Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What is the politics of the journal?

To ask this question would imply two presumptions made:

  1. The journal is meant to be political and
  2. The contributors are in unanimous agreement regarding the first point.

To ask this question is again not to presume that there is a single coherent line of politics which is to be perpetrated by means of the journal. The journal for the time being is a presentation in the public sphere of certain concerns which are occasioned by the Dalit-Studies class and subsequent discussions. The public sphere available is our university which is also the site of our academic pursuits. We are therefore part of a university sponsored programme to promote the cause of the Dalit. Thus the answer to the question raised in one of the responses- “Is this university sponsored propaganda?” would be, yes it is. Yet the fact that the promotion of this cause is being funded and regulated by the university (or the UGC) should raise significant concerns for the class itself which has by now gotten used to comprehending urban centres of privilege(like the university) as a manifestation of the state’s negligence towards the caste question as such. Does that mean that we, along with our journal stand to be representatives of a changing face of the Indian state which in Dalit representations is often signified as the embodiment of Hindu nationalism and capitalist rationality? We, in the publication of the journal are therefore in a way describing and therefore reinforcing the secular, caste-neutral face of modern urban India. Our criticism is leveled from a vantage point which is commonly attributed to the urban intellectual space- the vantage point of caste-neutrality. This is not a claim to be found in our contributions to the journal. This is rather an obvious political implication of the liberal, civil-society virtues, values, etc. that the journal in spite of the best of our intentions cannot help but bear. The first issue is an embodiment of this liberal ethic. The issue along with all its components turns out to be a collection of informative doctrines which presents the cause of Dalit Studies in a form which is amended to suit public and popular consumption. While there are obvious advantages to this approach, it remains a fact that to inform and to render the information amenable to popular consumption cannot be the only objective of the journal; it can only be one such objective. We have successfully generated a ‘pop’ Dalit studies approach (something akin to pop-history books). Whereas this remains a marvelous way to introduce the subject to the public sphere, it definitely misses out on a certain critical edge which brings us back to the question framed in the title. As we attempt to approach the question, we once again discover ourselves positioned in the framework grounded in the liberal ethic prevalent in the very institution of the journal.

Does this imply that the journal is yet another manifestation of “the politics of despair” which seems to be a constant accompaniment to any and every political struggle in the world today? Is there no avenue for escape from this liberal ‘apolitics’? The answer could well be yes. That makes this introspection unnecessary. But if the answer is no and we are prepared to make an effort to locate ourselves outside this liberal ethic (which is also perpetuated in the state’s interest), then this is a time to recover the critical edge which has remained the radical point of departure from usual practices of social sciences adopted by the discipline of Dalit Studies. Thus to begin with we have to lose our vantage point. We have to confess to our caste subjectivities while framing critical approaches. This is easier said than done. To even conceive of such an approach remains a challenge to be borne by the journal in future. It is not similar to using one formula instead of another. But if we do not manage to attain or come close to a point of exit from the predominant liberal ethic, we cannot even begin to ask the question framed in the title. In that case Jyoti would remain a subject of ‘cruel oppression’ for which our university, our journal and our politics has hardly anything more than sympathy.

There are 2 other ways of dealing with this. One is denying the validity of the titular question, the other being a denial of the two presumptions which foreground the titular question. If these two ways are the desired methods then off course this response is unnecessary and can be rejected immediately.

Ritam Sengupta