Dawn News

Subcontinental plagiarism

IT was Fareed Zakaria’s misfortune that he was born in the Google era, a double-edged sword. “While it is extremely tempting to plagiarise these days because it is easy, it is also easier to catch the plagiarist,” a senior editor commented when the prominent Time magazine and CNN journalist was recently caught.

Zakaria is not the only one we know of who has indulged in the practice. He is simply one who immediately apologised and admitted his mistake.

There is a long history of plagiarism in our subcontinent, and those found copying from books and articles written by others include a number of prominent names of Urdu literature. They were luckier than Zakaria, as their handiwork was exposed much later; there was no Google then. But they do stand exposed.

Prominent journalist Syed Hasan Masanna Nadvi and his colleagues have done some research on plagiarism that was carried by the literary magazine Mehr-i-Neemroze, launched in the 1950s, and has now been compiled into a book. Che Dilawar Ast is a ready reference on plagiarism, and these facts have been borrowed from it.

Krishan Chander is a big name of the progressive writers’ movement, and a very popular one. He wrote the preface for Mawra, the first collection of the prominent poet Noon Meem Rashid, which was an immediate hit. But it was later discovered that the preface was an adaptation and translation from C.D. Lewis’ book, A Hope for Poetry, which spoke of new trends in English literature. Nowhere did Chander mention that it was a translation, or even refer to Lewis.

Niaz Fatehpuri, another well-known name in Urdu literature, was editor of the literary magazine Nigar, which dominated the subcontinent’s literary scene for around four decades. He wrote on subjects ranging from literature to religion to sex. Commenting on new ideas in literature, he penned a book called Intiqadiat that immediately became very popular for its high level of intellectual discourse. It was after some time had lapsed that scholars read William Henry Hudson’s book, An Introduction to the Study of Literature, of which Fatehpuri’s book was an adapted translation, including references in Intiqadiat to other western critics. Fatehpuri only once mentioned Hudson, in passing, and had not directly studied any of the other critics.

But then Fatehpuri had always been suspected of plagiarism. One of his popular books — which is still very popular — is Targhibaat-i-Jinsi, an adaptation of Studies in the Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis. Fatehpuri selected passages out of the six volumes of Ellis’ work and combined them into one book, at some places changing expressions and geography to create the impression that his work was original.

Who hasn’t read Ismat Chughtai’s short stories and novels and fallen for her? Anyone who has read Lihaaf or Til or Masooma or Ziddi is fond of her. The latter, which was also made into a film, is an almost plagiarised version of a Turkish writer’s novel, Hajira.

The Turkish author, who wrote by the pseudonym of Adalat Khanam, penned Hajira in English in the late 19th century. After prominent historian Amir Ali highly appreciated the book in his presidential address at the Calcutta Mohammedan Educational Conference in 1897, it was translated into Urdu in 1899.

Some 43 years later, Chughtai came out with her novella, Ziddi. She changed the Turkish, Muslim names into Hindu names and turned the comedy into a tragedy. Most of the plot, dialogue and setting remain the same; if there was a fire in Hajira, it was there in Ziddi as well, with the hero risking his own life to save the heroine and others, to mention just one similarity from among hundreds.

While the list goes on, from poet Ghalib to modern-day humorists, there is one person who cannot be ignored: Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the former president of India and author of the book Indian Philosophy. The work was immediately challenged by one Jadunath Sinha, a student of Radhakrishnan’s who had submitted his dissertation to him and another instructor.

When Radhakrishnan’s book was published, Sinha wrote a number of letters to Calcutta’s Modern Review magazine claiming that passages from his dissertation had been stolen for the book. Radhakrishnan’s misfortune was that many of Sinha’s articles had already been published in magazines before the publication of the book, giving weight to Sinha’s claim.

And then there was Qazi Abdul Ghaffar, who copied Kahlil Gibran in Us nay Kaha and Aleksandr Kuprin in his book Laila ke Khutoot. Prominent playwright and humorist Imtiaz Ali Taj ‘created’ a character, Chacha Chhakkan, who was in fact copied from English writer Jerome K. Jerome.

