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Straight Talk: Plagiarism - its practice in an Indian context

Plagiarism is a serious offence in the academic world. Politicians and professors have lost their positions for it. Yet, Indian institutions are notably lax about it. Dr. Pushkar writes about what plagiarism is, and examines why it is so widespread in India.
BY Pushkar |   15-05-2015
For the many thousands of Indian students headed abroad to universities in North America, Europe or elsewhere this August, one of the first few (and new) things they will learn about, once their lectures begin, is plagiarism. At nearly all higher education institutions, when professors meet their students during the first week of classes, they will hand out course outlines (and/or post them online) which will contain, other than the course content and list of readings, a basic description about plagiarism, and (usually) links to more detailed information. Plagiarism is considered a form of cheating and is punishable. Most universities take the trouble to not only inform students about what plagiarism is but also recommend ways to avoid it.

A quick online search, for example, yielded the following information on plagiarism at the website of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC):

  • At UNC, plagiarism is defined as “the deliberate or reckless representation of another’s words, thoughts, or ideas as one’s own without attribution in connection with submission of academic work, whether graded or otherwise.”


  • Because it is considered a form of cheating, the Office of the Dean of Students can punish students who plagiarize with course failure and suspension.

Plagiarism is commonplace across colleges and universities in India. It is not something which we are well-informed about and/or take seriously. In many instances, plagiarists are not fully aware that what they are doing is unethical and deserving of sanction by their institution, teachers or their peers. This is especially true for undergraduate students, most of whom are focused on earning a degree in order to become eligible to sit for various competitive exams for different jobs, none of which require any significant competency in original academic or semi-academic writing. In many colleges and/or disciplines, students are not required to turn in written work in the form of term papers and essays. Where they are, faculty rarely advise them about plagiarism.

The incidence of plagiarism remains a huge problem even though, thanks to some high-profile cases, more and more people are becoming aware that it is unethical and wrong. In 2011, Bharat Ratna C.N.R. Rao, scientific adviser to the Prime Minister of India and one of India’s most celebrated scientists, survived a plagiarism scandal. More recently, Abhijit Chakrabarti, the Vice-Chancellor of Jadavpur University, was accused of plagiarism, and asked to resign (though for other reasons).

What is disconcerting in the Indian context is that plagiarists carry on without fear of official or social sanction, believing that they will not be found out, or if they are, they will get away with it. There is no other way to explain the high incidence of plagiarism by Indian doctors and me dical researchers in journal publications. Premier institutions such as Jawaharlal Nehru University have reported a growing incidence of plagiarism by post-graduate students, including material in their PhD dissertations. As if that was not enough, ‘original’ PhD dissertations can be reportedly purchased near the university campus.

The government has only recently started to treat plagiarism as a somewhat serious matter, particularly for faculty and post-graduate students.

For the past few years, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has been talking about making it obligatory for universities across the country to use anti-plagiarism software for PhD dissertations and other research work. Many universities have gone ahead and acquired anti-plagiarism software.

While there is no doubt that some progress has been made on the plagiarism front, many universities—even the better ones like Panjab University — are still working on devising a framework to address plagiarism and on the action to be taken in case charges are proved. Others, such as the University of Pune, have come up with a new set of rules and regulations to address plagiarism. At the national level, a UGC-created committee led by Sanjay Dhande (Founding Director, Mahindra École Centrale, Hyderabad) is working on a set of regulations to check the plagiarism menace, including punishments for plagiarised doctoral and post-doctoral dissertations and academic papers both by students and faculty.

What is quite clear is that none of the new tools, or rules, will help alleviate the problem without the government following up talk with action. Indeed, the government has been rather slow, even reluctant, to take action in many cases.

According to reports, Pondicherry University Vice Chancellor Chandra Krishnamurthy, other than claim authorship of non-existent books and journal articles, plagiarized nearly an entire book. The publisher of Ms Krishnamurthy’s plagiarized book accepted its mistake and withdrew the book in question. The publisher also denied publishing two books that Ms Krishnamurthy claims to have written. There appears to be conclusive evidence of academic fraud and plagiarism.

A two-member committee constituted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) began investigating the case in August 2014. So far, however, the committee has remained silent on the matter.

The incident is similar to one from just over 10 years ago when B. S. Rajput, also a vice-chancellor, was accused of plagiarism, but the government was unwilling to take any action. At that time, seven Stanford University professors, three of them Nobel laureates, had to write a letter to President A P J Abdul Kalam requesting him to get the matter investigated and punish the guilty. It took a widespread campaign at the national and international level before the government even appointed a committee to investigate the charges. In that case, however, the committee submitted its report in two months and the vice chancellor resigned.

Plagiarism is not an India- or Indian-specific problem. These days, students and faculty all over the world are expected to write and publish on a more regular basis. Not everyone has the skills, incentives, interest or time to do so. Plagiarism offers an easy way out. At the same time, students in particular should be aware that plagiarism is widely recognized as an unethical practice and can cause immense harm to their careers.

Pushkar is an Assistant Professor at the Dept of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa.

Twitter: PushHigherEd


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ND Reddy
That is
21 June 2015

ND Reddy
To know more about Mrs. Chandra Krishnamurthy, the current Vice Chancellor of Pondicherry University, please visit puta website.
21 June 2015

ND Reddy
Prof. Pushkar has rightly pointed out the attitude of the Union Government having double standards when it comes to high profile heads. Plagiarism is just one of the academic crimes that Mrs. Chandra Krishnamurthy committed. The whole curriculum vitae that was forwarded to the search committee is fake. She mentioned she published several articles in the following journals and listed only journal names. When we wrote to the publishers through RTI, they replied that they never published any article by that name. Unimaginable. She fetched a fake DLitt degree from a Sri Lankan University, which sells degrees (obviously this University is not recognized by UGC Sri Lanka). She claimed she guided 9 PhD students. Through RTI, we found that she guided only 2 PhD students. She never carried out any
21 June 2015

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