook on Transnational Law, 1007-1028 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021)
  • “On Violence, Revolution and the Self” 24 (2) Postcolonial Studies (2021) 251-269, DOI:
  • “Gender and the `Faith’ in Law: Equality, Secularism, and Rise of the Hindu Nation” 35(3) Journal of Law and Religion(2020): 407-431; DOI:
  • "Secularism's Others: The Legal Regulation of Religion and Hierarchy of Citizenship," Susanna Mancini, ed., Constitutions and Religion, 41-58 (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020) (Research Handbooks in Comparative Constitutional Law Series)
  • “Subversive Sites 20 Years Later: Rethinking Feminist Engagements with Law” 44(2) Australian Feminist Law Journal 221-243 (2019)
  • Signs- Journal of Women and Culture, Special Issue: Gender and the Rise of the Global Right, Co-Editor with Susanna Walters and Agnieska Graff (Spring 2019, Vol. 44, No. 3) Available online.
  • “Human Rights” in John Baylis, Steve Smith and Patricia Owens, The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations, 498-513 (London: Oxford University Press, 2019)
  • "'Belief' in Law and Hindu Majoritarianism: The Rise of the Hindu Nation" in  Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot, ends., Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India ((Hurst, forthcoming 2019)
  • “The Im/possibility of Queering Human Rights”, in Dianne Otto, ed., Queering International Law: Possibilities, Alliances, Complicities, Risks, Chapter 7 (Routledge 2017) (See book review, Emily Jones, Feminist Legal Studies, (2018) pp. 1-6
  • "The Colonial Debris of Bandung: Equality and Facilitating the Rise of the Hindu Right” in Luis Eslava, Michael Fakhri and Vasuki Nesiah, eds., Bandung, Global History and International Law: Critical Pasts and Pending Futures, pp. 311-321 (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
  • Book Reviews: On Wendy Doniger and Martha Nussbaum, eds. Pluralism and Democracy in India: Debating the Hindu Right, 31:3 Journal of Religion and Law 406-410 (2016)
  • Book Review: On Ben Golder, Foucault and the Politics of Rights,39(4) University of New South Wales Law Journal 1472 (2016)
  • “Precarious Desires and Ungrievable Lives: Human Rights and Postcolonial Critiques of Legal Justice” 3(2) London Review of International Law 267 (2015)
  • “The “Ayodhya” Case: Hindu Majoritarianism and the Right to Religious Liberty” 29 Maryland Journal of International Law 305 (Fall 2014)
  • “In the Aftermath of Critique We are not in Epistemic Free Fall: Human Rights, the Subaltern Subject, and the Non-Liberal Search for Freedom and Happiness” 25 (1) Law and Critique 25-45 (2014)
  • “A Leap of Faith: The Construction of Hindu Majoritarianism through Secular Law” 113 (1) South Atlantic Quarterly 109-128 (2014).
  • “Brutalized Bodies and Sexy Dressing on the Indian Street” 40 SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1 (2014)
  • “Gender, Sovereignty, and the Rise of a Sexual Security Regime in International Law and Postcolonial India”, 14(2) Melbourne Journal of International Law 1-26 (2013)
  • “Un-Veiling Equality: Disciplining the “Other” Woman through Human Rights Discourse” in Mark Ellis, Anver Emon (eds.) Islamic and International Law; Searching for Common Ground, 265-290 (Oxford University Press, 2012)
  • “Hecklers to Power? The Waning of Liberal Rights and Challenges to Feminism in South Asia” in Ania Loomba and Ritty Lukose, eds., South Asian Feminisms, 333-355 (Duke University Press 2012)
  • “Emancipatory Feminist Theory in Postcolonial India” in Aakash Rathore Singh and Silika Mohapatra (eds.) Indian Political Thought: A Reader, 257-268 (Routledge 2010)
  • “De-Radicalizing the Rights Claims of Sexual Subalterns Through ‘Tolerance’” in Kim Brooks and Robert Leckey, eds., Queer Empire: Comparative Theory, 37-52 (Routledge, 2010)
  • “Human Rights Impact of Anti-Trafficking Laws: A Case Study of India”, in Collateral Damage, 114-141 (Global Alliance Against the Trafficking of Women: Bangkok, 2007.)
