Another story of the Open Letter: an inheritance of relationship-making
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In 1979, four law professors wrote the “Open Letter” to the Chief Justice of India (OL). It was written as a way of registering public protest against a decision of the Supreme Court pertaining to the rape of a young tribal girl, Mathura, in police custody. Within contemporary Indian feminist jurisprudential accounts, this text has attained iconic status. The OL has been hailed for mobilising a nationwide women’s movement around the issue of rape and also for initiating rape law reform. In this paper, I move away from the iconicity attached to the OL in the annals of feminist jurisprudence, without disavowing its importance. By locating my reading in a backdrop of our current climate that is saturated with animosities, I attempt to tell a different story about it. I look at how Baxi’s scholarly practice of co-authoring the OL inhabited a conduct of relations with his co-authors, a judge, the tribal girl, Mathura, and his academic discipline of law in a post-Emergency India. In doing so, I weave a story about the OL as an everyday practice of reciprocal relationship-making, in its own time and place. My account of the OL attends to how, by creating reciprocal relations, we might be able to re-organise our worlds into a place that we desire to inhabit.
KeywordsOpen Letter Upendra Baxi Feminism Jurisprudence India Conduct of Relations
This paper has emerged out of my doctoral research at Melbourne Law School. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Ann Genovese, Shaun McVeigh, Oishik Sircar, Adil Hasan Khan, Upendra Baxi, Pratiksha Baxi, Dianne Otto, and Joan Nestle for reading iterations of this paper and for the conversations that have shaped my thinking. The very first version of this paper was presented at the Feminist Experiences of Law Workshop at Melbourne Law School in October 2016. I thank Hillary Charlesworth for her comments on my presentation there. Thanks are also due to Janaki Nair for readily providing access to the video recordings of her interview with Upendra Baxi from which I have benefitted immensely. Any failings in this paper are solely my responsibility.