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Ayesha Jalal ( ) is a Pakistani-American sociologist and historian. She is a professor of history at Tufts Universitymarker and a MacArthur Fellow. The bulk of her work deals with the creation of Muslim identities in modern South Asia.
She is the daughter of Hamid Jalal, a nephew of the famous Urdu fiction writer Saadat Hasan Manto and a civil servant. Ms. Jalal came to New Yorkmarker at the age of 16.


She obtained her BA, majoring in History and Political Science, from Wellesley Collegemarker, USA, and her doctorate in history from the University of Cambridgemarker. Jalal has been Fellow of Trinity Collegemarker, Cambridge (1980-84), Leverhulme Fellow at the Center of South Asian Studies, Cambridge (1984-87), Fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC (1985-86) and Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies(1988-90). She has taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madisonmarker, Tufts Universitymarker, Columbia University and Harvard Universitymarker.

She is the author of The Sole Spokesman and many other books on the partition of the British India in 1947.


Jalal is among the most prominent American academics who writes on the history of India and Pakistan. Her innovative scholarship has led to frequent criticisms by both Pakistani and Indian establishment scholars. Her most prominent works are on the role of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the partition of India. She argues that the 1947 partition of India—the event that opened the door for the creation of Pakistan—was an accident, a colossal miscalculation. What's more, she says that Jinnah never wanted a separate Muslim state; he was only using the threat of independence as a political bargaining chip to strengthen the voice of the Muslim minority in the soon-to-be sovereign India.

Conversely, she lays a greater share of the blame for partition on the Indian National Congress and leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, who saw partition as a way of eliminating its main competition and leaving it the dominant player in a centralised state.

In the book The Sole Spokesman, Jalal examines what happened in the years between the 1937 elections and the partition, identifying the factors which led to the creation of Pakistan and providing new insights into the nature of the British transfer of power in India.

In particular, Jalal focuses on the role of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the All-India Muslim League, and the main proponent of the Two Nation Theory on which the demand for 'Pakistan' was based. Jinnah claimed to be the sole spokesman of all Indian Muslims, not only in provinces where they were in a majority but also in the provinces where they were in a minority. Yet given the political geography of the subcontinent it was clear that there would always be as many Muslims outside a specifically Muslim state as inside it.

This book investigates how Jinnah proposed to resolve the contradiction between assertions of a separate Muslim "nation" and the need for a strategy which could safeguard the interests of all Indian Muslims. It does so by identifying Jinnah's real political aims, the reasons why he was reluctant to bring them into the open, and his success or failure in achieving them.

Democracy and Authoritarianism in South Asia is her second major work, where she examines the histories of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh over the last fifty years. She argues that the authoritarian nature of the colonial state continues and the only difference between the Indian and the Pakistani versions, is that of overt and covert authoritarianism.

Coauthored with Sugata Bose, Modern South Asia is the first exploration of modern South Asian history by an Indian and Pakistani in collaboration.

Lawsuit and Controversy

Jalal taught at Columbia University for several years during which period the number of students taking her course on Modern South Asia doubled. However, she was denied tenure in 1995 amidst great controversy. This occurred just after Jalal vociferously opposed Columbia accepting a large grant from the powerful Indian business Hinduja Group to establish a research institute for Indic studies (which has since been closed by the university). Jalal alleged that Indian and India-centric faculty "were uncomfortable with a Pakistani woman teaching Indian history" and sued Columbia claiming religious and ethnic discrimination. The District Court of New York dismissed her allegations calling them "thin but suggestive".

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