  • Faith and the Good Liberal: Construction of Female Subjectivity in Anti-Trafficking Discourse” in Vanessa Munro and Carl Stychin, eds,, Sexuality and the Law: Feminist Engagements, 223-258 (Cavendish 2007)
  • “Postcolonial Profanities: The Legal Regulation of Free Speech in India” in Brinda Bose and Subhabrata Bhattacharya, eds., The Phobic and the Erotic: The Politics of Sexualities in Contemporary India, 235-254 ( University of Chicago Press 2007)
  • “Normalizing Violence: Transnational Justice and the Gujarat Riots” 15:3 Columbia Journal of Gender and Human Rights 885-927 (2006)
  • “Human Rights in the 21st Century: Taking a Walk on the Dark Side”, 28:4 Sydney Law Review 665-687 (2006)
  • “Speaking from the Margins: The Legal Regulation of Sexuality in Postcolonial India,” in Karen Gabriel, ed., Gender Justice in India: A Reader (Katha: Delhi, 2005)
  • “Revisioning the Role of Law in Women’s Human Rights Struggles” in S. Mekled-Garcia, ed., The Legalisation of Human Rights, 101-116 (Routledge 2005)
  • “Women, Gender and Freedom of Expression, and Freedom of Religious Expression: South Asia,” in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, (Brill 2004)
  • Women, Gender and Secularism: Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh in Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, (Brill 2004)
  • “Collateral Damage: Sacrificing Legitimacy in the Search for Justice”, 24:1 Harvard International Review 42 (Spring 2002)
  • “The Tragedy of Victimization: Implications for International Women’s Rights and Post-Colonial Feminist Legal Politics”, 15 Harvard Human Rights Journal, 1 (Spring, 2002)
  • “The Right to Freedom of Religion and Secularism in the Indian Constitution” in Mark Tushnet and Vicki Jackson, eds, Defining the Field of Comparative Constitutional Law, 199-213 (Praeger Publishers 2002)
  • “Neutrality and Universality in Human Rights Law” in Norman Dorsen and Prosser Gifford, eds., Democracy and the Rule of Law, 390-394 (Washington, D.C: Congressional Quarterly Press 2001)
  • “The Two Faces of Secularism and Women’s Rights in India” in Courtney Howland, ed., Religion and Fundamentalism, 143-154 (Palgrave Macmillan 1999)
  • “Secularism’s Last Sigh? Democracy, the Hindu Right and Law in India” 38:1 Harvard International Law Journal (January, 1997).

Public Engagement

  • Speaker, “Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections”, Crunching the Core: Exercises in Critical Theory, Fall Series, Harvard Law School – Institute of Global Law and Policy, October 30, Zoom Online)
  • Keynote Lecture, “Seeking Freedom Beyond the Liberal Fishbowl: A Postcolonial Feminist Vision”, International Conference on Sexual Politics of Freedom, Irish Centre for Human Rights, School of Law, National University of Ireland, September 17th- 18th, 2020 (Zoom Online)
  • Panelist, “The Politics of Race, Law and the Postcolonial Location”, Panel on Race and Law in times of COVID-19 organised by SOAS School of Law (Webinar), July 29, 2020
  • Paper Presenter, “The Sexual Subaltern and Law : Postcolonial Queer Imaginaries”, Mini Workshop Series, organized by Joe Fischel and Brenda Cossman, editors of Research Handbook on Queer Legal Theory (NYU), June 25th, 2020 (Zoom Online)
  • “Is Sexuality a Right?” Summer of Ishq: Issues in Society, History and Queerness, Speaker Series. Co-panelist with Judith Butler, Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality, Ashoka University (NCR-Delhi), June 18th, 2020.
