Basu was born in December 1953 in New York City. Her parents, Rasil and Romen Basu, were both members of the United Nations secretariat in New York. Her mother worked for the branch on women, and is credited for having introduced Amrita to feminism. Basu spent her childhood outside of the U. S., in Egypt, Libya, Thailand, and India. She returned to New York for high school.
Basu obtained her B.A. in Government with a minor in Asian studies from Cornell University in 1975. In 1977, Basu obtained her M. A. in political science. Basu graduated from Columbia University with a Ph.D. in political science in 1984. She is the Paino Professor of Political Science and Women and Gender Studies and Associate Dean of Faculty at Amherst College.
From 1981 to 1987, Basu taught in the Political Science department at Amherst College. After serving as a visiting scholar at Columbia University for one year, she returned to Amherst College, and joined the Women and Gender Studies department. As of 2015 Basu divides her time between teaching Political Science and Women's and Gender Studies. She also chairs the Women and Gender Studies department and serves on the Committee of Six.
Amrita Basu has served on several editorial boards including the board of The Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars since 1992, and the International Feminist Journal of Politics and Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism since 2002 and 2001, respectively. She was the South Asia editor for The Journal of Asian Studies from 1995-2001. Basu also has served on several academic committees including as the Chair of the Women and Politics Council of The American Political Science Association from 2005-2006. She has served on an external committees at Mount Holyoke, Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 2001, Basu was a consultant to the United Nations Development Program Project on Women and Governance in New Delhi, India. Basu has served on several advisory and selection committees including the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Scholar Awards Committee, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Basu's main publications address three main themes. The first concerns women's participation in left wing movements. This was the subject of her first book. A second theme concerns women's movements transnationally. A third theme is ethnic and religious conflict in India.
Basu, Amrita. Two Faces of Protest: Contrasting Modes of Women’s Activism in India. University of California Press and Oxford University Press: New Delhi, 1992
Basu, Amrita, ed, The Challenge of Local Feminisms: Women’s Movements in Global Perspective. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995 and New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998
Basu, Amrita, co-ed. Community Conflicts and the State in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997
Basu, Amrita, co-ed. Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicized Religion in South Asia. New York: Routledge and New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1998
Basu, Amrita, co-ed. Localizing Knowledge in a Globalizing World. Syracuse University Press, 2002
Basu, Amrita, co-ed, Beyond Exceptionalism: Violence, Religion and Democracy in India. Seagull Press: New Delhi and London, 2006
Basu, Amrita, ed, Women's Movements in the Global Era: The Power of Local Feminisms. Westview Press: Boulder, CO, 2010
Basu has written several articles and contributions to edited books and journals including the Oxford Companion to Politics in India, the Introduction to Comparative Politics, the Journal of Women’s History, and many others.
• Distinguished Teaching Award (2008) Ford Foundation Curriculum Development Grant (1998) • Amherst College Research Award (1997–1998) • The United States Institute for Peace, grant to convene a conference on Political Violence in India (1995) • John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Grant (1993–1995) • Amherst College Research Award (1993–1994) • Karl Loewenstein Fellowship, Amherst College (1984–1985)