These are just some of those who borrowed from the works of others from among the long list of shining stars of Urdu literature. The only difference for those born in the Google age is that they can’t hide as long as their predecessors did.

The writer is associate editor, the Herald.

Comments (32) Closed

Aug 14, 2012 09:59am
Fareed Zakaria is an original thinker in political analysis and a prolific writer, TV commentator, News magazine editor, lecturer think tank participator and organizer - all at the same time -- for such a 7/24 insane paced life he must be reading extensively, taking notes copiously the tired genius must have forgotten to credit a few passages to their original authors here and there.
Rafiq Mangi
Aug 15, 2012 10:11am
A very nice write-up.
Aug 17, 2012 03:31pm
Are you serious?
Aug 14, 2012 11:24am
Aug 14, 2012 12:21pm
Many variations of Romeo and Juliet already existed long before Shakespeare penned it. Even religious books contain passages that have been borrowed. Of course, fear of violence prevents a deeper exploration.
Aug 14, 2012 05:08am
Good article. Hope it wasn't copied from anywhere ,lol
Aug 14, 2012 05:11am
There are different levels of plagiarism. The more mundane and common forms of plagirism is what Zakaria did and immediately admitted. Copying parts of dissertations of some other scholars without attribution is a another common example. But In literature to say what is plagiarism is more difficult. Using a storyline of a comedy and turning it into a tragedy with Hindu characters is not a case of plagiarism if the language, descriptions, genre (tragedy) and dialogue result in a new work. Even Shakespeare's plays were adaptations of well-known existing myths and stories but his plays created something new that did not exist before.
Aug 14, 2012 07:03am
Idrees seems to be wide off the mark.Commonlities of ideas does not make a piece plagiarized unless the original author's language has been used in verbatum.
Aug 14, 2012 07:10am
Sir, What Mr. Zakaria did was not common or mundane issue. Perhaps you should read the original text that he copied from for comparison. This epidemic problem is not a South Asian or an eastern issue -it is simply a lack of integrity issue which a Harvard man or an editor making millions is fully aware of. And unfortunately integrity is something that does not come with education or money.
Aug 14, 2012 07:21am
If your readers are interested in an interesting and robust discussion of Fareed Zakaria's "plagiarism", go here: http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/10/... Even I now doubt whether he committed plagiarism despite his apology.
Haji Ashfaq
Aug 14, 2012 07:40am
Agree with your last sentence.
Haji Ashfaq
Aug 14, 2012 07:48am
I knew Mr Idris Bakhtiayar as a BBC correspondent in Karachi, decades ago. But he has analysed the controversy very well. When I had read of Farid Zakria's reprimand and one month suspension, I felt somewhat confused. Thousands of versions of plagiarism exist but what is Original ? Everybody copies somebody - somehow.
Aug 14, 2012 07:53am
i work in this field. what most likely happened was an oversight rather than wilful wrong doing. let me explain. the editor is the one who usually gives out ideas and with his team of people discusses a topic before it goes to production. at his level it is very unlikely that he himself read the para and copied it. most likely the work of an underling who did a bad cut-paste. but since he immeditely accepted the mistake an inquiry i believe will quicly absolve him. this is my take.
Aug 14, 2012 08:17am
There is very little original work in this world. Learning and being inspired by other (consciously or unconsciously so) is one of the defining characters of human beings! The above is obviously not a valid excuse for failing to mention the names of your inspirations.
Arfat Ahmad (@arfatahmad)
Aug 14, 2012 08:25am
Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.
Aug 14, 2012 09:31am
One act of plagiarism cannot destroy ,the remaining act of creative footprints of an individual . Can it ??? Can we judge & conclude regarding a person by just one act ? Every individual in his/her life has restored to plagiarism atleast once ! No body is Saint !
Cyrus Howell
Aug 14, 2012 01:50pm
Not so serious. Everyone makes mistakes. He thought that would never happen to him. He will be back.
javed qamer
Aug 14, 2012 02:54pm
Fareed Zakaria was caught twice for plagiarising articles. It is a very serious mistake. Several journalists in the Washington Post have been found to plagiarise and fired. Fareed by admitting after the fact does not absolve him of the guilt. He should be fired from all media sources.
