Transparency on demolition of National Archives of India and Transfer of its holdings

You can join the call for action here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScKD1-aFpwjwXajr6uIi5lt0ABjPGtjBXWa_tjXseda4rkYWg/viewform

We, the undersigned, call on the Government of India to provide clarity on the proposed demolition of part of the National Archives as part of the Central Vista Project.

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 These historical documents, maps and objects are not only central to the modern Indian nation but germane to broader academic research on the South Asian subcontinent and the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.

Update:

4681 people have signed this petition so far, including academics, journalists, researchers, archivists, visual artists, students, lawyers, bureaucrats, concerned citizens. Institutions from all corners of India, and the globe, are represented in the list. The list-in making can be viewed at this link:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1dEjMMQ6J6171V3XiRDNGNGEq02vHOFl0rRDswPxyiaA/edit?usp=sharing

Via the newspaper, The Hindu, on May 20, 2021 the Minister for Culture of India has responded to the public outcry this petition has raised. His response continues to cloud the process of demolition and storage in opacity, and the ask of this petition remains: a public forum to oversee the process as it unfolds over the next few years.

The Canadian Historical Association’s statement, released May 20, 2021 can be found here
https://cha-shc.ca/advocacy/cha-statement-on-the-proposed-destruction-of-the-national-archives-of-india-2021-05-20.htm

Here is a selection from some of the respondents.

