Fundamentalist Cleric Throws Plagiarism Bull at American Author
Author: Narayanan Komerath
It sounded serious at first glance. The Indian media clamored in chorus that a ‘renowned historian’ from a renowned University had accused an American writer in public of plagiarism, that Greatest of Sins. A Petition had called for an American publisher to withdraw two books already published, both rapidly rising in readership and impact. The ‘less mainstream’ media, which I have learned to check to find the truth and a bit of intelligence these days, was a bit less adulatory. It was eerily reminiscent of thirteen years ago when the humble couple who ran a charitable organization were accused in a hyena-pack attack by the same general entities of being ‘fronts’ for ‘hate’ and ‘genocide’. And that was what made me :LOL
I know of Harper Collins for one reason. They published “To Kill A Mockingbird” – a novel graphically exposing the struggle for justice in the racist-terrorized American Deep South of the 1950s. Surely took enormous guts. Surely they must have faced strong letters, threats of boycott and much worse then – maybe dolts in bedsheets burning crosses on the company lawn? Papal Bulls? Inquisitions? They stood their ground. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and became a world-famous movie. Today, the Harper Collins company faces a much less scary storm of Open Letters and Allegations from the same general quarters. I hope their executives are at least 10% of the strength and integrity and insight of their predecessors. Today the issue is equally about the struggle of a simple people to get justice – and the hate attacks from the Established Authorities to continue slavery and oppression.
- The Assault
One Mr. Richard Fox Young had sent an Open Letter and posted the same on the Internet, accusing Mr. Rajiv Malhotra, author of ‘Indra’s Net’ among a quartet of excellent books, of ‘plagiarizing’ the work of one Mr. Nicholas. The cleric listed a few instances where passages from Malhotra’s book looked similar to those from something written by Nicholas. He claimed that these were not properly referenced, some even missing (horror of horrors!) quotation marks. And what did Mr. Nicholas think of all this? He claimed on a blog site to be ‘pained’ that ‘his’ work had been thus used, and even ‘distorted’ (meaning to ignorant me, not being the same words or meaning as he intended). While generous with abuse, sneering and irresponsible allegations, it offered no specific points. Overall it sounded rather shrill and maturity-challenged, raising some concerns about the standards for PhDs in this area, let alone promotion to Associate Professor at SUNY 9 years off his PhD. Mr. Nicholson’s biosketch at SUNY does show over 10 papers including 2 books with a new India-based publishing outfit. In real university departments, this might merit serious consideration for a fresh-PhD assistant professor post. A section titled “Publisher Permanent Black Adds” is, well, interesting. Readers can judge for yourselves, this is the Internet.
There is no evidence that all this came after other efforts had failed. Anytime someone finds insufficient attribution, one writes politely and privately first to the author and publisher seeking correction, since one is always mindful that one too is human, and makes errors. This is a curious point, and begs the question of intent on the part of the accusers.
- The Riposte
Mr. Malhotra’s riposte was swift and pointed. He pointed out that
a. He had indeed used Mr. Nicholas’ work, as was evident: he had referenced him 30 (thirty) times in the book. Many if not most of those were in quotes; in other places, as reading clarity demanded, quotes were omitted but the source was clear to any intelligent reader. Perhaps there were a couple of places where quotes should be added, thanks for pointing that out, corrections were welcome and incorporated into the next printing of each book.
b. The usual practice for any such offended reader was to contact the author and point to the need for correction, and he was surprised at the absence of any such effort.
c. He wondered whether he had cited Nicholas far too often, and whether those were indeed the original ideas and work of Nicholas. He politely but publicly asked Nicholas to provide some evidence of actual original work.
