Friday, June 8, 2012

National Archives of India

I've been meaning to come back and update my previous post on the National Archives of India. What I've decided to is pull some links out the discussion originally conducted on the H-Asia listserv since the H-Net search function can be tricky.

The previous post contained a link to Part Two of a four-part series by Dinyar Patel about the state of Indian archives and libraries. I recommend going back to Part One, "In India, History Literally Rots Away." Part Three is "India's Archives: How Did Things Get This Bad?" Part Four is "Parsis, Once India's Curators, Now Shrug as History Rots." Patel has also contributed an opinion piece along the same lines to The Hindu, called "Our Past Is Being Moth-Eaten."

Mushirul Hasan, Directory General of the NAI, features in Patel's assessment of the archive. You can find an interview with Mr. Hasan, "National Archives can't be run as a typical government office," in the The Times of India.

As you might guess, while Patel's descriptions of the current state of Indian archives were accurate, there was some dissension and discussion about his articles. Quite rightly, some scholars objected to Patel's approach: it's very easy to criticize, very difficult to remedy. Many recognize the problem, few provide workable solutions to to it. There's also a question of (Orientalist) exteriority--who has the right to speak for the Indian archive? Foreign scholars? Indian scholars? What is to be gained by this intense focus on everything that's wrong with or lamentable about India's archives?

Mr. David Lunn pointed out that in addition to the negative attention, perhaps we should recognize some of the successful digitisation projects coming out of India. He mentioned the Digital Library of India, which I use quite frequently to look at older material (right now, books from 1904-1910). I've mentioned the Archives of India Labour here; I've also noticed that the website for the National Film Archive of India seems to be updated regularly.

The application deadline has passed, but Dr. Rashmi Sawhney pointed out that the India Foundation for the Arts was already directing resources toward fixing some of the highlighted problems by funding Archival Fellowships. What I particularly liked about the call for applications was that the materials could be submitted in any Indian language (including English). I hope this will direct attention to the preservation/accessibility of resources in Indian languages.