Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India. By Pratiksha Baxi. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014. 434 pp. 1,150.00, $59.95, cloth.

Date01 June 2015
Published date01 June 2015
Book Reviews
Jinee Lokaneeta, Editor
Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India. By Pratiksha Baxi. New Delhi:
Oxford UniversityPress, 2014. 434 pp. 1,150.00, $59.95,cloth.
Reviewed by Durba Mitra, Department of History, Fordham
In the aftermath of the brutal gang rape in Delhi in 2012 and the
international scrutiny of Indian rape culture that followed, protests
against sexual violence quickly turned to the law as the primary site
of reform. But what are the possibilities and limits of law in address-
ing the issue of sexual violence in India today? In its detailed analysis
of rape cases, forensic medical practice, and the working of criminal
courts, Pratiksha Baxi’s Public Secrets of Law is a remarkable study of
the public life of rape in Indian trial courts. As one of the first com-
prehensive studies of the working of criminal courts in contemporary
India, PublicSecretsofLawgives critical insights about the nature of
the Indian criminal court that extend beyond cases of rape. The
detailed ethnography demonstrates the contingent and highly sub-
jective process of decision making by legal authorities in the adjudica-
tion of rape cases in local courts. She marks through her case studies
The introduction situates her study in relation to comparative
ethnographic work on the law and a growing critical literature on
law in postcolonial India. Baxi argues that the rape trials reinforce
deeply violent “phallocentric notions of ‘justice’” in a performance
of the “public secret” of rape in Indian trial courts. Baxi’s study is
based on extensive archival and ethnographic work conducted in
the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat from the late 1990s. The location
of Baxi’s study is key, the highly volatile city of Ahmedabad,
defined by communal violence in 1992 and 2002 that resulted in
horrific acts of sexual violence committed against minority com-
munities in Gujarat. Baxi’s introduction incorporates her own
experiences of patriarchal hierarchy, sexual harassment, and even
her violation at the hands of a judge, who describes how women’s
Law & Society Review, Volume 49, Number 2 (2015)
C2015 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.

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