Update (June 11, 2010): US Consulate, Chennai, responds on Facebook:

“Karthik, we want to first thank you for being engaged with the blog contest. The primary goal of the contest was to give youth in South India the opportunity to learn about the issues that are of great importance in our countriesSee Moreâ?? bilateral relationship. We understand that issues of global importance are not always part of the general discourse, particularly among youth. We felt that encouraging blogging, as you point out – a new medium, would help enliven the experience of learning about these issues. This was the first time to blog for a majority of the contestants, and many commented on how much they learned from their experience. We also agree that it is important to properly credit people for their work, which is why our finalists came to the American Library to learn about the proper use of online resources and how acknowledge their sources.

It seems you examined and reflected on the featured blogs â?? we continue to be proud of Rajat, the finalists and the rest of the 100+ contestants. We want to encourage youth to be part of the global discourse and we hope that this is the first of many blog competitions on the horizon.”

My take: I’m even more disappointed. And shocked at the kind of stand taken. I’m in PR and can completely understand the language used that sidesteps the main issue and talks about other largely pointless things. But, “we continue to be proud of Rajat” is something that I find deeply disturbing. It just sets a very, very bad example.

***

I clearly recall seeing that because, besides the initial newsy push about it, a month later, there were enough seemingly-paid plugs for it, camouflaged as news. This was because the deadline was extended.

I’m talking about The US Consulate in Chennai announcing a blogging competition, for residents of the Southern States and Pondicherry, on “U.S.-India Partnership: It matters”.

On June 6th, local newspapers (see Deccan Herald) announced that a Bangalore-based student, Rajat Bhushan, has won the competition.

I was following this competition because I haven’t heard or seen any ‘blogging’ competition as such in India yet.

So, Rajat has won…I wondered…what was his opinion on the topic given and how did he go about blogging.

In one of the news reports, he’s quoted, “I started off with the history of the relations between the two countries and then proceeded to trade and other aspects like how Indians have become heads in American firms and how Americans like Tom Alter have settled here, contributing to our development. I highlighted the past and present and what we can expect in the future

In another, he says, “Many bloggers try to copy from other websites which must not be done. Blogging purely must be about what one thinks about a particular subject, which has to be written in his/her own words“.

Uh oh!

No, this blog post is not so much about plagiarism as it is about the quality of entries in one of the first ever blogging competitions I have seen in India. Essay competitions are common, but blogging competitions are not. And, this competition’s result is anything but encouraging. There is no credit to the sources from which Rajat lifts passages…sorry, make that massive chunks…verbatim, in the name of blogging. That, and the result, of him winning a blogging competition, seems like an assault on the sensibilities of other, real Indian bloggers.

Let me cover the plagiarism part later in this post, however, since that is a detailed study in itself.

The Facebook page for ‘U.S. Consulate General Chennai’ lists the top 6 blogs under consideration for this blogging competition and almost all of them look like hurriedly assembled copy-paste hack jobs, with minor exceptions in case of Shameer K and Tom Tillo.

I completely understand that plagiarism cannot be detected that easily in written pieces, but online, it is as easy as searching for a sentence, at random. The competition and the result, where Rajat hogs the news in local newspapers, seems like a massive joke. In fact, I have no issues with blogs created with copied text – they are created as a joke and die as soon as they are started. But such blogs winning an award, of any stature, is a terrible idea. The winner being felicitated at the consulate level and given prominence in local media – even more so.

A joke…on the kind of entries this competition generated and the kind of language we Indians have learned, even at college level! Shockingly, while checking on the originality of Rajat’s ‘blog posts’, I stumbled upon ‘research’ papers uploaded on Scridb, by students of fairly known colleges, that were copied word to word.

Is this what we are teaching in our colleges? Or, are we encouraged to pass of such copied nonsense in the name of ‘research papers’? What happened to original thinking and articulation? But it makes sense actually – out of all the candidates I have interviewed in my career as a senior PR and corporate communications professional (could be about 50+), I could confidently say that only one…that’s right, just one…impressed me outright with her language skills when I gave her a written test on a random topic. That says a lot.

Now, for the part on plagiarism.

Rajat’s blog can be found here.

He has 15 blog posts, all in April, but with no date against each post.

The first post is titled, ‘The INDtrodUSction‘ and that corny title sets the stage for what is to follow.

USA and India, the two biggest names when it comes to partnership. The partnership or in a more dear way we can say a relationship, which is not just about helping each other in business but in all forms and all aspects of human civilization.

In an era, where the strong always want to have the weaker one below the palm of their hand, where the rich ones just want to get richer and oppress the weak, we have two nations who have never and will never consider and believe the above few lines.

I do not want to comment on the language of this post except perhaps say that it is not the kind of writing that deserves to win a ‘blogging’ competition.

