[INDOLOGY] Malhotra and plagiarism

Dominik Wujastyk wujastyk at gmail.com
Thu Jul 23 08:25:34 UTC 2015

Dear Prof. Elst,

I wondered, as I began reading your post, whether there were quotation
marks missing from the sentence beginning, "After all, he had only quoted a
Westerner...."  Were you meaning to quote Malhotra, I asked myself, or were
you speaking in your own voice?    As I read on, I realized that you are
speaking in your own voice.  When I reached your second paragraph,
"Established Western scholars who only talk to one another...",  it became
obvious to me that you are willing to speak judgementally and dismissively
of a whole profession on the basis of a criterion that has something to do
with geography, rather than intrinsic merit or careful, engaged and
informed scholarship.  It is also possible to read your statement as a
specific insult to the other members of the INDOLOGY list, that you
consider them "western scholars who only talk to one another."  As you
probably know, insulting members of this list, from within the list, is not
a behaviour that is tolerated by the managing committee of the INDOLOGY

I personally do not believe there is an east-west divide in intellectual
ability or viewpoint.  I do not believe in "The West" as a category of
thought that has anything useful to offer, and certainly not as a method of
categorization that has any intellectual reality or merit. It has been my
observation through many decades of engagement in academic life that there
is good and bad scholarship to be found in all parts of the world and at
all times in history.  Wouldn't it be lovely if it scholarly excellence
were so easy to establish!  If scholars could be judged as good or bad
because of being "western," or "Jewish," or "Hindu" or "Black," "White,"
"female," or any other regional, racial or gender category.  But it is not
so.  Whatever colour we are, whatever part of the world we live in, we all
have to work very hard to understand difficult ideas, and to make
judgements that demonstrate integrity and knowledge.

And this hard work involves much careful study, much discussion with
friends and colleagues, the exposure of one's ideas to teachers, peer
reviewers, and at conferences.  Intellectual work consists of composition,
exposition, and debate, said Sa-Skya Pandita in the thirteenth century.
This is what it means to be a worthwhile academic.  It is not a matter of
winning or losing, of being more insulting than the next person.  It is not
a political contest.  It is a matter of developing more subtlety, deeper
insight, and a finer sensibility towards truth.  Even someone whose ideas
are shown to be wrong is a "winner," since we all strive for truth.  Most
important of all, intellectual life is not a matter of defending oneself.
Good academics are very interested in ideas and knowledge; they are not
much interested in personality and personal conflict, or in prestige or
public perception.

You present yourself as having performed the lonely task of providing the
members of this list with links to Malhotra's responses.  But you err in
thinking that the subset of members of this list who are interested in the
accusations of plagiarism against Malhotra would not be following the
debate in the media, just as you are.  This list is not the be-all and
end-all of indological debate.  It is a forum where just some specialist
questions are asked and answered.  You are not personally called upon to
promote a particular point of view in a debate that does not concern you,
for the supposed good of others.  You do not have the right or the
responsibility to set the agenda for what others should be thinking about.
The members of this list have quite as much experience as you in reading
public media and in making up their own minds about what they think.

You, apparently Malhotra, and others have made at least two important
category errors in your responses to this matter.  First, at the heart of
this discussion, it is not Malhotra that is the main topic.  It is the
plagiarism in his writings that is the issue.  There's a difference.
Malhotra has responded with mighty indignation as if he personally has been
attacked, as if he is in a titanic struggle between The Indian Tradition
and The West, and pointing out his plagiarism is a sly attack on India or
Hinduism.  This is theatrical nonsense.  Malhotra seeks to redefine the
terms of the discussion and place himself at the centre of things, perhaps
because his goals are political not academic.  He reduces the matter from
an discussion about academic ethics to a cheap bar-room brawl between
himself and Nicholson.  The reality is, there are questions hanging over
his academic writing, that appears by the criteria of the Princeton
guidelines to contain plagiarized passages.

Second, it is not a war, a battle or a titanic inter-cultural struggle.  We
would all increase our understanding of the issue if we avoided military
metaphors.  They don't help; they rarely help.  The second category error
is to see this matter of plagiarism as a war, a contest or an east-west
struggle.  It is what it is, no more, no less.  Professional groups develop
practices that help them: climbers use ropes, sky-divers use parachutes.
The academic profession has evolved behaviours that have been shown by
centuries of experience to help in the search for right knowledge.
Plagiarism does not help.  It appears that Malhotra has committed
plagiarism, according to the criteria accepted by the profession (the
Princeton criteria, for example).  What next?  The author may do nothing,
or he may correct his books, or he may try to prove that he has not
plagiarized.  Everything else is meaningless bluster.

Dominik Wujastyk

On 22 July 2015 at 17:08, <koenraad.elst at telenet.be> wrote:

> Dear listfolk,
> After having provided the link to what Malhotra has to say to Andrew
> Nicholson's attack on him (linked even earlier), here is the link to what
> he is doing about  it: http://swarajyamag.com/culture/nicholsons-untruths/
> Briefly, in agreement with the publisher, he is throwing Nicholson entirely
> out of his book, replacing him by Indian authors writing on the same
> unifying-Hinduism efforts. After all, he had only quoted a Westerner
> because that is more prestigious and unsuspect, but there is a lot of
> better knowledge about Hindu tradition among Hindus themselves. In the
> spirit of decolonization, he is taking this opportunity to highlight Indian
> scholars in the "decolonized" second version of Indra's Net. The broader
> context of which the present controversy forms part, is given here:
> http://www.firstpost.com/living/decolonising-indology-rajiv-malhotra-wont-follow-rules-set-west-2356234.html
>  Established Western scholars who only talk to one another, might not
> realize it, but as I notice in non-mainstream media, Malhotra is turning
> the tables on his attackers, and is coming out of this affair with
> increased prestige.
> While some of you have provided links to the attacks on him, it has fallen
> to me to provide links to his responses. Given your apparent interest in
> the affair, this must have been a useful service. Amid the holy indignation
> about plagiarism by a man who has amply referred to Nicholson and quoted
> him many times, thus annulling the very rationale a plagiarist would have,
> I find it more anomalous that so many academics consider it perfectly
> normal to hear (and act on) only one half of the story. As Hegel said, "das
> Wahre ist das Ganze" (truth is the whole). But no, the fact that I have
> made his voice audible has served as proof among several scholars that I
> must be in agreement with him, or even in his pay. The latter allegation,
> and conspiracy theory, sure to be a hit among fishwives, betrays an
> interesting mentality: the assumption that defending someone's right to be
> heard implies agreeing with him. By that principle, even Hitler and Stalin
> were champions of free speech -- at least the free speech of those who
> agreed with them. It ought to be obvious to scholars that hearing a
> position and agreeing with that position are two different things. Well
> yeah, while the affair loses its steam, it becomes time for me to formulate
> my own thoughts about it, tomorrow or so.
> Fortunately, we can conclude on a positive note. We should take heart from
> the complaint uttered here that, while so many people signed a petition
> opposing the pulping of Wendy Doniger's book, so few have now signed the
> petition demanding the pulping of Malhotra's book. At that time, I wrote
> that there may be many things wrong with Doniger's book (indeed, a great
> many), but that banning it is not the answer. It seems that today, a
> healthy majority here thinks that to the few things wrong with Malhotra's
> book, banning is still not the right answer.
> Kind regards,
> Koenraad Elst

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