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
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 onbulk 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