Use digitisation, set up manuscript documentation centre

Use digitisation, set up manuscript documentation centre

Use digitisation, set up manuscript documentation centre

The announcement  by  Prime Minister  Narendra Modi that the crucial  files pertaining to Subhas Chandra Bose, kept in secrecy for seven decades,  would be declassified on his next birth anniversary, has not come a day soon.

His declaration that history should never be strangled also sounds very sane as no attempt should be made by the powers to stifle the voice of  history, equally not to  hush up the documents that go into the  labour of writing of  history.

The episode of Netaji’s documents brings in to focus the crucial role the historical documents play in the writing of  history. It may be recalled that the previous  NDA regime in 2002, launched a National Mission for Manuscripts (NMM) to identify, collect and preserve records of historical importance for the main purpose of  reconstructing the past.  
An amount of Rs 35 crore was earmarked  to be spent under the Ministry of Culture for this endeavour. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) was named as the nodal agency to monitor the  mission. Though the project was launched more than 13 years ago, sadly  no progress has been made in the direction of realising its desired objectives  so far.

At present, to preserve the historical records, there are archival centres  which take care of the governmental records in our country. These archival repositories are constituted on a three–tier set-up. The National Archives is the apex body in the national capital that houses all the Government of India's records. The State Archives  are located at every state headquarters and Regional Archival centres are constituted in every region within the states. 

All these centres possess valuable archival materials and are being used
mostly for research and academic purposes. Research scholars in history and other social sciences  in universities and institutes devoted to research and training, greatly rely on these archival sources for their studies. They are also made use of by the governmental agencies for administrative purposes.
The old records are regularly consulted by the numerous judicial commissions and other investigating agencies. Several NGOs also make use of the records preserved in the archives for purposes like making project proposals and for referral assignments. Freelance writers and scholars also depend on archives for their writings.

It is a matter of great gratification to know that of late, several corporate and business houses, having realised the significance of  preserving their past records for their own future references, have started to have their in house-archives. The Tatas, for example, have established the  Tata Central Archives (TCA) in Pune.

Here, the company’s important records, documents, property deals, even rare photographs, proceedings of the meetings of the functioning bodies pertaining to the  various companies run under the banner of the Tatas and the people associated with it from the days of its inception with a historical perspective are scientifically preserved. The Tatas’ initiative in the establishment of their own private archives   should serve as an example for other corporate houses to be emulated. 

It is well known that there are a large number of records of historical importance in the custody of private individuals and their households, which do not fall under the purview of the government-run or corporate-owned archives. It is estimated that there are nearly five million manuscripts within India that are in the custody of private individuals  which have a great bearing on the history, culture and heritage of the country. 

It is also believed that a fund of records on Indian history and culture is in South-East Asian countries as well as in Europe.  The Indian Institute Library in Oxford,  one of the constituents of the University’s  main Bodleian library  and the India Office Library (now a part of the British Library) London, contain several lakhs of important records pertaining to India's past. 

National movement

There are also the Dutch, Danish and French records in abundance spread
over in several European cities on Indian  studies. It is necessary that these records are made known to the interested Indian scholars.

Some of the erstwhile zamindar and jagirdar families  in India still possess  rare documents, palm leaf books and other manuscripts  which they consider as a part of the heirlooms. A number of  families  of the freedom fighters have very valuable letters, documents and other correspondence that throw interesting insights on the understanding of the national movement at a micro level.

Most of the documents in the possession of private individuals are not documented and thus are not accessible. As the people possessing such records consider these documents as sacred and secret, they will not be easily willing to part with them. But given the importance that such records wield in the understanding of our past, the government should encourage such  private individuals  to come forward and present their documents for   the  public cause.

A Manuscript Documentation Centre  as a part of the National Mission for the Manuscripts should be set up making every district as a nodal point and the manuscripts thus collected be preserved with all the modern facilities of conservation. 

The modern technology in digitisation could to be utilised to enable those interested in consulting such manuscripts from  major archival centres through internet facility. The historical records go a long way not only in the process of reconstructing our past but they are also eloquent testimonies  of our rich heritage.

(The writer is retired professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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