Aug 14, 2012 03:14pm
' Integrity' (or lack of it) is not taught at Harvard or Yale or other Ivy leagues. But it tends to infect a major part of Wall Street and politics too. Remember who actually falsely cried to the world of WMD?
Aug 14, 2012 03:23pm
Very funny... You jokin, right?
Aug 14, 2012 03:26pm
No... If it is unattributed, it is plagiarism. And it is not just a Eastern thing, it just sub-continentals do it a lot and are very bad at it. Any half decent editor/fact checker would catch them in a couple of hours,
Aug 14, 2012 04:37pm
It is not only just the language but ideas as well, even if they have been paraphrased and expressed in their own language. The difference is how you quote those ideas in your work. For reference please google academic integrity for any good Western University.
Aug 14, 2012 04:41pm
If you copy one person its plagiarism, if you copy more than one it is research. What say you ?
Aug 14, 2012 04:53pm
I am sometimes confused as to who copied whose work because it seems that in old times only those who traveled had access to others' work. For example, I am always confused about poems like "The spider and the fly", "a mountain and a squirrel" that we were told were written by Allama Iqbal but I later learned that they were also written by Mary Howitt and Ralph Waldo Emerson respectively. Of course I cannot imagine Allama Iqbal copying others' work and therefore I am surprised that great poets (and authors) like the two named above copied Dr. Iqbal's work.
Khalq e Khuda
Aug 14, 2012 10:07pm
As pointed out the king of plagiarism is indeed Shakespeare. But the difference writer fails to understand in fiction it is more about the art of writing as opposed to the content of it. Case in point Iambic parameter which made Shakespeare a legend.
Aug 15, 2012 12:22am
Electrical Engineering book by B L Theraja is a collection of various international books on different topis. I have verified several complete pages verbatim in various sections.
Aug 15, 2012 12:50am
Good writers write independently however when they start searching for evidence to back their work/claims, they come across some other appealing ideas which sometimes become difficult to resist and then suddenly without even realizing it , copying of words , paragraphs or even titles are taken from others works, specially, in academic disciplines. The real test of an independent minded writer is how temptation to steal or copy is resisted when the idea is supremely narrated by someone else?
Aug 15, 2012 01:47am
Plagiarists at least have the quality of preservation.
M.P. Prabhakaran
Aug 15, 2012 02:24am
If your readers are interested in finding out that the 'crime' Fareed Zakaria has committed is not so egregious as to deserve the kind of media persecution we are witnessing, I invite them to read the latest article posted on www.eastwestinquirer.com. Fareed or his research assistant picked facts from a secondary source and failed to cite the source, the article argues. But he did not steal steal anybody's original idea, which should be the actual basis for any plagiarism charge.
Aug 15, 2012 06:36am
As long as you cite and give credit to the original authors there is no problem. And BTW a research is not completed by "copying" other people. It is done by developing/concluding your own ideas based on what others have done.
Aug 15, 2012 06:51am
I don't blame Urdu authors for this. It is a cultural problem. Never in my 12 years early education I was ever introduced to the idea of plagiarism in Urdu literature. I don't even know if proper referencing guideline exist in Urdu. During the high school years, I won a few awards in Urdu essay writing but I have never seen Urdu academic essay or an article with references. So I think this is some thing that should be introduced in very early stages of education. Most international students when they come to US for higher education, often have difficulty in comprehending plagiarism concept. Sadly, many people don't seem to realize that it is cheating to copy some else's work. But then again, unfortunately, there are very different standards on what is considered cheating.
Manzoor Hussain
Aug 16, 2012 07:29am
Why people want to re-invent the wheel, it is better to innovate it. Second, one who seems to be copying others is also a good reader and researcher. No body can create things himself, it is inspiration from the nature or already work done. If not, it means the one who make aeroplane copied it from birds?...... isn't it?