A few years ago I was a victim of plagiarism by a European scholar. Though he and his publisher admitted as much he managed to get away with it. All that I could do was publishing a two-part article on the issue in the Sunday Magazine of a leading daily (“Plagiarise or Perish” The Hindu, July 7 and 14, 2002). That story is available in my latest book, Religion, Caste and State (Rawat Publications 2007).
As ideas and knowledge move very fast caught up in the fast pace of knowledge revolution and globalisation, scholars in developing countries have no way of finding out who lift what from them and use where, there is need for greater vigilance against and all round contempt for plagiarism in different forms. With this underlying motivation I reproduce below a recent incident involving The Economist.
When I was in Pune during September 20-22, I had a call from the South Asia Bureau of The Economist, Delhi, seeking an appointment with me for an interview on the politics of reservation in India. The person introduced himself as PA to Mr. James Astill, South Asia Correspondent of The Economist. When I asked him who will be interviewing me he said Mr. Astill. I told him that Astill should speak to me. Sometime later Astill called me and requested for an appointment for an interview. I agreed to the interview on September 27 at 3 30 pm, and advised Astill to call me on the date of interview to confirm my availability at the time mentioned to him. On 27th morning I had a call from the PA on behalf of Astill. I told him that if Astill has to interview me he should speak to me and sort out related issues. I thought that was the end. Astill called me by 2 pm or so and asked me if he could meet me a little earlier. I agreed.
Astill was with me for more than an hour interviewing me. While leaving he said he will email me if he has any doubts or clarifications. I mentioned to him that I will also be in Delhi for the next three days and will not be accessing my emails, but he can call me on my cell phone. The rest is given below.
My email to Astill dated 10/08/07:
Dear Mr. Astill,
I just had a look at The Economist of October 4th which carries a write-up on reservations. Could you please confirm if this is the one for which you wasted a lot of my time and collected a lot of material from me that too xeroxed at my expense? I consider this professionally unethical. I would like to take up the matter with The Economist editor after I hear from you; for, a journalist like you, and that too with the Economist, cannot trifle with the time and resources of a senior and busy scholar like me.
[Astill had not mentioned a word about me or the interview in his write-up though much of it was based on his interview with me!]
Reply from Astill, dated 10/09/07:
Dear Professor Radhakrishnan,
Indeed, the article on reservations was mine, and I’m sorry that it has upset you. Please tell why this is; I’m afraid you do not make it at all clear. Perhaps you feel you were not sufficiently represented in the piece? Perhaps you expected to be quoted? If this is the case, I assure you that your views were of enormous value to the writing of the article, indeed, critical. I will also draw on them for future writings on Tamil Nadu and the reservations policy. You were not quoted in the piece (neither were a dozen of your fellow academics), because The Economist is sparing with quotes. But perhaps this is not your objection at all.
Thank you, again, for your time and for your xeroxed articles.
On October 9, I forwarded these emails to Mr. John Micklethwait, editor of The Economist, with the following note:
I am reproducing below an email which I received from Mr. James Astill. The contents clearly show that the person has been indulging in plagiarism. I allowed him to interview me mainly because of the reputation of The Economist. To be fair, I will wait for your reply before I go public on this issue.
On October 11 Micklethwait sent me the following reply:
Dear Professor Radhakrishnan
I don’t know how you define plagiarism, but you have produced no evidence of it, and your exchange below does not "clearly" show that anyone has been indulging in it. If you want to send some concrete example of where we have lifted something from your work, then we would look at it immediately. It appears to me at the moment that James Astill has upset you by not quoting you. If that is your condition for seeing journalists, then I suggest that you make it clear in advance. But to repeat: show us where we have gone wrong.
My reply to him of the same date is reproduced below:
Dear Mr. Micklethwait,
There are definitions and definitions of plagiarism. I have no wish to enter into a debate on it. Mr. Astill’s email itself is clear testimony of what he has done. I reproduce a sentence: "I assure you that your views were of enormous value to the writing of the article, indeed, critical". If my views were of enormous value the least Mr. Astill could have done is mention it somewhere in the text. He cannot be presenting somebody’s views as his own, and later admit in an email that the views were of enormous value to the writing of the article. Mr. Astill’s appointment with me was for an interview and the views expressed in it and also the material given to him have been used in the report. So the question of my "seeing a journalist" does not arise. Rather, a journalist interviewed me with a prior appointment. If you also endorse Mr. Astill’s view that source is not to be mentioned anywhere in the report and that is the policy of The Economist you are admittedly trying to defend the indefensible.