The Blog of Cafe Dissensus Magazine – we DISSENT

An Email to Café Dissensus on Editorial Policy and a Response from the Editors

Ms. Anu Ayyala sent this message  on the ‘Editorial Policy of Café Dissensus and Issue 3’ as an email attachment:

From the ‘About’ page of the magazine’s website, I don’t understand the point of the editors’ dissent. To create ‘a space for free thinkers’ – what exactly is that? Are these ‘free thinkers’ supposed to be objective truth-sayers? Why are ideological leanings seen as the opposite of free thinking? What is this myth of a ‘free thinking’ that has to overthrow the chains of ideology? What is so scary about ideological leanings, perceived or real?

Ideology is a much abused word.  I have no problems calling myself a feminist and an anti-racist. My ideological leaning is precisely what creates a space for me to think and to problematize.  It’s utterly naïve and potentially highly problematic to suggest that a space for thinking has to be value-neutral. In fact, what would be far less autocratic as an editorial policy (and more ‘free,’ if only in the democratic sense of the word) is if people get to make their ideological choices, i.e., right wing, left wing, feminist, etc. I believe this is the way to go, even if in the bargain, one ends up with jargon-ridden prose in the submissions.

Although I am a person with a disability, there is a reason why this piece is not about me or my personal experience with disability. I do not wish to politicize the personal. Simply put. Not in a magazine that itself naively adopts the majoritarian standpoint to invalidate the minoritarian standpoint , stating that, dalit magazines, for example, cater to a ‘narrow community interest,’  then going on to confidently assert that “‘minoritarian media’ is not the way to go.”

 Nettled by such naïve and somewhat arrogant assertions in the name of an editorial policy from the editors of the magazine, I am writing this piece to raise a few pertinent questions about their guiding assumptions in the context of Issue 3. I would like to pose the following questions to the editors of the magazine. Do persons with disabilities not constitute a minority? Are not the abilist ideologies that influence and dominate their lives precisely majoritarian/ mainstream? How does one even begin to talk about a politics of disability without acknowledging that disability rights movements have gained ground in the context of identity (read minoritarian) politics and that discourses about disability have directly emerged from and speak to histories of marginalization/ disadvantage?

My question to the editors of the magazine and Issue 3 is: why seek people’s personal experiences with disability when the magazine is aiming to clearly steer itself away from articulations of politics in terms of both covertly majoritarian and overtly minoritarian positions, without either complicating them or offering any viable alternative? In fact, when the magazine has expressed unreserved skepticism towards any available articulation of the political in its informally given editorial policy? The type of dissent (‘a space for free thinking’) that the magazine purports is at best apolitical. So the ‘personal is political’ motto of Issue 3 sits very uncomfortably within the magazine’s discursive space. Further, the Call for Submissions very tellingly struggles with trying to articulate the ‘political’ in clear terms beyond a point.  Twice it uses the word ideology in relation to disability with clarity. Once in the highlighted sentence: ‘the journey for persons with different impairments is fraught mainly with ideologies that construct them not only as different but also deficient.’  Then in the sentence, ‘How do social ideologies affect this process and what practices are engaged to manage the responsibilities?’ However, the thrust of these very same guiding critical questions is completely numbed in the pose struck by the editors and the echo of their editorial policy which inevitably finds its way into the Call for Submissions. They calmly assert, ‘We don’t want a politically correct standpoint. Since our magazine is run by a spirit of critique and dissent, please feel free to react any which way you like.’ Leaving aside the somewhat subliminal and mantra-like repetition of the words ‘dissent’ and ‘free’ in this sentence, what do the editors mean by a politically correct standpoint? More importantly, do they imagine that someone is holding a gun to their imagined contributors’ heads to produce one such? If one goes to their editorial policy page for clarification, in the absence of any other explanation, because ideology (bad guy) is seen to a very large extent to disable ‘free’ thought (good guy that’s fighting the bad guy) rather than facilitate it, it can only be concluded that what the editors have in mind as the desired opposite of a politically correct standpoint is an ideologically naïve standpoint which lies in a certain kind of bravado that’s also the exact measure of its naiveté.  How such a standpoint can raise to the level of ‘critique’ is beyond my understanding and certainly beyond anything that the editorial policy of the magazine in its present articulation can justifiably hope for!

 My suggestion would be for the editors to revise their policy to ‘include minoritarian perspectives’ (even at the risk of ghettozing themselves), by following the very example of the Dalit magazines and other ‘minoritarian media’ (which very consciously choose to run that risk, by the way),  that is if the editors in fact wish to push forth with the theme of Issue 3 in the manner in which it demands articulation, and not let the voices of the contributors get simply co-opted into the magazine’s own empty rhetorical pose of ‘free thinking’ and ‘dissent.’ Please just revise and altogether chuck the empty posing in the name of an editorial policy and in its stead try to articulate a politics for the magazine in real terms, even an ambitious one with emancipatory claims.