  • 'Human Rights and Excluded Epistemologies’, Keynote Address, Conference on Critial Approaches to International Law, Griffiths Law School, Dublin, August 1-3, 2019.
  • Panelist on “The State of Human Rights in the World”,17th International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights Film Festival, Geneva, Switzerland, March 10th, 2019.
    “Precarious Desires and the Politics of Rights”, Lecture, Human Rights Centre, Essex University, February 27th, 2019.
  • “Human Rights, Freedom and Excluded Epistemologies” Signature Lecture Series, Transnational Law Institute, Kings College, London, October 24th, 2018
  • Keynote Lecture, “Shaping Law, Shaping Gender: Experiences from India”, Humboldt University, Department of Law, October 11-13, 2018.
  • Keynote Lecture, “Gender, Alterity and Human Rights” International Doctoral Week, SciencePo, School of Law, Paris, June 21, 2018
  • 'Human Rights and Excluded Epistemologies’, Keynote Address, Conference on Critial Approaches to International Law, Griffiths Law School, Dublin, August 1-3, 2019.
  • Public Lecture, “Belief in Law”: Hindu Majoritarianism in Indian Constitutional Law”, Institute of Advanced Studies, John Hopkins University, Bologna, 12 October 2016
  • Keynote Address, “The Death of Human Rights and Gender?” Department of Legal Philosophy in co-ordinations with the Gender Research Centre, University of Vienna, Vienna, 28-30 June 2016 (Gender Talks Series)
  • “Comparative Secularisms: Turning the Postcolonial Gaze on Secularism in Constitutional Law”, SciencePo, School of Law, Intensive Doctoral Week, June 15th, 2016
  • “The Complex Politics of LGBT/Queer advocacy in International Human Rights,” SciencePo, School of Law, Intensive Doctoral Week, 14 June 2016
  • “Women’s Rights : A Carceral Project or Liberatory Schema?” International Graduate Seminar on Legal Education, Sciences Po, School of Law, Paris, 14 June 2016
  • Keynote Address, “Gender and Human Rights: Success, Failure or a New Imperialism?”, University of Geneva, Public Lecture, 12 May 2016
  • Paper presentation, “Introduction” to book manuscript, Freedom in a Fishbowl, Law and Literature seminar, Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies, 11 May 2016
  • Keynote address, ”Bodies that Matter: Gender, Postcolonialism and Human Rights”, Bodies, Data and Belief, Gender Research Co-ordination and Danish Institute of Human Rights, University of Copenhagen, 2-16 April 2016
  • Keynote address, “Complicating the Right to Freedom of Religion”, International Workshop on Religion and Law: Colonial and Post-Colonial Encounters 9-11, 2-16 March 2016 Centre for the Study of Comparative Religions and Civilizations, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi
  • Keynote Address, “Precarious Desires and Postcolonial Justice, and the Epistemic Fishbowl of Human Rights”, conference on Gender and the Colonial, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 12-14 May 2015
  • Keynote Address, “‘Belief’ in Law: Hindu Majoritarianism, the Supreme Court and the Right to Freedom of Religion”, European Conference on South Asian Studies, Zurich University (University Research Priority Program Asia and Europe) 25 July 2014
  • Keynote Address, “Precarious Desires, Postcolonial Justice and Human Rights”, Conference on the Limits of Human Rights, Potsdam University/University of Berlin, on “Postcolonial Justice”, 31 may 2014
  • “Postcolonial Justice, Precarious Desires and Human Rights” talk presented at the Centre for Postcolonial Studies in collaboration with the Frankfurt University School of Law, 27 May 2014
  • Keynote Address, “Gender Equality in Neo-Liberal Times”, School of Law, Bournemouth University, 6-17 May 2014, Conference on Gender Equality and Corporate Social Responsibility.

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