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Silent Traffic in India’s Intellectual Property

Silent Traffic in India’s Intellectual Property
by Narasingha P. Sil, PhD

A brisk business goes on almost every day in the two important libraries of Kolkata that I am familiar with. I visit the metropolis every summer precisely for using the resources there. These two institutions are Bangiya Sahitya Parisad Library (BSPL) in north Kolkata and the National Library (NL) of south Kolkata. I have been noticing for the past several years that the BSPL main reading room is regularly crowded with women “researchers” (a common enough nondescript sight), but a close observation will make it abundantly clear that these putative “researchers” are not reading or making research notes, but engaged in wholesale copying of the document at hand. Not one or two but almost all of them; once I counted ten. They are copying, taking rest, talking to each other, and then going about their business.

I do know that Kolkata has spawned a few research bureaus that supply, inter alia, manual copies of rare books and articles, mostly
in the vernacular language (I know one of these quite well). Because such materials are in demand overseas (most graduate students overseas find it difficult to consult these institutions intensively or extensively over a long stretch of time and hence rely on the services of these bureau “experts”).

The upshot of this state of affairs is that genuine researchers requisitioning a book or an article often cannot get hold of it because it is “lost” or “misplaced.” I am saying this from my personal experience over several years.

At the NL, there is another scene. There is a long traffic at the photocopy section (and it is a bureaucratic nightmare trying to get some photocopy done). Usually, the local users either check books or other materials out to use them in the library or borrow them for an extended period. Local users do not normally spend on photocopying. Twenty years ago, I never saw any problem getting a copy of an article or something like that. But not so now. There are always long queues for photocopy job. The maximum pages allowed for one time copying are 80 and if the document has more pages, then it would be beyond anybody else’s use for some time until it’s copied in toto. Here I suspect (it certainly merits investigation) the same business going on–bulk copying for customers (presumably not local for I have never come across any researcher in the city making use of such bulk photocopy).

Lots of titles at both libraries cannot be accounted for although they exist in the card catalog (that is, they have not been officially identified as lost or misplaced). What’s going on, then? Something quite fishy, I suspect. India’s intellectual properties are simply stolen and there is no supervision of this blatant misuse of academic freedom.

I know that such outfits also act as translators for the vernacular materials. There you go. This state of affairs makes it quite easy for an overseas candidate for a higher degree an “expert” in the native material. This is another saga of the rape of Third World resources. Should we label it academic imperialism with the connivance of a few profit-seeking local compradors?

Narasingha P. Sil, PhD
Professor of History
Western Oregon University
Monmouth, OR 97361