Why an Anti- Plagiarism Movement in India?

“When you have wit of your own, it's a pleasure to credit other people for theirs.”

Criss Jami, book Killosophy


“Yes we know what plagiarism is!” But does everyone really understand what classifies as plagiarism and what doesn’t?  The word plagiarism is a term bestowed upon when one submits or claims someone else’s work as her/his own without giving appropriate amount of credit to the original creator/s. As simple as it may sound, the definition of the term is ambiguous to many, and hence it may remain one of the complex issues in academics. Some concerns may include how much and what is considered as plagiarism? For few, the term “plagiarism” may be alien and they may remain ignorant of its existence. Asians in various universities are accused to be high on plagiary, and the cultural differences in the report highlight reasons such as unawareness of anti-plagiarism attitudes and language barriers.

Indian academia is plagued by plagiarism; a study quoted that India ranks fourth in academic paper frauds in the world. A few Indian studies reported that around 95% of MBA students, and about 88% of medical and paramedical students, from institutions in India, engaged in various forms of plagiarism and academic dishonesty. Quite a few articles have focused on Indian students engaging in forms of plagiarism across various courses abroad. To make matters worse, various Chancellors and Vice Chancellors, esteemed professors, and academic heads of prestigious Indian universities and colleges have been charged with intellectual theft.

However, it would be incorrect to merely backlash and draw a gory picture of the conditions. There have been a few improvements on this front which include - the proposal of plan of actions; steps to be taken when plagiarism has been detected, articles on the need for a statutory bodies like The Office of Research Integrity  of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, request for awareness among Indian researchers on need for strict actions and guidelines for the same.  Researchers have also aimed to understand the type of plagiarism prevalent in the Indian scenario and some measures taken to prevent it at the postgraduate and PhD levels. Like-minded scientists are promoting research integrity at the Society for Scientific Values. In order to improve the quality of academic research in India, the University Grants Commission has been taking efforts towards forming a committee and laying down stringent rules for PhD and MPhil research standards.

I believe that the few measures at the higher end are insufficient; we need some interventions at the grassroots, at the school and college levels.  Sadly, our state-sponsored education system still encourages rote learning. One of my friends from a reputed university wrote to me with frustration, that the students were expected to rote learn chapters even at the postgraduate-level, thereby shoving novel ideas down the drain so that they are neither appreciated nor accepted. Hence, installation of anti-plagiaristic values among the masses by uprooting the ‘copy paste’ attitude is the need of the hour.

So where does the problem begin? The simple Power Point presentations that students make to present ideas to a class may include material for which one may not have permissions to use. Many do not think twice about usage rights when dealing with online content, particularly images, (incase you are wondering about the usage rights of the image on top- check it out).  Students submit class assignments which may require them to write many pages of content and they may either copy paste the entire content from one book/site, submit an existing assignment from the Internet, copy a fellow student’s assignment or patch work it from various sources without appropriate citations; their reasons may be lack of knowledge, poor language and writing skills, and lack of motivation. Some others may point out that they did not copy the work of another student, but merely read it and then built upon the same idea without any attributions.

Few others may purchase custom made assignments, research papers, proposals from the online paper mills widely available on the Internet, without acknowledging the source before submitting the content. According to a report by Turnitin, an anti-plagiarism software widely used across the globe, Wikipedia and Yahoo! answers were the top two major sites students turned to while plagiarizing, which is hardly surprising. At the same time some teachers may accidentally encourage plagiarism attitudes; I recently attended an event where a speaker to an audience of students explained how easy it is to create modules by converting matter from textbooks into PPTs; however the speaker did not emphasize appropriate citations. And without citations, the PPT would technically be considered as a form of artistic plagiarism.

These are really small instances and you may ponder if it really does matter. But it is these students who later become institutional heads, academicians, researchers, doctors, writers and journalists in the future. This underscores the need for an intervention at the grass-root level.  Some studies have pointed out that many students are unaware about plagiarism, and due to this lack of awareness, students may unknowingly plagiarize. Research shows that making students aware of what plagiarism is, for example through library instructions, they can change their perceptions towards it, probably making them more conscious of their actions.  Students with the assistance of websites, library instructions, classroom activities, guides and brochures, could not only be made aware about academic ethical conduct but also from the nascent stages develop skills to express ideas which are their own.

A UK based study submitted a detailed report on Indian education system with focus on the levels of existing academic dishonesty and plagiarism at the same time strongly recommending the inclusion of academic writing as a part of curricula. Teachers and other heads of institutions need to be made aware of the excessive plagiarism in students’ assignments, helping adopt certain means of identifying it, talking to their students about it, laying out proper guidelines of what would be acceptable as an assignment, appreciating citations, and motivating students by being more open to creativity. Students could also be encouraged to use plagiarism-checkers software and other modern technology to prevent ‘copy-pasting’. While the law, councils and committees work on the wider scale, common people like you and I can encourage students, teachers and professionals to take tiny steps towards bringing awareness, so together we can brainstorm more ideas to bring this change.

Where there is scope for creativity, there charlatans build habitats. So there exists plagiarism of all sorts, beyond academic writing. Sadly, it is enmeshed in our culture and upbringing as it is not only accepted but even appreciated unknowingly.  We have been ignorant for long, let’s not wait for yet another group of international authors/researchers/artists to write a letter about the disgrace brought by Indians and retell the rampant plagiarism that exists here today. To be a part of the change and to bring about change, be a part of the “Anti-Plagiarism Movement India” initiative by Akshata Kulkarni in association with Monk Prayogshala to discuss and learn more-

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                                   Akshata Kulkarni