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.
This support letter is up to 135+ signatures from concerned scholars. Among the signatories:
Sukeshi Kamra (whose work was plagiarized by Vikram Sampath)
— Dr. Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) February 24, 2022
My attention has been drawn to this letter below. I had never seen it before, and contrary to what is claimed there, I have not signed it, neither as Ramachandra Guha nor as "Ram Guha". https://t.co/xJj1BIDx3C
— Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) February 27, 2022
It has come to my notice that I am listed as a signatory to this letter. I did not receive the contents of this particular letter and never signed it. I also have institutional affiliations that would have been part of my signature. https://t.co/QisJFjv8EV
— Pratap Bhanu Mehta (@pbmehta) February 27, 2022
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”.
PSA — Unsurprisingly, an open letter from academic colleagues supporting scholarly honesty and integrity was vandalized by Hindu Right IT cells, with the goal of manufacturing confusion and fear.
The letter is now closed, for security. Viewable here: https://t.co/NlD2QHn7Yk
— Dr. Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) February 27, 2022
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.
Absolutely delighted to share that the @RoyalHistSoc has elected me as a Fellow of the Royal History Society in recognition of "contribution to historical scholarship." I'm immensely grateful for this rare honour both to me & Indian historiography as a whole! pic.twitter.com/zc7MRObt1W
— Dr. Vikram Sampath, FRHistS (@vikramsampath) September 30, 2021
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.
PSA — For those of you in the Hindu Rashtra, you're seeing a lightly censored version of my Twitter feed. To anyone who dislikes retaliatory censorship of historians based on racist, colonial-era laws, my sympathies.
Every other country in the world — We're good; no change.
— Dr. Audrey Truschke (@AudreyTruschke) February 26, 2022
This report has been updated to add a tweet by professor Audrey Truschke.