- Independent Assessment: Point-By-Point Rebuttal
Knowledgeable readers did their own independent review and assessment of all the charges. The wonder of the Internet is that we do not have to assess that based on their credentials, race, color, age, gender or national origin: we can look at the evidence directly at this website. In the technical parlance with which I am familiar, this is called a ‘point-by-point rebuttal’. Complete. With evidence and logic. No shrillness needed or appropriate. In the street parlance with which I am also familiar, this would be called a ‘butt-kicking’ or, in less genteel terms, an “ass-whupping”. It leaves little doubt that the allegations of plagiarism are without merit, and indeed, they are utterly incompetent and malicious.
I am aware of a few situations where one had to carefully consider the issue of plagiarism. One involved a student who had quoted extensively from a textbook in the Introduction to his PhD thesis, and had got the reference wrong. The new PhD had proudly sent his thesis to the author of the textbook among others with compliments. The issue came to light when the ex-student discovered at a conference that the textbook author was angry. The situation was rectified by prompt and thorough correction. All concerned were informed, the thesis was defended again, the published version was replaced. Dr XYZ was satisfied. The ex-student is now really internationally renowned.
Other stories involve students in courses. A good university has enlightened policies: There is a swift determination of the facts, intent and need for a lesson. Usually the result is a zero on the particular test or assignment. A good teacher may also turn around and provide a harsh additional assignment with ample opportunity for an educational redemption, and even a fair chance for a decent course grade. But this requires a decent administration, honest students, and honest professors as those students’ advisors – not a wise gamble these days. While cheating is not condoned or ignored, in no event does a civilized university go on a gleeful lynch-mob romp reminiscent of “To Kill a Mockingbird”.
Princeton University does have a particularly nasty reputation. A 1982 case reported in the New York Times and as I recall, in TIME, concerned a young woman with a name clearly not WASP, at the end of a stellar undergraduate record. Her degree was suspended for a year and the law firms that had made offers to her were informed that this was because of plagiarism in a final paper in a Spanish class. The charge was that although she had cited a source 5 times, and made her professor well aware of her intention to use that source, that was not enough. When she sued, Judge William A. Dreier professed shock at “an overreaction” and ”at .. a knee-jerk reaction to the label plagiarism rather than looking at the circumstance of the situation.’‘ . Princeton’s lawyers prevailed. The facts were never explored. The courts had to decide only whether they could get involved in the university’s decision making. Today the Federal Educational Right to Privacy law would nail anyone who revealed any such personal information to the outside world as Princeton did. But little else has changed from basically an Inquisition system, per the Daily Princetonian.
Princeton of course has different standards for its administrators and Trustees. The Dean of Architecture was eased out of Deanship citing “lack of familiarity with Princeton’s plagiarism policy” after he submitted a ‘contribution’ to an international exhibition, taken verbatim from Wikipedia without attribution. Standards are different further up the food chain. The co-Chairman of Princeton’s Board of Trustees is the Governor of New Jersey, now running for the Republican nomination for President of the USA. In 2009, this former Attorney General allegedly used segments from a British show without attribution in campaign ads.
In the case of other faculty, the charge of plagiarism can be career-ending. It is likely to result in suicide. Fierce and destructive law-suits can also result. Otherwise one is blessed like Princeton with the legal environment of the Colonial Carribbean in the movie “Lock Up Your Daughters” that constituted my introduction to Western Culture as an undergrad in the IIT: “If she screams ‘rape’ then he must hang. If he was innocent then she must hang”. So a fair person does not make such a charge lightly. One thinks carefully: How deliberate was this? Did the person really try to pass off stolen work as his/her own? Why? Was there a monetary benefit? Was it out of laziness? Just to save effort – the reason for most student problems under severely stress of the end of the semester? Has public irrepairable damage been done? Is it just a matter of omitting some quotation marks?
The present charges fail all those tests.
Mr. Malhotra does not NEED to copy any of these people’s so-called ‘works’. He does not need knowledge from them. He is not in the business of inventing history or philosophy. He refers to them mainly to illustrate and expose the ignorance, and sometimes the debates within their community – which would be hard to do without quoting their statements extensively. His books are indeed ‘polemic’, not academic texts. He certainly does not quote them to save time – it would be much easier to not quote them at all. The most probable explanation for Malhotra’s 30 citations of Mr. Nicholson’s work is that he saw some hope of Nicholson being able to improve on the standards of the RISA. Mr. Malhotra was evidently wrong: Nicholson swears allegiance and adoration of his thesis advisor Sheldon Pollock, who (surprised?) graduated under the same advisor as Wendy Doniger. See below under “RISA” for the significance of those names.
