Over the last few months, plagiarism at the country's premier university has been a hotly debated topic in the world of academia.
Two Dhaka University teachers had their research contract cancelled and were declined disbursal of the remaining half of the grant from the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh in November last year after their final report was found plagiarised and full of errors.
On February 25, the ASB council decided to place the matter on the agenda of the monthly general meeting for the next course of action. In the meantime, the researchers have returned the advance they withdrew for the research.
The two researchers -- Dr Eshani Chakraborty, professor of the history department, and Dr Zobaida Nasreen, associate professor of the anthropology department -- received the research grant nearly four years ago.
They were selected to carry out research on the topic "Brihottoro Dhakar Sthanik Sangskriti o Boishister Swarup Anusondhan [Exploring local culture and its distinctive features of greater Dhaka]" in Bangla in April 2017.
For this, they withdrew half of the Tk 3.50 lakh amount in advance.
In February last year, when the researchers applied for the remaining 50 percent of the fund, after submitting the research paper along with reviewers' comments, ASB declined.
In a letter to the researchers on November 23 last year, ASB termed the research report "a mess in terms of quality", saying it was "filled with innumerable errors that display extreme level of carelessness and lack of professionalism".
The research and seminar committee of ASB found 210 spelling mistakes and typos in the report, along with many incomplete sentences. Even the name of one of the researchers was misspelt, it said.
In light of the findings of the committee, ASB council -- the supreme authority of the organisation -- on November 14 last year cancelled the research grant.
The review committee also recommended issuing a letter to the Dhaka University vice-chancellor and forming a committee to delve deep into the matter to ensure ethical standards in ASB's research and breaches of contract between ASB and the two researchers, said a source at ASB.
In its letter, ASB, a non-profit research organisation, said the authors didn't properly follow the terms and conditions spelt out in the appointment letter.
"The report neither complies with the objectives of the study nor is it based on scientific methodology. The report has been found heavily plagiarised, which is highly immoral and a gross violation of rules that call for further measures," it stated.
In January this year, three DU professors -- Samia Rahman, Syed Mahfuzul Haque Marjan, and Muhammad Omor Faruq -- were demoted on charges of plagiarism in their published research papers.
Later, earlier this month, Samia Rahman said she will take legal recourse and that she is a victim of "colleagues' conspiracy".
Dr Eshani and Dr Zobaida submitted the final report of the research on February 19 last year.
Under the standard academic review process, the research and seminar committee of the organisation then sent the paper to the first reviewer and then to the second reviewer.
Following the feedback of the two reviewers, the committee in a meeting on October 29 last year said, "The committee considered that both of them [the authors] have tarnished the image of ASB. Both researchers have shown extreme proportion of carelessness in submission of the report."
The meeting minutes stated: "They [ the researchers] did not even address the reviewers' comments properly. One of them has even called the reviewers' competence into question."
This researcher was Prof Eshani, who was present at the meeting as an elected member of the ASB council for 2020-21 and also a member of the research and seminar committee, said organisation insiders. Prof Zobaida is not a member of ASB.
Prof Eshani sent a letter on December 5, three days after the researchers returned their advance of the research grant, to ASB President Mahfuza Khanam.
In the letter, she complained that in the last two research and seminar committee's Zoom meetings, she was removed on both occasions on the "pretext" of discussing an agenda that involved her and Zobaida.
She also said the committee meetings are usually dominated by one person, without naming anyone, who decides and dictates everything for everyone.
"The most serious and grievous experience in the meetings was that I was personally attacked and faced verbally offensive words," she wrote in the letter.
She added that though they have returned the money and withdrawn the report, "a deliberate attempt is being made to politicise the issue and create a hostile situation."
THE PLAGIARISED RESEARCH PAPER
The Daily Star obtained a copy of the submitted paper with the comments and remarks of the research and seminar committee.
On reviewing the document, this correspondent found at least 523 spelling mistakes and typos. The authors used at least three different types of Bangla fonts, leading to frequent typos.
