New Delhi: A group of archivists, scholars, historians, students, among others from across the world has called for transparency in the proposed demolition of annexes which form part of the National Archives of India (NAI) in order to make way for the Central Vista project.
The online petition, which is now open for the public to view and sign, has already garnered support from more than 3,800 scholars, archivists and cultural personalities from across the world at the last count.
While stating that the resources which are being deployed for the project concerned can be diverted to ramp up facilities to tackle the pandemic, the petition said that if the government is still inclined to go ahead with the project, it must be transparent in the process, and answer a number of questions arising due to the demolition of a historical repository.
The petition said several centuries of India’s history lie in the documents that make up the NAI. “The archival records include 4.5 million files, 25,000 rare manuscripts, more than 100,000 maps, treaties, 280,000 premodern documents and several thousand private papers. These documents are naturally brittle and require delicate, expert handling. The loss or damage of a single object or archival record would be an irrevocable loss,” it added.
The petitioners have also called out the opaque manner in which the project is being executed. They said there should have been public consultations on how to manage this delicate process. Ideally, there should have been a National Commission on Public Records instituted that consisted of eminent scholars, archivists, preservationists, members of civil society, in addition to civil servants, it added.
As regards the questions the project is likely to set off are: “Where will the temporary archive be housed? How can accredited scholars and the general public continue to access the records in the temporary holding? Will there be no access to these records until the records have been relocated to an unspecified future repository of the archival materials? Who is managing this process and who will be accountable for any loss of documents?”
Reproduced below is the full statement of the online petition.
May 17, 2021
On January 15, 2021 the Director of the Ahmedabad-based firm HCP who is the principal designer of the Central Vista project confirmed that while the original National Archives building would remain intact, the annexe portions would be removed. On February 10, 2021 the Union Minister of State for Housing and Urban Affairs (Independent Charge) Hardeep Singh Puri, told the Rajya Sabha that the heritage building of the National Archives would be retained as part of the Central Vista project. More recent media reports in April 2021 note that the main National Archives building will be refurbished but at a later stage.
Given the lack of clarity within public discourse on this issue we would like to draw attention to the fact that the historical, archival materials of the National Archives are kept substantially in the annexe buildings – and these buildings are slated for demolition soon. This raises several questions that are of urgent concern to researchers in India and globally, as well as the general public.
Several centuries of India’s history lie in the documents that make up the National Archives of India. The archival records include 4.5 million files, 25,000 rare manuscripts, more than 100,000 maps, treaties, 280,000 premodern documents and several thousand private papers. These documents are naturally brittle and require delicate, expert handling. The loss or damage of a single object or archival record would be an irrevocable loss. These historical documents, maps and objects are not only central to the modern Indian nation but germane to broader academic research on the South Asian subcontinent and the reconstruction of global histories of migration, political, economic and cultural exchange. In arbitrarily deciding to demolish the buildings in which they are housed and which form the primary site for scholars to access these records, the Government of India is failing in its responsibility not only to its citizens but also to a universal, global heritage.
Specifically, the opaque manner in which the demolition of the National Archives property is being conducted is extremely concerning. A large-scale renovation of the national archive holding area for documents, reading rooms and facilities for research scholars was undertaken over several years and completed as recently as 2018. If indeed the removal of archival materials is unavoidable – which we disagree with – then certain procedures urgently need to be instituted to build public confidence.
For example, there have been no public consultations on how to manage this delicate process. Ideally, there should have been a National Commission on Public Records instituted that consisted of eminent scholars, archivists, preservationists, members of civil society, in addition to civil servants. This commission should have overseen the process and reported to a dedicated parliamentary committee and the media regularly.
Questions which require immediate answers include: Where will the temporary archive be housed? How can accredited scholars and the general public continue to access the records in the temporary holding? Will there be no access to these records until the records have been relocated to an unspecified future repository of the archival materials? Who is managing this process and who will be accountable for any loss of documents?
These are urgent questions that remain unanswered given the lack of any transparent communication regarding this shut down of research at India’s National Archives even as the demolition of the annexe buildings have been cleared. A scenario where the central archive of a democratic nation was moved in such uncertain terms and for such an uncertain duration during peacetime is unheard of.
May we remind the government that public historical records are the backbone of democratic nations. Preservation of historical records and public access to those records are fundamental duties of an elected government. The haphazard manner in which the National Archives, and other historical materials in the National Museum and IGNCA, are being treated puts our collective memory at grave risk.
Given that state capacity is stretched due to the ongoing pandemic, the best option would be to abandon the demolition of the National Archives at this stage. Should the government not be inclined to do so, then we urge for transparency in the process, and a clear, professional approach to ensure safety of materials and unhindered access to these invaluable records.
