Monday, July 31, 2017

Top US-based academic supports "sacked" EPW editor, insists, journal's main job was investigative reporting

Thakurta
By Our Representative
One of the topmost intellectuals, Partha Chatterjee, professor of anthropology at the Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies in the Columbia University, has thrown his weight behind Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who was forced to quit as editor of the well-known  journal "Economic and Political Weekly" (EPW) a fortnight ago for publishing a controversial article on the top business house Adani Group.
An important contributor to the EPW, Chatterjee says he is "saddened by the turn of events precipitated by the resignation of Thakurta as editor", with an effort now underway "to offer a variety of justifications for the actions of the Sameeksha Trust", EPW owners, which force Thakurta to resign.
Chatterjee recently attracted unprecedented criticism from pro-Modi circles for saying that in Kashmir, "India is witnessing its General Dyer moment".
In an article in a top site, he said, "There are chilling similarities between the justifications advanced for the actions of the British Indian army in Punjab in 1919 and those being offered today in defence of the acts of the Indian army in Kashmir."
In his open letter, Chatterjee says, "Instead of resolving the crisis that now afflicts EPW, this effort is only likely to lead to mutual recrimination, a hardening of positions and an outcome that will satisfy no one but embitter many".
Apparently he was referring to a leaked letter written by EPW staff to the trustees accusing Thakurta, as editor, of undermining egalitarian culture and making sexist remarks.
Chatterjee insists, "if proper practices of freedom of the press are to be sustained, it is obligatory for the publisher to give unconditional public support to the editor in all matters of editorial content", which the Sameeksha Trust "did not do". He adds, "It could have publicly stood by the articles as well as the lawyer’s response to the Adani lawyer’s letter, and then settled any differences with the editor internally".
Criticizing the trust for taking down the article, and obtained the resignation of the editor as its initial response to the Adani letter, without exploring any other editorial or legal options, Chatterjee says, "This only confirms the suspicion that it was indeed the content of the articles that the trust had become concerned about following the Adani letter."

Chatterjee
Differing with the trustees' argument that EPW is an academic journal, Chaterjee says, "This is a preposterous claim. EPW would not have acquired its enormous reputation and goodwill as a publication that is quite unique anywhere in the world had it merely been a weekly version of contributions to Indian Sociology or Indian Economic and Social History Review..."
"The reason why EPW is unique is because it has, principally under the stewardship of the late Krishna Raj, managed to develop an unprecedented mix of current affairs commentary, reporting (including serious investigative reporting) and academic articles from every field of social sciences and the humanities", Chatterjee underlines.
Pointing out that a perusal by him of articles published in the EPW from 1966 to 1991 showed that "it is not the academic articles that readers today will find of interest, since the important ones (and there were many) have already passed into textbooks and reading lists and become part of the disciplinary common sense".
Accorsing to him, "It is the news commentary and reports that are the most valuable material in the EPW as a chronological and critical record of an Indian history of the present", and those who have contributed include "were not academics but journalists – Romesh Thapar, Balraj Puri, Sumanta Banerjee, Arun Sinha, Mohan Ram, Kalyan Chaudhuri, GP Deshpande, MS Prabhakar, Ashok Mitra etc.", with academics writing in psyudonym.
"Investigative reports were the most important feature of the EPW, especially in the 1970s and 1980s. There were reports on police atrocities, encounter deaths, prison revolts, communal riots, army operations in the Northeast, the situation in Kashmir, the coal mafia, the politician-business nexus in mining, the Maoist insurgencies … I could go on and on", says.
Noting that "these reports were written by courageous journalists who wrote in the EPW the stories the mainstream press would not publish", Chatterjee regrets that "this component of the journal declined in importance since the 1990s."
Chaterjee recalls, during the Emergency Krishna Raj, operating within the censorship rules, printed full extracts of a judgment by a Bombay high court judge in defence of the freedom of the press, daring the censors to redact a court judgment".
However, he finds "today’s EPW has, I am afraid, simply washed its hands of a potentially troublesome case, leaving it to others to fight the battle."
Referring to the staff members' leaked letter, Chatterjee says, "Organisational problems in the EPW office are now being offered as additional material to bolster the trust’s case. What transpired at the fateful meeting of the trust with the editor had only to do with the Adani lawyer’s letter; everything else is irrelevant."

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