On Friday, the Delhi High Court passed an interim order restraining several academics and Twitter users from publishing an allegedly defamatory letter or any other defamatory material concerning the author and historian Vikram Sampath till the next date of hearing, LiveLaw reported.

On February 11, three academics sent a letter to the Royal Historical Society in London accusing Vikram Sampath, one of its elected fellows, of plagiarism. Sampath has published a two-volume biography of Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

Two days after the letter was posted on Twitter, Sampath filed a defamation suit against the authors of the letter, Twitter and two Twitter users. Apart from asking for the publication of the letter to be stopped, Sampath has claimed Rs 2 crore as damages from the defendants.

Charge against Sampath

In their letter on February 11, three academics – Ananya Chakravarti, Associate Professor of History at Georgetown University, Audrey Truschke, Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University and Rohit Chopra, Associate Professor of Communication, Santa Clara University – allege that some phrases and sentences in an essay by Sampath from 2017 are similar to essays written by historians Vinayak Chaturvedi and Janaki Bakhle.

They also allege that Sampath’s biography of Savarkar, published in two volumes in 2019 and 2021, bore sentences that were similar to published research and books as well.

The letter goes on to request the Royal Historical Society to examine Sampath’s membership in light of these allegations.

Case filed by Sampath

In his suit before the Delhi High Court, Sampath has responded to these allegations, arguing that the charges against him are “clearly libellous”.

He claims that the essay in question was the transcript of an “almost extempore speech” delivered by him. Despite this, in the “highest traditions of academic integrity”, he says that he has cited Chaturvedi and a host of other authors in the endnotes.

As far as copying from another historian, Janaki Bakhle, goes, Sampath says that she had reviewed his book for a magazine and did not say anything about plagiarism charges.

On the charge of him copying an undergraduate student’s thesis in his book on Savarkar, Sampath claims that they both have “cited the same essay” and thus this “charge is also ridiculous”.

Sampath adds that this “decidedly defamatory” letter was written “as part of an international smear campaign” to discredit him since he “has shown the academic courage and gumption to challenge the prevailing narrative around a historical figure like Sh VD Savarkar”.

Sampath also claims that various “unscrupulous elements” have shared this letter extensively on Twitter. Presently, he has included two of such tweets in his suit. One by technology journalist Abhishek Baxi and another by academic Ashok Swain.

These tweets, as per Sampath’s suit, show the bad intention of these users to lower his reputation “not only at a national level but also across the whole world”.

Lastly, Sampath says in his suit that he has been a target of malicious and defamatory statements for the last five months. “There is a systematic pattern of maligning [him] for vested and ideological reasons,” Sampath’s suit claims.

However, he said he could not allow this letter to circulate freely since plagiarism is a very serious concern that would “close all doors forever in academic careers”, “force publishers to withdraw his books and cancel future contracts” and also result in the cancellation of his Royal Historical Society fellowship.

Court’s interim relief

The Delhi High Court on Friday granted interim relief to Sampath, ordering the defendants not to post the letter or any other defamatory material till the next hearing. The court said that a prima facie case was made by Sampath that his reputation and career will take a hit in case the defendants continue to publish the allegedly defamatory material.

The matter will be next heard on April 1.