2) Select Signatories: We have culled 100 signatures out of 3828. The aim is to showcase the breadth and diversity. The first 70 are faculty/archivists; the following 30 are more broadly civil society/arts/students/etc.
Tassadaque Hussain, Deputy Director (Retired), National Archives of India
Indrani Chatterjee, Professor of History, The University of Texas at Austin
Lakshmi Subramanian, Professor of History, BITS Pilani Goa
Bidisha Chakraborty, Archivist West Bengal State Archives
Moideen Thottasery, Associate Professor of History, Government College Malappuram, Kerala
Jag Jeevan Kale, President Maratha Mahasabha, Secretary Shahir ahe Etihas Sanshodhan, Maharashtra
R.P. Goldman, William and Catherine Magistretti Distinguished Professor of Sanskrit, University of California at Berkeley
Prof. G. Arunima, Director, Kerala Council for Historical Research, Trivandrum
Barbara D. Metcalf, Professor of History Emerita, University of California, Davis
Kesavan Veluthat, Professor of History (Retd.), University of Delhi
Dr Satya Vrata Tripathi, Ex-Curator, Security Officer, National Museum,India
Prasannan Parthasarathi, Professor of History, Boston College
Thomas Metcalf, Emeritus Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley
Aijaz Ahmad, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine
Renisa Mawani, Professor, Sociology, University of British Columbia
Dilip M Menon, Professor, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
Dr. Anagha Bhat Behere, Assistant Professor, Savitribai Phule Pune University
Dr Anita Rane-Kothare, Head and Associate Professor, Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology St. Xavier’s College Mumbai, Vice president Museum society of Mumbai, President Bombay Local History Society
Dr. C. Justin Selvaraj, Assistant Professor and Head, Department of Fine Arts and Aesthetics, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai
Dr. Chinnaiah Jangam, Associate Professor, Carleton University, Canada
Dr Shekhar Krishnan, Heritage Conservation Cell, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai
Prachi Deshpande Associate Professor, CSSSC, India
Manu V. Devadevan, Assistant Professor of History, Indian Institute of Technology Mandi
Radhika Singha, Professor, CHS, JNU
Chitta Panda, Former Secretary & Curator, Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, India
Prof. Elleke Boehmer, World Literature in English, University of Oxford, U.K.
Emma Teng, Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor Dr. John S. Gaikwad, Anthropologist, Tribal Research Institute, Pune, Maharashtra
Tiatoshi Jamir, Professor of Archaeology, Nagaland University, Kohima, Nagaland, India
Bhavani Raman, Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Jongmin Lee, Assistant Professor, University of Science and Technology, Korea
Ravi Ahuja, Professor of Modern Indian History, University of Goettingen, Germany
Sugavanam Murugan. Editor, SASANAM, Krishnagiri District Historical Research Centre, Hosur, Tamil Nadu
Duli Ete, Assistant Professor, Dera Natung Govt. College, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh
Ania Loomba, Professor, University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Gladson Jathanna, Department of History, Pacific Theological College, Fiji Islands
Dr. Amrita Mondal, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of North Bengal
Kavas Kapadia, Professor of Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi
Abdiel Sánchez Revilla, Professor, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, México
Reiko Lida, Associate Professor, Kanazawa University, Japan
Dr.S.Theresammal, Assistant Professor of History, St.Mary’s College,Thoothukudi
Maitreyee Deshpande, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune
Dr. Gajanan Kortalwar, Gondwana University, Maharashtra, India
Hugo Gorringe, Co-Director, Centre for South Asian Studies, Edinburgh
R. Saji Kumar, Archivist (Rtd), State Archives Dept. Kerala
Dr.Sanjiv Bodkhe, Associate Professor, Dept.of History, Sharadchandra Pawar Mahavidyalaya Lonand Tal Khandal Dist.Satara, Shivaji University Kolhapur, Maharashtra
Dr. Sharda Devi, Assistant Professor of History, Himachal Pradesh University Shimla.
