By FAHEEM ASLAM
Srinagar, Mar 4: The Archives Department in Kashmir houses some of the vital documents about Kashmir’s history, culture and heritage. But for the Jammu and Kashmir Government, they seem to be worth nothing, not even preservation. A cursory look at Kashmir Repository, located inside the dilapidated building of the Archives Department in Old Secretariat here, is enough to reveal how bird droppings and dust have together taken sheen off Kashmir’s rich archival material, which observers believe includes “important, unique, and rare” documents and manuscripts.
Since March 2008, when this newspaper reported how bird droppings were consuming the rich documents, the Archives Department has just plugged the ceiling of the building in a bid to prevent entry of birds. But that is where it has ended, though observers had then strongly pleaded that the documents should be preserved, categorized and probably displayed for exhibition to let the people know about their past. But, according to insiders in the Archives Department, nothing was done in this regard, except for making promises that something would be done. No cataloging and indexing has been taken up so far.
This time around, the documents have been bundled in dirty strips of scarf-like material, exactly like a dry cleaner bundles the unwashed clothes. What is interesting to observe is that nobody, not even the officials in the Department, are sure about the overall stuff that the Repository houses. But they are certain that it is housing the key documents like Maharaja Hari Singh’s Confidential Records, State Department Records, Military Records, Ex-Governor Records, and the famous Glancy Commission Report.
None of the officials in the department is sure about the exact location of these documents. All they say is that the documents “exist somewhere.” Reason: none of these documents have been cataloged so far, and not a single document has been preserved the way it should have been. Insiders say that many pages of the Glancy Commission Report have already faded away while the documents in various shelves in the hall are moth-eaten. There is a total mess in their organization. The documents of Home Department can be seen in the Revenue section while as those of Revenue section can be seen in the Finance section.
The condition of the Repository has so far irked a number of visitors, especially in the backdrop of the applicability of the Right to Information Act which makes the availability of information for the aspirants mandatory. Two years back, a US-based Kashmiri researcher wrote about the Kashmir Repository: “I came to know that the J&K State Archives Department consists of three repositories one each in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. These repositories contain important documents related to Kashmir. I got a chance to visit Kashmir and Jammu repositories which hold documents like His Highness’ Confidential Records, State Department Records, Military Records and Ex-Governor Records. I started my research by visiting Kashmir Repository which is housed in a mysterious primitive building at Srinagar (Old Secretariat). On the first day of my research something much unexpected happened. While I was climbing up the creepy dark stairs onto the first floor, I caught my sandal heel into one of the many stair holes which went unnoticed in the dark. I pulled my foot hard to let go my sandal and found myself limping all day. It sounds quite hilarious now but it was quite embracing then!” wrote Fozia Lone, then Doctoral Student at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK.
She added: “Finally, one afternoon the door to the mysterious ‘hall’ was opened and it left me flabbergasted and the first thing I said was wow! To me it appeared as if a bomb had exploded and left the place as rubble. As a researcher I was utterly disheartened to witness the treasure of the Kashmiri history in ruins. This was a contrast for me having worked in the British Library and the National Archives in London. I was not expecting the standard of London but the disorder in the hall literally horrified me.”
According to employees in the Archives Department, the Department has been neglected for unknown reasons. “The situation in the department is matching the old saying of carpenter’s hands for mason’s work. There are professional people in the department who are not given a chance to prove their mettle. Instead things are being outsourced for unknown reasons. And despite doing that, work is not done in time,” the employees, wishing anonymity, told Greater Kashmir. “Given a chance, the employees can easily do the cataloguing of the documents. Ideally speaking, this Repository could have been a frequently visited place for academics, students and researchers from all over the world. But because of its messy condition, there is hardly a researcher who visits here.”
‘ARCHIVAL MATERIAL MUST’
Political analysts believe that no society or government can deny the importance of the archival material vis-à-vis writing about and knowing about the past. “In case of Kashmir, where we claim to have a 5000 year old recorded history, there should naturally have been more consciousness as far as preservation of historical material is concerned,” said Prof Gul Muhammad Wani, who teaches Political Science at the University of Kashmir. “Further it is equally important that in case of Kashmir, the past is very often invoked by all types of theorists, sociologists, historians to interpret the present and also suggest ways for constructing the future. So naturally, the importance of archival material is always there.”
Prof Wani believes that Kashmiris, whether educated, middle class, intelligentsia or the political class, are suffering from a syndrome of one dimensional thinking wherein every thing has got bogged down to conflict only. “There are issues like archives, like culture, environment, and quality of education or healthcare. No society in any part of the society can afford to ignore these especially in restless times or in times of uncertainty. Second issue is that intelligentsia is considered to be people who generally should be more concerned about issues like archival material or heritage as compared to other sections of the society. But Kashmir intelligentsia has certain handicaps. That they are good at home building but miserable at the institution building. Further they are socially callous, intellectually suffocating and historically ignorant,” he said. “There is need for a very powerful all inclusive movement to generate consciousness about issues like archival material, art and heritage. All these things are otherwise on decline. The state government also needs to rise to the occasion.”
WILL LOOK INTO IT: JORA
When contacted, Minister for Culture Nawang Rigzin Jora said he would look into the issue. “I will have the matter looked into,” he told Greater Kashmir.