In the entire 68-page paper, only two pages -- page 48 and 56 -- had no plagiarism or spelling mistakes and typos marked up by the review committee.
However, both pages had oral history accounts with no justification given for the choice of interviewees, which had already been remarked on by the reviewers, the committee said.
Though the two DU researchers mentioned in the paper that they had taken interviews of local researchers and cultural workers, there was no proof as it had no list of respondents or the questionnaire attached, stated the committee.
The reviewers marked "plagiarised" 48 times in the research paper, which had 168 paragraphs in total.
The research and seminar committee also noted that the authors listed 10 references at the end of the paper -- only three of which were books while the rest of the citations were Banglapedia, a publication brought out by ASB, various blog posts, and newspaper articles.
The committee also remarked that the methodology of the paper was weak, referencing style was incorrect, and the conclusion was poor.
The research paper's conclusion was 16 lines long, in which there were 13 spelling mistakes and three typos.
The research paper used multiple fonts on pages 21 through 27, and most of these pages were full of spelling mistakes and typos. This correspondent found page 21 to contain 36 such mistakes in 30 lines.
Another remark by the reviewers was that the authors used 38 web sources; these were mainly informally cited in the URL form in the footnotes.
Contacted, Zobaida Nasreen said, "It was an inadvertent mistake by me. I personally apologised for the matter, withdrew the paper, and returned the money to the organisation [ASB]."
She said a couple of years ago, while she was abroad, she and her fellow author had mistakenly submitted a paper which was written by their research assistants.
"It was an ethical problem and I admit it. However, after submitting the paper, I had told Harun sir that it was not the final copy, I submitted it by mistake. I apologised to him."
Prof Harun-or-Rashid, vice chancellor of National University, is an ASB council member.
Zobaida added, "The paper is withdrawn and not published. I am not defending it but before publication we get a chance to remove mistakes. I am sorry as an academic about what I have done.
"Our contract has been cancelled. What else do they [ASB] want now? I am not even a member of ASB."
She, however, alleged that it has now become a "political issue with Prof Harun and Prof Eshani Chakraborty". "I became a victim here."
Prof Eshani claimed the accusation of plagiarism itself is politically motivated and baseless.
"As it was not a published document, anybody can claim this is plagiarism," she told this paper recently.
"This has now become a fashion, a new dimension of leg-pulling of a teacher by another. If you talk about such kind of plagiarism, 90 percent of research in addition with MPhil and PhD research in Bangladesh will be cancelled.
"Besides, there is no Bangla software to detect plagiarism.
"The politics is that I won the election of the ASB council from an opposing panel over others."
She referred this correspondent to the general secretary of ASB since she has no authority to speak about any decision of the council.
Contacted, both ASB General Secretary Prof Sabbir Ahmed and ASB President Mahfuza Khanam declined to comment on the matter, saying it was an internal issue.
ASB Council Member Prof Harun-or-Rashid said since its establishment, the ASB has not discriminated over the academics' political leanings or panels.
"No one will accept submission of such a paper, which has 60 to 70 percent content copied from other sources, in this organisation. This is a deviation from the principles of this organisation. What they have done is an unforgivable offence."
Yet, the authors could have been exonerated if they had admitted that it was a mistake, Prof Harun said.
"Instead of doing so, they are trying to divert the issue to another direction by making different statements at different times. At times, they're saying it is a draft copy, sometimes adding the gender dimension here, and sometimes giving the excuse of being from the opposition," he added.
"Doesn't a teacher has the courage to admit a mistake and seek apology for that?"
DU Pro-VC (academic) Prof ASM Maksud Kamal, too, said the case is one of plagiarism. There are two types of plagiarism -- one is pre-published and another after publication, he said.
"If any organisation or publishing authority finds plagiarism in any article, they don't publish it."
DU does not yet have a research guideline -- however, Prof Maksud said a draft is ready and waiting to be reviewed by the DU syndicate.
In any case, he said, there are no clear university rules regarding punishment for researchers' plagiarism in the case of published or unpublished work like this one.