- Backing the three professors — Drs. Ananya Chakravarti, Audrey Truschke, and Rohit Chopra — for their “academic freedom and service to the profession,” they condemned “the predatory legal action” by historian Dr. Vikram Sampath, and “the harassment and intimidation campaign initiated by his supporters.”
Over 75 scholars from North America have written an open letter of support to Drs. Ananya Chakravarti (Georgetown University), Audrey Truschke (Rutgers University), and Rohit Chopra (Santa Clara University) “regarding their service to the profession and academic freedom in calling attention to Dr. Vikram Sampath’s plagiarism.”
Sampath holds a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Queensland University in Australia and is best known for his recent two-volume biography of V.D. Savarkar.
The letter said that the three scholars used Turnitin software and “uncovered plagiarized material in a published essay based on a lecture Sampath delivered for the Indian Foundation in Delhi as well as in his recent biography of Savarkar.”
In their letter, the scholars cited a Feb. 11 letter Chakravarti, Truschke and Chopra wrote to the Royal Historical Society (RHS) where Sampath is a fellow. In that letter, the three informed the RHS that their “suspicions of plagiarism were aroused” when they read Sampath’s 2017 essay “The Revolutionary Leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar,” where he “borrowed largely” from an earlier essay by Dr. Vinayak Chaturvedi and that of Dr. Janaki Bakhle.
Based on the Feb. 11 letter to the RHS, Sampath initiated a defamation case against Chakravarti, Truschke and Chopra in the Delhi High Court denying the accusations and arguing that the allegations of plagiarism were attempts to slander him. In response, the Delhi High Court restrained historian Truschke and the others from publishing any defamatory material against him.
The scholars address these developments in their letter. “Dr. Sampath claims that the allegations are baseless since he included the original texts in his bibliography and that these standards do not apply to the 2017 work documented since it was the transcription of a speech that was then published in a journal,” they said. “However, the journal itself refers to the piece as an article based on a paper presented at a seminar,” they added. “According to globally accepted standards, such arguments do not mitigate these lapses in immediate attribution, nor the use of verbatim passages without quotation or citation.”
The letter also included a statement by Bakhle “confirming that her work and ideas were taken without citation and that her work was cited improperly in the bibliography.”
Noting that “this kind of review and work should have ideally been done by the editorial houses in which Dr. Sampath’s work has appeared prior to publication,” the letter added that “it seems better late than never for academics to scrutinize his work and subject it to the minimal standards that we expect even our undergraduate students to follow.”
While the “three scholars stand by the findings of their review,“ the letter noted that “this is a matter of not only academic malfeasance as the evidence clearly shows; but also a matter of academic ethics and ethical responsibility.” Their colleagues “performed an important yet routine academic service for the common good which should not provoke such a disproportionate response,” the scholars noted in the letter. “However, Dr. Sampath’s supporters have mobilized right-wing social media networks and marshaled political allies in India and the U.S. to harass, threaten, and intimidate these scholars for what constitutes academic free speech, proper ethics, and service to the profession,” they added.
“At this time, we write this letter to broadly condemn the predatory legal action initiated by Dr. Vikram Sampath and the harassment and intimidation campaign initiated by his supporters,” the scholars noted. “Such a response undermines the integrity of the profession and constitutes an egregious violation of academic ethics. Asking a scholar to adhere to globally accepted academic standards for publication should not result in a defamation lawsuit.”
In conclusion, the scholars emphasized the urgency and significance of the letter and urged the readers to sign it as well. “It is important for us to stem the reach and scope of the disinformation systems now in motion which may convince academics unfamiliar with the substance of the allegations to believe Dr. Sampath’s work is being unfairly targeted, they said. “It is also important to reiterate that this issue is not about a personal vendetta as none of the scholars who performed this review have crossed paths with Dr. Sampath. Furthermore, it must be emphasized that popular history and public historians are not the issue as they are a vital part of the discipline. Rather, this is about plagiarism and a matter of upholding ethical standards.”