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Archival Policy of the Indian Government

Archival Policy of the Indian Government

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invaluable information by meticulously recording speeches, trial proceedings, police action, secret intelligence reports, and internal official discussions about policies in respect of the struggle for independence. The flood of historical works on the national struggle came after 1947, but the basic sources were made available by the British Indian system of record keeping. The charge often made by British officials and historians was that Indians had lacked a sense of the historical and there was no record keeping. This charge is not wholly true because we have evidence of record keeping in the Mughal and Maratha regimes. But it is true that the continental scale and the thoroughness of the British Indian record keeping system was something new. Much of the freedom struggle as we know it would have been lost to historians, but for the government records – despite the fact that there was anti-nationalist bias in British Indian documentation. We are indebted to the British governmental archiving system for the reconstruction of the struggle for independence. Another point to bear in mind is that although the Imperial Record department was set up basically as a source of precedents and information relevant to the administration of the Indian empire, there was a contrary stream of opinion in the bureaucracy and the higher decision-making levels of the British Indian government. In a sense the archives were a part of the European knowledge enterprise from late eighteenth century onwards to collect and preserve knowledge about India. As Bernard Cohn and others have demonstrated, this knowledge enterprise was tainted with the aggrandizing drive to acquire power. As Edward Said has argued, European Knowledge about imperial possession was cast in a prejudiced Orientalist mould. Nevertheless, in that vast endeavour to generate knowledge there dwelled an enquiring spirit from which the modern Indian mind learned a great deal. Along with the government’s other agencies like the Survey of India, the Geological Survey of India, the Anthropological Survey of India, or the census operations from 1881 onwards, the government’s archives also played a small role in this process. Above all, the Imperial Record Department played an important academic role in setting up the Indian Historical Records Commission (1919), long before the Indian History Congress was born. The IHRC, originally just a meeting of officials, increasingly expanded to include Indian historians in the universities and they paved the way to the opening of the government archives to historical research. 2

Phases of Archival Policy In the following narrative of the evolution of archival policy I will touch upon and illustrate the above-mentioned trends. Broadly speaking, that evolution falls into four distinct phases. (1) Between 1858 and 1872 the Govt of India was undecided whether there should be a central Indian archive at all; there was a Record Committee which failed to yield a definite policy and its dithering came to an end with its termination in 1872. (2) In the second phase 1872 to 1891 the Government of India slowly veered round to the view that a central record department was needed and eventually in 1891 the Imperial Record Department was started with a low grade official in charge and a very small staff in Calcutta. (3) From 1891 gradually the Imperial Record Dept was consolidated and enlarged and another important development was that the Indian Historical Records Commission was set up in 1919 to advise the government on archival policy. In 1911, after the transfer of capital from Calcutta to New Delhi, it was decided to construct the building now known as the National Archives building on Janpath. The building was completed in 1926 and records were gradually transferred to New Delhi. (4) In the fourth phase, 1926 to 1947, a series of steps slowly led to the opening of the archives to the public, i.e. to people other than the government officials who alone had till now access to the records. The renaming of the Imperial Records Department as the National Archives of India symbolized in a way the final transformation of the government’s department of records, for governmental purposes, into a national institution accessible to the citizens of India. I can, given the limits on time, for the present only highlight some of the significant trends: 1858 to 1972: Absence of a Definite Archives Policy After the termination of East India Company administration there was an attempt to put in order the records of the government of India. The original motivation seems to be to destroy old records to save space and expenditure on record preservation in the offices of the Indian government in Calcutta. The Finance Commission and the Civil Auditor (he was like the latter-day CAG, except that Military Audit was done by a different auditor) 3

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