The University Grants Commission (UGC), through a notification issued on 2 May 2018, dropped more than 4,000 magazines from its list of approved journals. Among them there are many unknown and little-known journals, which were found to be publishing suspect research papers in return for undue favours. However, the list also includes publications that have maintained a high standard and are known for resisting the dominant intellectual discourse.
The magazines that have been ousted from the list include Forward Press, the online edition of Economic and Political Weekly, Samyantar, Hans, Agatha Jan Media and Gandhi Marg. It might be pertinent to mention here that there is hardly any research work on humanities that does not quote from any of these journals. That is not all. The UGC has also delisted a host of magazines that present Buddhist and SC, ST discourses. What this notification essentially means is that the researchers whose papers are published in these magazines would not benefit from the additional points the UGC has set aside for publishing research.
The UGC said that the some professors, scholars, academicians and many “unnamed persons”, besides the media, had complained about the poor quality of these magazines, so a committee was constituted and the magazines were dropped from the list.
The following article is part of a series that apprises our readers with the seriousness of the issue and its repercussions. – Managing Editor
Scholars call for joint action
“If a story (report, research paper, news item) is published in a prestigious newspaper (magazine, journal), it does not mean it is good or authentic. The real story is that 87 magazines are being published from one room. We are dealing with it. We have asked universities to recommend the journal or magazine that should be approved by the UGC. They will review the magazines by August 30 and send us their final recommendations … We are improving things. We do not want pseudo, fake magazines to be published and get recognition.” (From statement made by Prakash Javadekar, Minister for Human Resource Development, in Lok Sabha on 23 July 2018)
Government wants to muzzle the truth
We have reproduced the minister’s statement, as at the beginning of this year, the UGC dropped more than 4,000 magazines and journals from its list of approved publications, that is, they were blacklisted. This kicked up a furore, and the minister had to face a volley of questions. He made the above statement in the Lok Sabha in response to these questins. The August 30 deadline given by him has expired. Things are rarely done in time in the government. There is nothing new about it. However, the main reason for concern is that magazines like Forward Press, EPW’s online edition, Hans, Agatha and Samyantar, which are taking the debate on social inequality in the country and the world and on casteist mindset forward, holding up the mirror to society, and which are promoting scientific consciousness are being bunched with the magazines, which, in the words of the minister, are published in their dozens from one room.
No wonder the academics and intellectuals are shocked. It is also not surprising that they have come to believe that the government, the UGC and the Ministry of Human Resource Development do not want the voice of a particular section of society heard. They have risen up against this decision.
- UGC drops 4,305 magazines from its list
- They include EPW, Forward Press, Agatha, Hans, Kathakram, Samyantar and Gandhi Marg
- Intellectuals from all over the country oppose the decision
- Pankaj Bisht, Editor, Samyantar: UGC is a den of fools
Right from the sprawling Hindi belt to the states in the south and the northeast, Forward Press, EPW online, Hans, Agatha, Kathakram, Samyantar and Gandhi Marg have been quite popular and research-based and ideological articles are consistently published in these journals. The UGC’s decision is being seen not only as unwarranted and arbitrary but also as an attack on the freedom of expression. There is severe dearth of platforms that afford intellectual and academic freedom especially those who have their ear to the ground.
The social scientists working at the North-Eastern Social Research Centre (NESRC) believe that sharing of ideas between individuals and groups is essential for bringing about social reform. They say it is imperative to look for solutions to casteist and political conflicts. Walter Fernandes, a senior fellow at the prestigious institute, says that from the intellectuals to the activists, everyone needs to come on one platform on this issue. “I hope that Forward Press and others will ensure that the UGC realizes its folly.” The NESRC seeks to bring about a synergy between intellectuals and social activists in the seven states of the Northeast. It is based in Guwahati but has units in different parts of the region.
Similarly, Professor Anushree Sinha, professor at the National Council of Applied Research (NCAR), says that the UGC’s action against Forward Press is absolutely unacceptable. “All such actions which seek to restrict academic freedom and free thought should be opposed in every possible manner. I hope that some solution will emerge,” she says. Anushree has been a senior fellow at NCAR since 1989 and has held many important positions in the body. She was the chief economist of NCAR from 2001 to 2003.
- Attack on academic freedom and free thought should be opposed in every possible manner: ` (NCAR)
- Pramod Kumar Yadav, JNU: By blacklisting the magazines, the government has exposed itself
- Vinay Kumar Ambedkar, JNU: The UGC has not adhered to the principles of natural justice
Pramod Kumar Yadav, who was awarded his PhD by JNU in 1976, is currently a professor of life sciences at the University. He has seen three generations of intellectuals and academics. He has been teaching microbiology, genetics and molecular biology since 1990. He says that there are few journals and magazines that are known not only nationally but also internationally for their content on the socio-economic conditions in India. The objective of these magazines is to bring facts to the fore and they are useful for everyone. The UGC probably felt threatened by Forward Press and other magazines. “I am confident that the magazines and journals which are publishing analytical articles on these issues will be protected and that the powers that be will not be allowed to harm them. This should stop forthwith.”
He says, “A thoughtful analysis and critical evaluation of societal trends and government’s functioning is a must. Clearly, governments don’t like it. Those in power try to suppress such attempts with all their might, especially if a publication has an independent stand on various issues. By blacklisting these magazines, the government has exposed itself.”
Pankaj Bisht, writer and editor of monthly Samyantar, says: “The UGC is a den of spineless and unread individuals. They are out to ruin this institution. As for the education system of the country, they have already destroyed its vitals. Samyantar became the victim of their whims and it was blacklisted. This is the latest attack on progressive forces of the country.”
He added: “The action once again underlines the decadent character of the wielders of power. And also how intolerant they are to progressive and scientific thinking. Just see their leaders who make idiotic and laughable statements. They cannot differentiate between mythology and fact and are confused and ignorant. They say that ancient India had aircraft. They say that there was Internet in the Mahabharata era. They are out to push the country backwards. They are trying to replace facts with myths.”
Vinay Kumar Ambedkar, assistant professor in the Centre for Russian Studies at JNU, had told Forward Press earlier: “It is a matter of concern that the magazines were not given any opportunity to explain. Without giving them a chance to show how they meet the UGC standards, they were dropped from the list. This is against the principles of natural justice and should be condemned in the strongest terms.”
Those in the know question the clarification issued by the UGC after the controversy took a serious turn. For instance, the government, quoting the UGC standing committee said that magazines were not dropped from the list only because they were substandard. Thus, it is possible that the committee did not know the name of the editor of the magazine or the journal and the period when it was in publication.
The question is: Does the standing committee really not know anything about Forward Press and EPW? Does it not know that Hans has been published since the time of Premchand and is widely read? This is probably the case. But what is the government’s ultimate objective? And what is the standing committee and who are in it? We will introduce the members to you and also talk to them. We will bring the views of the UGC functionaries to you.
Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil
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