The second post is titled, ‘History‘, and is nothing but a hapless mishmash of the section titled ‘History’, from this Wikipedia page on India – US relations.

The 3rd post is titled, ‘Economic Partnership‘ and here’s where Rajat goes beyond his area of knowledge. While the first 2 paragraphs are copied verbatim from 2 different IBEF pieces titled, ‘India and US’ – this and this one too, the rest of the post is nothing but an unabashed copy from IndianEmbassy.org, including a graph, credited exactly the way it has been, in the original site.

The 4th post, titled, ‘Trade Partnership‘ is lifted off pages 35 to 40, from a paper titled, ‘India-US Economic and Trade Relations‘ (PDF, 418 KB), dated August 2007, which is available through a simple Google search. Rajat’s intelligence in ‘adaptation’ shows in the paragraph titled ‘Top Traded Commodities’, where he changes a ‘Table 4 lists the…‘ to ‘Table below lists the…‘! Impressive eye for details.

The 5th post titled, ‘Key Economic and Trade Issues‘ too is lifted off the same PDF source, pages 50 – 57 and page 61, for ‘Oil’! Interestingly, while all the paragraphs in the blog post are copied word-to-word, Rajat seems to have exercised some discretion in selecting the paragraph that he would like to pass of as his own.

The 6th post on Military Partnership is nothing but a lift from a Wikipedia page on India-US relations, again, word-to-word.

The 7th post on ‘The Obama Administration‘ is again from the same Wikipedia page (section titled, ‘Ties under Obama administration’ – all 3 paragraphs lifted), with a sudden, mid-way departure to strategic analyst C. Uday Bhaskar’s Reuters piece – for just one sentence (starting with, ‘In like fashion…’)

Wonder what prompted that compelling deviation for Rajat! The answer lies in the rest of the blog post, which, quite obviously, is lifted off Uday Bhaskar’s piece. Note the mismatch in the paragraph starting with, ‘However an objective assessment would suggest that these fears are perhaps misplaced and premature“. The fears referred by Uday Bhaskar are in the ‘In like fashion…’ paragraph, but Rajat, strategically adds a paragraph in between, from Wikipedia, that lends a surreal connection between the two paragraphs and can be understood only by the discerning reader.

The 8th post titled, ‘Building a strategic partnership‘, is copied off a paper titled, ‘India-USA Strategic Partnership  – The advent of the inevitable‘, published on South Asia Analysis, by Dr. Subhash Kapila. Word to word, with no change and no credit.

The 9th post titled, ‘War against terror‘ is copied off Wikipedia pages on September 11 attacks, Mumbai attacks and War on terror. The latter part of the post, on India – US Pledge Cooperation, is copied off a piece on Dance With The Shadows, again, word by word.

The stark difference between the language used in the copied portions and Rajat’s own shows in the summary he so categorically opines, in the end, under ‘Hopes’.

What we can hope is that, that these two countries after suffering through a lot of pain and hardships, will someday with the cooperation of each others and rest of the world will bring an end to this. The loss they have bearded cant be explained nor can be forgotten, but we can support this war against terror and bring an end to it.

Bearded, indeed.

The 10th post is emotionally titled, ‘Two brothers‘ and, besides the seemingly original opening paragraph that sounds like filmy pulp fiction, the ‘Differences – In Growing Up’ is copied off Tamara J. Erickson’s HBR post titled, ‘Generational Differences Between India and the U.S.‘ The ‘similarities’ part is lifted off a Tripod site, perhaps copied from another source too, without proper accreditation,

However, the passages on what India and US have learned from each other seems original, quite shockingly!

The 11th post on Business Relations has its content lifted off…a MapsofIndia page, of all things!

The 12th post on ‘In the time of Crisis‘ has portions copied off Wikipedia (part on…India).

The 13th post titled, ‘People,Movies, Food, Education and Communities‘ is a combination of Wikipedia pages on Indian Americans and Americans in India (no brainer, eh?). The passage on films is, not surprisingly, lifted off another Wikipedia page (on Bollywood), except the poorly constructed opening paragraph. The part on Food is copied off a Wikipedia page on Indian Cuisine, while the enlightening passage on ‘Education’ is from the Wikipedia page on Indian Students abroad.

The last post (the 15th one is a photo collection), ‘IT matters‘ seems Rajat’s own, given the language on display.

Coming to the end of this blog, I am feeling a bit sad as this amazing journey of travelling in time and knowing so much about the India US relationship, comes to an end

A very famous story has the saying, a single stick can be broken easily than a thousand sticks together. With this note, I would like to say that, yes IT MATTERS, the US â?? INDIA partnership does matter!!!

Sad example of blogging!

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