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Didn’t sign open letter to condemn Vikram Sampath’s defamation suit, Guha & Mehta say amid row

The open letter is being circulated in response to Vikram Sampath’s defamation suit against three academics over their charges of plagiarism. It calls the legal action ‘predatory’.

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New Delhi: Academics Ramachandra Guha and Pratap Bhanu Mehta have denied signing a letter that is being circulated online in support of scholars who accused historian Vikram Sampath of plagiarism.

The open letter is being circulated in response to Sampath’s defamation suit against three academics, in the Delhi High Court, seeking Rs 2 crore in damages.

Scholars Ananya Chakravarti, Audrey Truschke and Rohit Chopra — all history academics at US universities — had made the allegations of plagiarism against Sampath in two letters to the UK-based Royal Historical Society. They asked the society to revisit Sampath’s membership and subject his body of work to scrutiny.

After Sampath’s lawsuit against them, now a new open letter is being circulated, condemning “the predatory legal action initiated by Dr. Vikram Sampath and the harassment and intimidation campaign initiated by his supporters”. 

Truschke tweeted the letter, mentioning the name of Guha. However, Guha, Mehta, and others denied signing. The letter was in an open and crowdsourced form. It’s no longer taking in any responses.

ThePrint reached Guha and Mehta seeking a comment. However, Guha declined to comment, Mehta said he has “said all that I need to”.

Speaking to ThePrint about the allegations, Sampath said: “Forging peoples’ signatures is a criminal offense. Ramachandra Guha and Pratap Bhanu Mehta are eminent intellectuals. If their names can be misused like this, I’ll leave it to the people of this country to judge whose accusations are valid.”

Truschke posted a tweet after this report was published, alleging that the letter “was vandalized by Hindu Right IT cells, with the goal of manufacturing confusion and fear”.

Also read: Babri, Saraswati, Aryans – There are rival Indian histories now and campuses are the warzone

Accusations of plagiarism

Chaturvedi, Truschke and Chopra wrote to the Royal Historical Society on 11 February, and again on 15 February, highlighting instances of plagiarism in Sampath’s work on freedom fighter V.D. Savarkar. 

Using Turnitin software, the academics found similarities between Sampath’s work and the work of other scholars, most predominantly professor Janaki Bakhle and professor Vinayak D. Chaturvedi. While both are cited in Sampath’s 2017 essay ‘The Revolutionary Leader Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’, the analysis allegedly revealed 52 per cent plagiarism.

In a response to the analysis, Bakhle wrote that Sampath’s “essay gives the impression that Sampath is claiming my ideas and words as his own, and would be understood as such by readers”. 

Chakravarti, Truschke and Chopra alleged that Sampath cited them incorrectly and also lifted some of their sentences. They also wrote that he plagiarised an award-winning undergraduate thesis by a deceased student, Paul Schaffel. 

“While popular historians are a vital part of our profession and discipline, plagiarists cannot be,” the letter to the Royal Historical Society said. “Dr. Sampath’s predations against other academics, including members of the Society and against vulnerable unpublished student scholars, is in breach of both the letter and spirit of the Society’s stated ethics.” 

Sampath was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in September 2021. 

Sampath’s response

Sampath said the letter was part of an “international smear campaign” to discredit him for showing the “academic courage and gumption to challenge the prevailing narrative around a historical figure”, referencing his work biographing Savarkar.

The two-part biography has invited controversy over the narrative around the contentious historical figure.

Seeking damages and a permanent injunction, Sampath told the Delhi High Court that he has cited the scholars’ work and has not plagiarised it. The HC restrained publication of any defamatory tweets or the letter, saying that the continued publication of the letter is “causing considerable damage” to the reputation and career of Sampath.

The court also ordered Twitter to take down some of Truschke’s tweets. In response, Truschke tweeted that “nothing has been taken down or removed. It is censored within a single country; that it”.

This report has been updated to add a tweet by professor Audrey Truschke.

Also read: Godse was ‘yearning’ for Savarkar’s support in Gandhi murder trial court. But it never came


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