Otherwise Issue 3 currently falls on the horns of the false dilemma that the magazine’s editors have set up for it and that they try to steer it clear from: that dilemma being to create a space for thinking that’s ideologically free or value-neutral.

One can perhaps see the fault lines in ideology exposed, just as one can try and see the cracks in one’s own personality. However, to try and steer clear of ideology and then to congratulate oneself for this impossible feat is to become altogether delusional. Delusional can be a space for ‘thinking’ too. The editors of this magazine may want to hold on to that preciously scarce ‘free’ space at all costs.  God help them and their combined mighty efforts in this regard.

A Response from the Editors:

Dear Anu,

Thank you for your message. Hope you are fine. It’s great to hear from you after a long time. Since it’s summer and the editors are scattered in different continents, we can’t provide a comprehensive response to your questions. But we will offer a brief response.

We are not sure if you have read the ‘About Us’ section carefully. If you have, read this line:  ‘Despite our own ideological leanings, we will strive to preserve this magazine as a space for free thinkers.’ The magazine never says that we are discarding ideology completely, because that will be an impossible claim. We are all ideological beings, in the Marxist sense or otherwise. In the Indian context, caste, community, gender, and disability could form the basis of ideology.

Yet, that’s where we would like to differ. We all are chained to our respective ideologies. But we would like to move beyond that. Because we have seen the perils of narrow ideological thinking in India. It has come to a point where no honest debate and discussion can any longer be conducted. We have seen how speakers are manhandled because of their ideologies. Why won’t we allow a Kashmiri separatist leader to speak in Delhi? Why can’t an upper-caste student offer a differing voice while a dalit speaker delivers a lecture? We have seen enough of this. In fact, we know the danger of exclusively subscribing to narrow ideologies. We want to transcend it. It’s that simple. Despite our own ideological leanings, we want to transcend these ideologies. Whether we will succeed or not is a different question. Somewhere we have to make a beginning.

Further, why won’t the right wing people be offered a space in a left-wing magazine? Why can’t a left-wing intellectual be published in a dalit magazine despite being a dalit? That is because that dalit intellectual is also a gay. We want to move beyond this narrowness. We are open to all ideologies – left, right, center. We welcome all. Because we want a dialogue between all. If this sounds naive, we have nothing to add.

Now regarding the minoritarian media. We don’t believe in closed-door discussion. What we mean by that? We know the readership of dalit and Muslim webzines. They are mostly read by the members of the community. Mark the word, ‘mostly’. What’s the point in inbreeding where the members of the community will write, read, discuss, and wallow in victimhood. No we don’t believe in that. We never said, these magazines don’t serve any purpose. Read here, ‘There is a flourishing community media in India as well. But they cater to narrow community interests, despite their excellent service to their cause.’ I hope you will mark the highlight, ‘despite their excellent service to their cause’.

Yet, we don’t want to remain in our ghettos. Ghettos are as much spatial as mental and discursive. The editors believe that the real success would be to make a dent in the majoritarian citadel. If we merely carve out our minority spaces/ghettos, we will always live there. We have to carve our space in the majority neighborhoods. To put it in more exclusive spatial metaphors: we want the minority population to find a house in the majority neighborhood. A Muslim finding a space in the Hindu neighborhood. Likewise, in the realm of thought and ideas, we must find a space in the neighborhood of majority thought. And we won’t budge an inch from this ideal. We want to take the fight to the majoritarian ideas by inhabiting the majoritarian space and not by creating an exclusive minority space. Come on, we all know most of the minority publications wallow in victimhood. They do a great service in pointing out the injustices to the minority communities. But they often fail to offer a positive solution. We don’t want that.

Now, you say, we are naive and can’t serve the purpose of the minorities. I am sorry to say, you haven’t read our previous issue. The first issue was on Indian Muslims. Do read. Once you read, you will know how to make a dent in the majoritarian thinking operating within the majoritarian/mainstream framework. If the first issue was published in an exclusively Muslim webzine, how many non-Muslims would have read it? We know, not many. Even in the second issue, just note how many Muslim activists we have featured. Now you see how one can talk of the minorities without harping on the victim syndrome. If you still believe, we are naive, we have nothing to add. We will just say, you are ideologically blinded. Further, please read this piece: Do you still believe we don’t represent the interest of the minorities?

Regarding the issue on disability, we will leave it to our guest editor, Dr. Nandini Ghosh, to answer your questions. She is the one who framed the concept note. We will simply add, why can’t the personal be political? The basis of the whole feminist movement is: ‘the personal is the political’. If we subscribe to a normative notion of politics, women’s struggles will never take off because much of their struggle happen in the domestic space, outside the domain of traditional politics. We strongly believe that the personal can be political.

Hope this short response will satisfy your immediate queries. We will offer a more detailed response once the editors get back together in September.

Take care.



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