Radhika Singha, Professor of History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India
Dr. G. S. Patil, Head Department of History, Indira Gandhi college, Nanded, Maharashtra
Tiatoshi Jamir, Professor of Archaeology, Nagaland University, Kohima, Nagaland, India
Aki Toyoyama, Associate Professor of Art History, Kindai University, Japan
Professor Hari Narke, Vice President, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, India
Dr Meghna Chaudhuri, Boston College, USA
Aijaz Ahmad, Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine
Arunabh Ghosh, Associate Professor, Harvard University
Bhavani Raman, Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto, Canada
Barbara D. Metcalf, Professor of History Emerita, University of California, Davis
Jag Jeevan Kale, President Maratha Mahasabha, Secretary Shahir ahe Etihas Sanshodhan, Maharashtra
Lakshmi Subramanian, Professor of History, BITS PIlani Goa
R.P. Goldman, William and Catherine Magistretti Distinguished Professor of Sanskrit, University of California at Berkeley
Priya Satia, Stanford University
Ravinder Kaur, Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Dilip M Menon, Professor, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
Gyan Prakash, Dayton-Stockton Professor of History, Princeton University
Dipesh Chakrabarty, The University of Chicago
David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy, University of Southampton, UK.
Tanika Sarkar. Retired professor of modern history, Jawaharlal Nehru university
Michele Louro, President, Society for Advancing the History of South Asia
Kiran Desai, Author
Andrew Sartori, Professor, New York University, USA
Herbert Braun, Professor of History, University of Virginia
Dr. Meena Bhargava, Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi
Prof. G. Arunima, Director, Kerala Council for Historical Research, Trivandrum
Dr. Chinnaiah Jangam, Associate Professor, Carleton University, Canada
David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University
Dr Anita Rane-Kothare Head and Associate Professor, Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology, St. Xavier’s College Mumbai
Kim A. Wagner, Professor of Global and Imperial History, Queen Mary, University of London
Dr Shekhar Krishnan, Heritage Conservation Cell, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai
C. Rammanohar Reddy, Editor, ‘The India Forum’
Manu Bhagavan, Professor of History, Human Rights, and Public Policy, Hunter College and the Graduate Center-The City University of New York
Malavika Kasturi, Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto
Debjani Bhattacharyya, Associate Professor of History, Drexel University
Atreyi Dasgupta, Scientist, Baylor College of Medicine, USA
Chiki Sarkar, publisher, Juggernaut Books
Aparna Sen, Film Maker
Udita Bhargava, Independent Film Maker
Gyan Pandey, Professor, Emory University, Atlanta, USA
Anna Bigelow, Associate Professor, Stanford University
Kajri Jain, Associate Professor of Art History/Visual Studies, University of Toronto
Samira Sheikh, Associate Professor of History, Vanderbilt University
Ramkrishna Chatterjee, The Asiatic Society, Kolkata
Will Glover, Associate Professor of History, University of Michigan
Manu V. Devadevan, Assistant Professor of History, Indian Institute of Technology Mandi, India
Hannah Barker, Professor British History, University of Manchester
Govind Manoharan, Advocate, Supreme Court of India
Prachi Deshpande Associate Professor, CSSSC, India
Ria Dantewadia, Archivist, Delhi University, India
Parag Waknis, Associate Professor Economics, Ambedkar University Delhi, India
Saagar Tewari, Associate Professor, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India
Prabhu Mohapatra, Professor Department of History University of Delhi
Professor Elleke Boehmer, World literature in English, University of Oxford, UK
Tassadaque Hussain, Deputy Director ( Retired), National Archives of India
Emma Teng, T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations, MIT, Boston, USA
Jongmin Lee, Assistant Professor, University of Science and Technology, Korea
Dr Shruti Kapila, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, UK
Sugavana Murugan. Editor, SASANAM, Krishnagiri District Historical Research Centre, Hosur,Tamilnadu
Leela Samson, Dancer, India
Mallika Sarabhai, Director, Darpana, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Bishnupriya Basak, Associate Professor, Department of Archaeology, University of Calcutta
Ms Saili K Palande Datar, Trustee, Samvidya Insititute of Cultural Studies, Pune
Chitta Panda, former Secretary & Curator, Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, India
Mundoli Narayanan, Professor, University of Calicut, India
Abdiel Sánchez Revilla, Professor, Universidad Qutónoma de Querétaro, México
Eugen Ciurtin, Research Professor, Institute for the History of Religions, Bucharest, Romania (EU)
Bhargavi Raju, Art Programme Coordinator, Bangalore International Airport Limited
Dr Satya Vrata Tripathi, Ex Curator, Security Officer, National Museum, India
Reiko Iida, Associate Professor, Kanazawa University, Japan
Maitreyee Deshpande, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, India
Srinivas Kodali, Free Software Movement of India
Devleena Ghosh, Professor, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
R. Saji Kumar, Archivist(Rtd), State Archives Kerala, India
Dr.Sanjiv Bodkhe, Associate Professor, Dept.of History, Shivaji University, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India
Dr Gajanan Kortalwar, Gondwana University, Maharashtra, India
Pamela Price, Profess Emerita, Dept. of History, University of Oslo
Alemtemshi Jamir, Retired Chief Secretary, Nagaland
Nirupama Menon Rao, scholar, independent researcher, former diplomat.
Ashok Jain, owner of a private Museum at Kanpur aged 87.
Cyrus Guzder, Trustee, The Asiatic Society of Mumbai.
Dr. Ananya Vajpeyi, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
Prof. Parul Chakrabarti, Sir J C Bose Trust, Kolkata
Will Sweetman, Professor, University of Otago, New Zealand
Dr Javeed Ul Aziz, Assistant Professor, Department of History , University of Kashmir
Evelynn M. Hammonds, Professor History of Science, Harvard University
Rama Melkote. Professor (retired) Osmania University Hyderabad
Amrita Gupta Singh, Co-founder and Executive Editor, Partition Studies Quarterly Journal
Atul Bhalekar, Director, Trirashmi Research Institute of Buddhism, Indic Languages & Scripts, Maharashtra
Dr Ramesh Chandra Kalita, Ex-president, North East India History Association, Shillong, Meghalaya
Indrani Chatterjee, Professor of History, The University of Texas at Austin
Munis D. Faruqui, Associate Professor, UC Berkeley
Momi Tayang, State archives of Arunachal Pradesh, India
Abul Kashem, Professor of History, University of Rajshahi, BangladeshNandita Das, Actor, Filmmaker.
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
Professor Dr. John S. Gaikwad, Anthropologist, Tribal Research Institute, Pune, Maharashtra
Vivan Sundaram, Artist, Managing trustee.Sher-Gil Sundaram Arts Foundation (SSAF), India
Nikhil Paranjape, Persian Teacher, Savitribai Phule Pune University
PJ James, Principal, St. Xavier’s School, Bokaro, Jharkhand
Manu S Pillai, Historian
Ravi Sundaram, Professor CSDS, Delhi
Amar Yumnam, Ex-VC-in-Charge, Manipur University
Peter Ronald deSouza, DDKosambi Visiting Professor Goa University
Hiroshi Sato, member, Japanese Association for South Asian Studies (JASAS)
Kama Maclean, Professor, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg
Nandita Das, Actor, Filmmaker
Michihiro Ogawa, Associate Professor, University of Tokyo
Edith Parlier-Renault, Professor, Sorbonne Université, Paris
Michael Mann, Professor of South Asian History, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
Mansi Grewal, Teacher, Punjab University
Shelley Lamare, Assistant Professor, St Anthony’s college, Shillong
Saurabh Singh, Research scholar in Ancient Indian History Culture and Archaeology, Deccab college Post-Graduate and Research Institute Pune, Maharashtra, India.
Professor Rajani Prasanna, Trustee KK Hebbar Art Foundation Bangaluru
Stanford Francis. Educationist. La. Martiniere School, Kolkata/ Oxford Mission, Kolkata
Rajat Jangid, Art Conservator, City Palace Museum, Udaipur

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