[INDOLOGY] Malhotra and plagiarism

koenraad.elst at telenet.be koenraad.elst at telenet.be
Thu Jul 23 20:08:31 UTC 2015

Dear Prof Wujastyk, dear others, 

>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.< 
Well, that is an interesting case study in the non-use of quote marks even when entering someone else's mind. Malhotra never said: "After all, I am only quoting a Westerner" (so, no quote marks), but that phrase does sum up the thought process that explains his subsequent behaviour, viz. replacing a Western source (Nicholson) by Indian sources, "decolonizing" his own narrative. No, this was not me speaking, it was me trying to enter the thought process in Malhotra's mind that explains his behaviour. Actually a very normal procedure in non-academic writing. 
>  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 forum. < 
Good to hear this, having freshly been the target (along with Vishal Agarwal) of false allegations by the listmaster of another list, who moreover barred me from answering. A tenured academic, the umpteenth counter-example to the common belief that an academic position implies open-mindedness and integrity.  So, I will really think twice about speaking "judgementally and dismissively of a whole profession on the basis of a criterion that has something to do with geography". As a reread of my text (not too much to ask from a philologist) will allow you to verify, I have done no such thing. I only assume that there exist "Established Western scholars who only talk to one another" (I've met/read a few) without pretending to know how many there are, let alone assuming that all members of this list or of the profession satisfy that description. 
>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!< 
You echo my own words in a recent intervention on Rajiv Malhotra's list. In that forum, such a restatement of the obvious was necessary (and was supported by Malhotra), because numerous Indians simplify the problem to an ethnic divide.  However, through colonialism, the power equation in the formation of Indology has had a real impact, more than we now seem to realize, and there is merit in addressing that heritage. The ethnic faultlines have badly been blurred, however. Thus, many Western "South-Asian Studies scholars" (as opposed to Indologists) strike an anti-Hindu position on any issue under the sun, not out of Western imperialism or so, but in deference to their Indian and Indo-American peers, who in turn have interiorized the "Macaulayite" attitudes imparted to an earlier generation by the then-dominant Britishers. Thus, the institute recently set up in Berkeley which, in Malhotra's terms, uses the langage of human rights as a pretext for "breaking India", consists mostly of Indo-Americans pursuing an intra-Indian agenda, rather than being (as many Indians imagine) some kind of CIA agents. 
 >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.< 
Wonderful, I couldn't have said it better. The Dark Ages were not so dark after all. But in that case, where are the scholars here who want to "debate" the man at the heart of the controversy that seems to move at least a few among you? I see a lot of spitting at him behind his back, but face-to-face debate? 
I see more pseudo-debates than real debates: all participants agreeing on the real issue but dramatizing minor differences to create a semblance of debate. As Noam Chomsky said, the best way to impose conformity of opinion is to have debates about minor matters but respecting a consensus on the major issue. This is true on TV talkshows, alright, but also on academic platforms. Some of you seem to have strong opinions on free speech, as I remember from the Wendy Doniger book withdrawal affair. Alright then, an example about free speech. 
In the year of the Danish cartoon affair, the AAR at its annual conference held a panel debate about the cartoons. Of the six participants (or seven, including the moderator), not one defended "free speech, period". I had vaguely thought that "free speech, period" was enshrined in the US Constitution and thus rather humdrum, but no, it was the target of attack of the entire AAR spectrum of opinion; academics all of them. All of them attacked that position, mostly starting their stories with: "I am all for freedom of speech, BUT...." And then they followed up with essentially the same position taken by Dina Nath Batra to muzzle Wendy Doniger: "...free speech doesn't mean the freedom to insult." For all I care, they may even have been right and the unrepresented pro-free-speech position may have been wrong, who knows. But even then: it was not a debate. And except for me, nobody seemed to find that problematic. 
Come to think of it, Batra was only repeating the position enunciated a few years earlier by a unanimous panel at the AAR. So, if you disagree with Batra, i.e. if you think that free speech does imply the right to insult, please pick up the courage to say so at the AAR conference. 
>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.< 
Well, I agree that life would have passed just fine if no one had mentioned the Malhotra affair here. Point conceded. But then, you could have said this to the first person who provided anti-Malhotra links, and whom I only followed up with the links conspicuously missing. I had no intention of discussing the (to me, surprising) Malhotra affair here, until I saw someone else do so, moreover in very strong terms. Since those seemed to be the established ways on this list, I only followed suit, though in more measured terms.  
Kind regards,  
Koenraad Elst      

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