Dr. Ramesh Chandra Kalita, Ex-president, North East India History Association, Shillong, Meghalaya
Betylda Mary Jyrwa, Professor, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong
Deepak Malghan, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore
Geetha Venkataraman, Professor of Mathematics, Ambedkar University Delhi
David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University
Neeladri Bhattacharya, Visiting Professor, Ashoka University
Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University, USA
Dr Victoria Haskins, Professor of History, Director of Purai Global Indigenous History Centre, The University of Newcastle, Australia
Mr Sanjay Shripati Paikrao, Department of History and Ancient Indian Culture, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad
Rupa Viswanath, Professor, University of Göttingen
Robert Cribb, Professor of Asian History, Australian National University
Professor Brian Larkin, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA
Dr Javeed Ul Aziz, Assistant Professor, Department of History , University of Kashmir
Jagdeep Chhokar, Former Professor and Dean, I.I.M. Ahmedabad
Atul Bhalekar, Director, Trirashmi Research Institute of Buddhism, Indic Languages & Scripts
Dipesh Chakrabarty, The University of Chicago
Tansen Sen, Professor, Director of Center for Global Asia, NYU Shanghai
Prof. A. Kakoti Mahanta, Gauhati University
Samita Sen, Vere Harmsworth Professor of Imperial and Naval History, University of Cambridge
Dr. Felix Padel, Research Associate, Centre for World Environment History, University of Sussex
Abul Kashem, Professor of History, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh
Swapan K Chakravorty, Chairperson, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences Calcutta, and former Director-General, National Library of India
Nasmeem Farhin Akhtar, Associate Professor and Head, Department of English, Chairperson, Centre for Women’s Studies, Dibrugarh University, Dibrugarh, Assam
Alessandro Passi, Associate Professor of Sanskrit, University of Bologna, Italy
Leela Samson, Dancer
Maya Krishna Rao, Theatre Artist
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Independent Journalist, Author, Documentary film-maker
Neeraj Bhagat, Conservation Architect
Chiki Sarkar, Publisher, Juggernaut Book’
Jaishree Misra, Author
Sonia Faleiro, Author
Kiran Desai, Author
Mallika Sarabhai, Director, Darpana, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Aparna Sen, Film Maker
Udita Bhargava, Film Maker
C. Rammanohar Reddy, Editor, ‘The India Forum’
Riddhi Dastidar, Journalist, Khabar Lahariya
Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Senior Associate Editor, Frontline Magazine, New Delhi
Anand Sharma, Tourist Guide
Kiran Banga Chhokar, Trustee, Association for Democratic Reforms
Vilayat Ali, General Secretary, Ladakh Cycling Association
Dr. Ramkrishna Chatterjee, Publication Secretary, The Asiatic Society, Kolkata
Dr. Vikrant Kishore, Filmmaker/Academic, Melbourne, Australia
Priyanka Panjwani, Conservation Architect, ICOMOS member
Govind Manoharan, Advocate, Supreme Court of India
Sancia Sequeira, Tour Guide, Government of India
Uma Tanuku, Documentary Filmmaker, India
Premjish Achari, Curator and Art Critic
Bhavna Kakar, TAKE On Art magazine, Publisher, New Delhi
Kaushik Saha, Founder & Secretary, Society for Understanding Culture & History in India (SUCHI)
Sudhanva Deshpande, LeftWord Books
Dr Varunika Saraf, Artist and Art historian
Srinivas Murthy G, President, Architecture and Design Foundation (India)
Pradyatan Bera, Filmmaker
Geetika Kalha I.A.S. (Retd.)
Dr. Mansee Bal Bhargava, Environmental Design Consultants, Ahmedabad
Varsha A R, Conservation Architect, Heritage Matters, Bangalore
Shivangini Yeashu Yuvraj – Vocalist, Teacher, Music Entrepreneur
Ekta Rawat, DU graduate, Ex-tour guide at National Museum
Anushka Singh, Student, National Museum Institute
Alemtemshi Jamir, Rtd Chief Secretary, Nagaland
Gautam Mukhopadhaya, IFS (Retd)
Cyrus Guzder, Trustee, The Asiatic Society of Mumbai
Shireen Sethna Baria, Advocate
Tanima Paul, Ph.D. Research Scholar, Visva Bharati
Shubha Pal Bahl, Library activist, The Community Library Project
Rithik Pramod, BA Honours Archaeology and Ancient history Student, Maharaja Sayajirao, University of Baroda
Jaishree Misra, Author
Alarmel Valli, Director, Dipasikha Dance Foundation
Harshal Sonekar, Researcher, ICMR- National Institute of Epidemiology
Nayanika Panja, Postgraduate student of Anthropology, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Citizen Historian of 1947 Partition archive
Ayan Roy, Assistant Executive Engineer, Assam Irrigation Department
Cholleti Prabhakar, IAS (Rtd.), Democrats Forum, Telangana
Dr. Indranil Mallick, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Tata Medical Center Kolkata
Sagnik Mukherjee, Master’s Student, MSc. Cartography, Technical University Munich
Nidhi Singh, Children’s books illustrator
Zahir Anwar, playwright and director, Sharjeel Arts, Kolkata
Mr. Priyank Sukanand, Co-founder, Queer Collective India
Surajkumar Thube, DPhil student, University of Oxford
3) The complete ongoing list of signatories can be viewed HERE
4) The petition remains open and interested parties can SIGN HERE