In a field where original work is rare, and faculty spend their time on Internet blogs rather than writing research proposals, deriving equations or conducting experiments, and publish few papers, citations are the currency of bragging rights. Mr. Malhotra may have wanted to help out the young Mr. Nicholson, lately on the tenure track. Having got tenure, however, Nicholson declares that Malhotra does not know Sanskrit. The Independent Reader/Reviewer analysis shows clearly that there is absolutely no substance in the charges made. Which leaves only the one conclusion: the charges are malicious. Perhaps Mr. Malhotra should check the dictionary for a Hindi/Urdu term: ‘NamakHarAm’.
But come on! You might say. Why would these Academics stoop so low? I can help you there, because I can easily believe that they would. They are from the crowd that tried to put sand in the mouths, figuratively speaking, of leprosy patients. Of orphans. Of battered women. Of the poorest of the poor. Back in 2002. Several of us had to spend thousands of hours fighting that war [15-16]until they were run of town in laughter. So below, let us consider some other motives behind the “U-Turn” and Young’s media- coordinated gang attack.
- The RISA-Lila
Since retiring from business some 20 years ago, Mr. Malhotra focused attention on the abusive misrepresentation of Indian and specifically Hindu culture, religion and contributions. In 1999 he systematically exposed the bias in CNN’s reporting on India before and after the Kargil War. He then went on to study the RISA – the Religion in South Asia ‘scholarly’ group comprised of faculty in US and some European ‘south asia’ and ‘religious studies’ schools. Stunned by the ignorance, he tried engaging some in debate, but found their web fora, let alone their journals, closed to contributions from so-called “lay” people – a silly arrogance that would be unthinkable in, say, engineering. For instance, so-called librarians from England, yoga instructors from Alabama, English teachers from Pakistan, and first-year graduate students were welcomed as Scholars on Hinduism and India, but knowledgeable and articulate people such as Malhotra were shut out, and even professors such as Dr. Balagangadhar from Europe were barely allowed to post.
In 2004, the RISA met with reality: they realized that the outside world was hurting themselves laughing using their deep ‘scholarly’ posts as soccer balls of ignorance to kick around. They decided to go underground. Some resurfaced circa 2006 as part of the herd of Top 100 Indologists led by Harvard Professor Michael Witzel and his faithful sidekick Mr. Steve “I have been learning Sanskrit for 3 months” Farmer.
Malhotra wrote two devastating exposes, titled RISA-lila 1  and 2  (a take on the phrase Rasa-lila denoting Sri Krishna’s youth), describing the inbred nature of RISA. RISA is dominated by PhDs from one particular group at the University of Chicago led by one Ms. Wendy Doniger, known for her pornographic representation of Hinduism. All copies of her latest book had to be ‘pulped’ by Pengui executives in India in 2013, faced with the prospect of jail under the laws against hate-inciting mischief.
Denied access to the journals of the inbred American Academy of Religion, Mr. Malhotra took to the Internet at the height of the Internet boom. For the first time, tens of thousands of Indians and Hindus had equal access, time and connectivity to realize the scam that was being perpetrated by the Religious Studies and Divinity Schools. Mr. Malhotra’s name recognition grew, and even in India people started realizing that there was an alternative to currying favor with Harvard, Oxford and Chicago. Much has been written exposing the RISA’s trademark specialties.
- And so the Motive..
As realization has dawned slowly in the less Web-savvy communities of India, demand for Malhotra’s articles zoomed, prompting him to come out with published books. There are now four. The real topic of fear for the RISA appears to be the impending fifth. That is titled “Battle for Sanskrit”. It is expected to directly expose and focus on the activities of the group headed by Sheldon Pollock, Mr. Nicholson’s thesis advisor.
