India’s Archives: How Did Things Get This Bad?





Dinyar Patel is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Harvard University, currently working on a dissertation on Dadabhai Naoroji and early Indian nationalism. He can be reached at dpatel@fas.harvard.edu.

Why has modern India had such a difficult time preserving its history?

Tridip Suhrud, professor who has written extensively on Mohandas K. Gandhi, blamed a lack of historical sensitivity for problems in his state. Gujarat’s local maharajas and business families, he remarked, did not place much importance on keeping records.

Consequently, there has been little interest in creating or patronizing archival institutions. Mr. Suhrud can only count three other scholars currently working at the Sabarmati Ashram Library in Ahmedabad, the principal repository of Gandhi’s personal papers (properly preserved in a locked, temperature-controlled room, he noted).

Murali Ranganathan, an independent researcher, based in Mumbai, pointed out that the pre-colonial tradition of archives and libraries was extremely strong elsewhere in India: dynasties in Maharashtra, Assam, and Mysore kept vast collections that still survive. Beginning around 1900, he argued, Indians started to become too poor to properly maintain their collections, although several institutions, such as the Khuda Bakhsh Library in Patna and the Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur (Tanjore), have maintained excellent traditions of preserving pre-British era books and manuscripts....



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