Indian history in the making is dying by the day because of apathy and disdain of the government towards archives.
Besides not receiving 25-year-old records for upkeep as per rules, officials at the National Archives of India rue the callousness of ministries and departments in maintaining public records before handing them over to the NAI.
“Usually, the records we receive are eaten and infested by moths and termites and in a rotten state. Despite spending huge money on restoration, we often fail to get them back in proper shape,” says an archivist employed with the NAI.
“The only way out is to employ trained archivists as record keepers in every ministry and department who can keep the records in good condition. Or else the future generations will keep groping in the dark to know their authentic past,” says another archivist wondering if the government is purposely callous to get rid of certain records.
Historian Ramchandra Guha agrees.“The NAI is doing an excellent work within its limited capacity. Some scholars are working tirelessly to preserve archival material for the last 30 years. The fault lies with the political class of successive governments who have not paid any attention to preserve the archival history. It has always been low on government’s priority for unspecified reasons,” he says.
The government’s low priority towards the NAI also reflects from the fact that in the last 13 years it has only once been able to hand the reins of NAI to a person from the field of history. After Professor Mushirul Hasan’s term as director general ended in May, 2013, the government has not been able to find a suitable candidate.
Prior to Hasan, Kumar Sarkar was the only authentic archivist who worked as full-fledged director general of NAI. After his retirement in 2000, the NAI reins were in the hands of joint secretary-level officials.
“How on earth can a joint secretary having additional charge and unrelated to the archival discipline serve an important institution like the National Archives? It needs good leadership. It did some excellent work during Hasan’s time. He used to go personally to the ministries to demand records.
The government should have appointed a new DG of Hasan’s calibre the day he left,” says Guha.
However, the search and selection committee chaired by the cabinet secretary has not been able to find a suitable candidate.
The reason, perhaps, lies in reputed historians having self respect and their inability to kowtow before bureaucrats for every work.
The current DG, Pramod Jain, is a joint secretary in the ministry of culture and also handles celebrations division. “Due to heavy work load, he sits in Vigyan Bhawan complex and pays little attention to the NAI,” says a senior NAI official.
The remedy, according to most archivists working with the NAI, lies in appointing the DG from their own stock. “Archive is a passion. The institution needs a professional who has it in abundance and bestows love and care to records like his own child,” says a respected senior archivist.