Mr. Nicholson’s ‘U-Turn’ (I am borrowing that term from Mr. Malhotra!) against someone who cited his own work 30 times, and apparently with approval not antipathy, raises some serious issues of motive, albeit an admirable sense of survival. His declaration of undying loyalty to his ex-Advisor is as touching as it is entertaining: he can kiss goodbye to promotion to full professor otherwise, and be like Mr. Young. Nah! It is just par for the course, for the RISA.
- The Attackers
Rajeev Srinivasan succinctly describes the attackers. They come from a lobby where three interests converge: First are the fundamentalist Baptist conversionist/ ‘evangelists’ out to Save the Souls of people all over the world, particularly India, by destroying their native culture and religions. The second lobby is the extreme-left combination of Marxist anarchists relevance-challenged by the demise of global communism, and the extreme-Islamists funded from the Pakistani/Saudi Wahabi cartels to destroy democracy. These are people who stand around in San Francisco or New York on July 4 and August 15 holding posters proclaiming “Death To Terrorist India and America!” or “Brick by brick, wall by wall, US Imperialism Will Fall!” (see ). The third are the supporters of the Indian National Congress party, who are now out of power and hate those who voted them out.
Mr. Richard Fox Young appears to be mostly of the 1st group, though with a following from the second and third. His specialty is best summed up as “Why Do The Heathen Rage?” as bellowed by Presbyterian and Baptist preachers every Sunday. He has written about the Resistance of Hindus to conversion and destruction of their religion, of the Resistance of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Japan likewise to destruction and conversion, and now is stunned by the resistance of the Hindus in the USA to conversion and destruction. Young is listed as an Associate Professor 35 years after he got his PhD, 43 years after an MA, working at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Interesting place, this Seminary, It is located near but not affiliated with the University any more than the Princeton Wines LLC liquor store is part of the University. They claim to be part of the ‘Princeton Community’. Such differences are lost on attention-challenged and gullible Indian ‘journalists’, and the confusion has been used to advantage. For instance, Richard Land, an alumnus of the Seminary, was allegedly caught confusing the two before he was eventually fired for his racist comments, and for plagiarizing a Washington Times correspondent in his radio commentary. Young’s feelings towards Hinduism are clearly displayed under his photo on Twitter, and leave no doubt that this attack has little to do with any objective concern about ethics: it is a coordinated attack much more like what Atanu Dey described .
9. The Investigation
One result of all this is that people have woken up, and Andrew Nicholson’s methodology has come under the scanner. Reading that shrill blog whine, it is hard to imagine any deep philosophy being present at its source. More than one knowledgeable person have identified one source of ‘his’ ideas as the Indian philosopher Surendranath Dasgupta. At this writing, his PhD thesis and later writings are being examined by experts. The indicators that I see being tossed around, are quite disturbing.
At SUNY, the administration is even more loyal to faculty than Princeton’s. The chairman of their classics department was accused of lifting translations of Latin texts and presenting them as his own work. Complaints with proof from Italy prompted a SUNY professor to investigate and convey his shocked findings to the top Administration. The Italians asked again a year later. It was not until The Chronicle of Higher Education published the story even later that there was any action. So Nicholson should be safe, if indeed he has only taken knowledge from mere Indian Hindus. Maybe this is RISA-Lila, Part 3.
 Historian Richard Fox Young Accuses Writer Rajeev Malhotra of Plagiarism. In.com, July 7, 2015. https://in.newshub.org/historian-richard-fox-young-accuses-writer-rajeev-malhotra-plagiarism-17530702.html
 Dey, Atanu, “Circular Firing Squad of Flying Attack Monkeys Target Rajiv Malhotra”. July 17, 2015. http://www.deeshaa.org/2015/07/17/circular-firing-squad-of-flying-attack-monkeys-target-rajiv-malhotra/
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