Rohit De

Assistant Professor, HistoryYale University


Rohit De is an Assistant Professor of History at Yale University and an Associate Research Scholar at the Yale Law School. Trained as a lawyer and a historian of South Asia, Rohit's book, The People's Constitution: Litigating Citizenship, Consuming Rights and Making India's Democracy, will be published by Princeton University Press in 2018.  It explores how the Indian constitution, despite its elite authorship and alien antecedents, came to permeate everyday life and imagination in India during its transition from a colonial state to a democratic republic. 

Rohit received his Ph.D from Princeton University, where he was elected to the Society of Woodrow Wilson Scholars. His dissertation won the Law and Society Association Prize in 2013. He was the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for History and Economics and at Trinity Hall at the University of Cambridge before coming to Yale in 2014.  Rohit received his law degrees from the Yale Law School and the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. He has assisted Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan of the Supreme Court of India and worked on constitution reform projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Award Information

Transregional Research Junior Scholar Fellowship: InterAsian Contexts and Connections (2016-2017)

Assistant Professor, HistoryYale University

Rights from the Left: Decolonization, Diasporas and the Global History of Rebellious Lawyering

In 1952, British attempts to quietly prosecute Jomo Kenyatta and his colleagues for leading the Mau Mau fell apart with the unexpected arrival of an international legal defence team consisting of British and Irish barristers; lawyers sent by Ghana, India and Nigeria, a Jamaican from Tanzania and three Kenyan counsel of Indian descent (a Hindu, a Sikh and a Catholic). This project establishes that the transnational character of the trial was typical of its time, uncovering a hitherto ignored period of legal globalization, by showing how trials conventionally understood as “national events” in Kenya, Tanzania, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Guyana and Singapore were produced by an internationalist culture of civil liberties emerging from decolonization. Following Kenyatta’s lawyers as they move across jurisdictions defending unpopular causes and across time as they cope with the new postcolonial authoritarianisms, this project offers an alternate international history of rights emerging from Asia and Africa that moves away from discussions between states and instead explores the chequered history of the concepts among social movements and the claims they make of their states. Focusing on legal practice across time, reveals how the engagement with these trials was formative for a generation of lawyers who would go onto pioneer new forms of progressive lawyering. This project maps a shared legal culture that allows lawyers to move and legal spectacles to be consumed, that is rooted in the British Indian law codes, circulating precedents and textbooks and operationalized by lawyers from the Indian, Chinese and Caribbean diasporas.