Broken Review Process of EPW?

On May 3, 2017, EPW accepted a draft written by me and my friend for its publication under “note section”. We were aware that our draft has its limitations with certain gaps; with these in place, we were looking forward to work upon our draft after their review. As budding researchers, we were optimistic to work with them and learn a thing or two to enhance our research skills. However, our main priority is to contribute knowledge of an area which is under-researched and often ignored. We do accept that our writing styles are several steps behind the constructed and standardised norm found in academic journals, keeping this in mind, we tried our best in making our writing simple so that the meanings were being kept intact. Moreover, every publication house has copy editor who shall take care of sentence constructions and grammars. EPW informed us that our draft would take up to 12–15 weeks from the date of acceptance for its publication. We were then hopeful that this could be a stepping stone to our respective academic career. Towards 10th week, we didn’t hear anything from EPW. We began inquiring about the status of our draft by writing an email but no response to it. After 15th week, we wrote an email again and there was still no response. Eleven months on to the date of its acceptance, one of us made a phone call to EPW, we were informed that our draft was still under process and that they would get back to us very soon. We waited for their response for the next two to three months, and they were yet to reach out to us. On July 18, 2018, I made a phone call to EPW and asked for the status of our draft; I specifically told them that there were already several inquiries made to them, and I was assured that they would get back to us in ten days. Twenty days later, i.e. Aug 6, we received an email from EPW which reads:

“We are writing with regards to your article “**************************” submitted and accepted for publication in EPW.

We are sorry for the delay in processing your article, brought on by a mass=ive influx of articles, most of which are internally reviewed and edited by= a very small team.=C2=A0

In the process of editing your article, we found severe problems with the o=rganisation, language, premise and thrust of the paper. Your article in its= present state seems to lack a coherent research question, which it provide=s insights into. The article begins with the context of the life and liveli=hoods of the ********* and the disruption brought on by *********. This is= followed by a literature review seeking to distinguish ***** and ******, wh=ich apart from being totally incoherent also seems highly contrived and dis=junct from the matter on hand. Thirdly, the section on ********** ***** lac=ks conceptual clarity, fails to draw from and build on relevant literature =on the subject and provide any meaningful analysis. The article also suffer=s from weak writing skills.=C2=A0

On account of the above reasons, we are afraid that we cannot proceed with = processing your article. This is a rare instance in EPW that is taken in ex= ceptional cases. The problems in the article were not adequately highlighte=d in the review, and should have been addressed at that stage. However, ack=nowledging the weaknesses of the peer review system, we must humbly recall =our decision to publish your paper. We sincerely regret this action, but it= is our final decision.=C2=A0

We wish you all the best for your career and hope that you will continue co=ntributing to the pages of EPW in the future.”

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This response is outrightly unethical on the part of EPW and secondly the tone of their email is very demeaning and disrespectful to budding researchers. We wonder who are the staff at EPW who took a decision on accepting our draft for publication. In this regard, there are few questions which needs to be spelt out: Were the staff who monitored and evaluated our draft for acceptance for publication, done by interns or editorial team itself? If acceptance was done by editorial team, were they making a mockery of our work by keeping us on the backburner for more than a year without any response to our mails? Why did they take a year to reject our draft after its acceptance without giving any chance to work upon it? Why was our draft stuck in the “massive influx of articles”?- This is a lame excuse from EPW which has its reputation for several decades, and what becomes of your rule and guideline in processing accepted draft on the ground of fairness irrespective of author’s background. Does EPW endorse only established scholars and intellectuals? As it is a known fact in academia that articles are accepted within a couple of days if a relatively popular scholar (self proclaimed or otherwise) writes it for EPW. What kind of ethics do they have in place and how supportive are they to budding researchers? Is there any ideological line where one has to toe to make it to EPW?

The tone of their email is outrageous while explaining the reason for rejection. Firstly, they did not make any attempt to even respond to our emails and secondly, no chance was given to us to improvise and revise our draft after they accepted our work for publication. We would rather have our paper rejected after we were given a chance to improvise our draft. The manner in which they took decision is unexpected from EPW. This is not only unethical; the tone and languages they used are extremely condescending and dismissive of our effort and contribution. By being dismissive, they are cutting off the very essence of engagement and discussion which are essential to making of the knowledge and its dissemination. Moreover, such practice from their side can keep away budding researchers from contributing to EPW and creates a barrier.

The concluding part of third paragraph of their email is definitely a mockery of our “writing skill”. We do not accept such language and this, we find it very rude. We have taken up research as our career, not on the ground of choice but to contribute something meaningful. English and its writing skill are incompatible to the background we come from where oral narrative is our form of literature and history. Yet we have decided to take up research considering the present order of the world where survival has become its basis while we are trying our best to not dilute our tradition, culture and history. To outrightly mock us of our writing skill is purely a colonial hangover and this certainly allows themselves in colonising us. We are sorry to say this, EPW has fallen below its standard when it comes to ethics and its strive towards diversity. Such experience, forces us to believe that EPW is nothing less than a marketplace for elite intellectuals where they exchange notes among each other in the name of publication. Perhaps it is time for the ‘critical’ to be critiqued and show them the mirror when such instances occur.

Tokenism is not an excuse; a self reflection could be the start if they truly believe in the ideals of inclusivity, ethics and sensibility in academia world and its discourse.

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Mrinmoy Majumder is a Faculty Member at IMI Delhi Richard Kamei, PhD Candidate, School of Management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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