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Historians without history
Chitleen K. Sethi
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 1
Historians working on contemporary India are virtually groping in the dark. The Government of India has not handed over to the National Archives its official files since Independence despite the 30-year “locking period” ending as many as 30 years ago.

Dr Mridula Mukherjee, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, said historians were contemplating asking for these files under the Right to Information Act.

“We do not have access to files from any ministry after 1947 and this is the single largest gaping hole in the sources we work with. We end up working with reports, interviews and other data, but government file notings can lead to a different story altogether,” she said.

Researchers working on events that took place during the past 60 years were at best producing “blindfolded” works in which information from the richest source of information was missing. Dr Bipin Chandra had in his work on contemporary India highlighted this problem. “His work is on the Indira Gandhi and Jaiprakash Narayan period and is based on all sorts of sources other than official,” she said.

Compare the situation with the one in the UK. “It’s a sight to watch when after the locking period is over, the next morning all official files of the government are handed to the Public Records Office for everyone to see,” she said.

Some states in India have, however, nothing to hide. Patiala state shifted its entire collection of data, including administrative files and correspondence, to the archives. Similarly, the Uttar Pradesh Government gives permission to access its files.

“The strangest thing is that most states do not allow access to police records even of pre-Independence days. Why is the Government of India hiding such truths?” Dr Mukherjee asked.

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