Skip to main content

Tarun Khaitan (2004, Law)

Tarun is an Associate Professor at Wadham College, Oxford, and is currently also an Associate Professor at Melbourne University. He has recently been awarded the Letten Prize for Young Researchers.

Tarun Khaitan, a Fellow and Associate Professor at Melbourne University.

Exeter really made sure that we never ever felt we did not belong…

I grew up in a small town in Eastern India, where books were scarce and the internet hadn’t quite reached us. I found out about law school serendipitously, being given an old prospectus by a cousin. My undergraduate law school in Bangalore opened up a world of possibilities for me, including the possibility of going to Oxford. Funding was key to realising that dream, and I was lucky to have received the Rhodes Scholarship. I chose Exeter on the advice of a law school senior who had studied there before me—she had loved her time there, and assured me I would too. And I did.

Exeter College provided a fun and friendly community that was essential to survive the rigours of the BCL degree. I made friends for life there, and the Rector at the time, Frances Cairncross, was a remarkable head of house. She knew many students personally and went out of her way to help as many as she could. I would often get emails from her inviting me to join her in a meeting with a visiting human rights lawyer or judge. As an international graduate student in a social context where college life is usually organised around (mostly local) undergraduates, Exeter really made sure that we never ever felt we did not belong. I have missed its genuine warmth and easy multiculturalism ever since.

After my doctorate at Exeter, I started teaching at Oxford—first at Christ Church as a career development fellow, and then as an Associate Professor at Wadham. I am currently on a four-year leave from Oxford to take up a research fellowship at Melbourne University, where I am working on the resilience of democratic constitutions in deeply divided societies.

In 2018, I was awarded the Letten Prize of the value of two million Norwegian Kroner. It is awarded to a researcher under the age of forty-five whose research makes a significant contribution to the realisation of a Sustainable Development Goal. I am using three-quarters of the prize money towards the Indian Equality Law Programme at Melbourne Law School, which is funding a doctoral student and visiting scholars working on Indian equality law. The doctoral student has started working on the conflict between religious freedom and anti-discrimination law. The first batch of six visitors, working on various dimensions of equality law, has been identified for a visit in November 2019.