reading in prison libraries

What do prisoners read, and what kinds of books are stored in prison libraries? Without exception, histories of libraries mention S. R. Ranganathan as instrumental in the establishment of Library Associations (1933 in Calcutta) or Library Systems, Development Plans, Committees and Acts prior to and after independence. These served not only to emphasize the need for systematic library programmes, but linked prison populations to the category of the public, as has been done in countries with vigorous library movements. (Libraries and Librarianship in India by Jashu Patel and Krishan Kumar). Since then, prison libraries flow in and out of public view from time to time, as the object of reforms.

Anupama on libraries in Himachal Pradesh

Scholars of library science have produced detailed accounts of prison libraries, such as Anupama whose PhD thesis on prison libraries in Himachal Pradesh indicates that after preliminary reforms of 1835 in the colonial period, the Prisons Act of 1870 and 1894 shape the existing prison system in India. Post-independence efforts to ensure access to libraries can be traced to library manuals, such as the All India Jail Manual Committee (I960) and the Punjab Government’s Manual for the Superintendence and Management of Jails (1963) in Punjab, which directly recommended that efforts be made to make libraries more accessible. Individual states and prisons arrived at their own levels of reform, with the issue acquiring popularity and visibility from time to time through figures like Kiran Bedi.

Anupama’s work provides a history and account of 14 prisons in every district of Himachal Pradesh, including information on prisoners. It notes that some prison libraries such as the ones in Kangra and Kullu districts, worked in coordination with the State District Libraries, allowing prisoners wider access to material, while many others do not. Lahaul and Spiti have no prison and therefore no prison library. Her accounts of being alone with prisoners, and of having to access remote prisons are a valuable record.

Nirmal Singh on Punjab

Inmates or information debarred? An overview of library services in prisons of Punjab (India)’ by Nirmal Singh who is Assistant Librarian, Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Ludhiana, suggests that few prisons in Punjab have good libraries, often lacking even a newspaper, thereby locking their inmates away from any contact with goings on in the world.

Of the well-functioning libraries in various parts of the country, he mentions the Viyyur Central Jail (Kerala), which ‘has a separate library building with a collection of over 10,000 books in addition to newspapers and periodicals for 800 inmates (The Times of India, 2011)’, and the Central Prison, Poojappura which contains 15,000 books. Among other libraries that feature in his article are those of Bhondsi in Haryana, and Tihar in Delhi.

Singh also cites the Birla Institute of Management Technology (BIMTECH), Noida, which set up a library in Dasna Jail for prisoners. The library was stocked with over 4,000 titles by students ‘based on the survey of prisoners about their requirement for books as an extension of their social initiative under the Ranganathan Society for Social Welfare and Library Development.’, he states. ‘The institute also gifted two computers to the jail with library automation software uploaded’, and students trained prisoners to look after the library and the computers (The Times of India, 2012).


The Centre on the Death Penalty and libraries in Madhya Pradesh


The Death Penalty Research Project at the Centre on the Death Penalty at the National Law University, Delhi took up the question and included queries about the library as part of its research among prisoners, some on the death row.

As with other studies on prison libraries, these interviews mention classroom like rooms which seat between 8 and 10 people. The SC Bose Jabalpur Central Prison Library is a typical example of a functioning library which stores books on history, fiction, and law among other areas, and prisoners are allowed to borrow books for a fifteen day period.   It does not have any link with state libraries. Records of borrowing and a catalogue of books is preserved and literacy and skill training classes are conducted by programmes such as sarv shiksha abhiyaan and NGOS. IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) has a ubiquitous presence in teaching programmes in prison to service literacy programmes. Officials in the Hoshiangabad prison stated that ten percent of the inmates needed basic classes in literacy, and the prison also conducted BA level courses that 76 inmates had cleared, while in the prison in Ujjain, 150 prisoners had sat the IGNOU exam. As is possibly the case in other prisons, while the officials at Hoshiangabad said that the prison put in requests for unavailable books when prisoners asked for them, a prisoner suggests that such requests were obstructed.

Vocation over pleasure

This is perhaps unsurprising as the prison mentions that the budget for books is the same as the stationery budget. Though some libraries in the country are linked to their state district libraries, this is not the case with most prisons. Such links could circumvent the absence of funds which, in the case of those prisons that actually address these needs, would be directed towards vocational training and more instrumental courses. In a prison in Gwalior, an official noted that since most prisoners from the Chambal region had very little education, rarely was a desire expressed for books.

Excerpt from an interview with a prisoner on death row reproduced here:

I: Can you tell us about your experience in prison?

J: As far as I am concerned, prison has proved to be the world’s biggest university. There is no book here that I have not studied. It is true that I can no longer see the sights and spectacles of the outside world. However, when I read I can visualize the world outside within my mind’s eye.

I: When did you begin to cultivate the habit of reading?

J: It is only after I came to prison that I began to read.

I: Would you say that your understanding has expanded?

J: Yes, this has been a change that has influenced my life and my outlook.

I: This expansion of understanding- what is the reason for it?

J: All my perspectives have been enhanced by the books I borrow from the library. I have read almost 10,000 books since coming to this prison. However, it’s been four years since I last stepped foot inside this library.

I: Why is that?

J: After escaping prison, I haven’t been allowed to come here. I request books inside my cell and they are given to me.

I: Which kind of books do you find most engrossing?

J: If you must know, Eyadi is a book I’ve read several times. Then there’s Manushyan Oru Aamukham, Aarachar and Ajith Varkey’s new book.

I: We have heard that you enjoy reading philosophical works as well.

J: My cellmate … has many philosophical books. He has been allowed to keep them in the cell. He has books about the law as well. I have read them all.



An unsuccessful meeting – George Lobo series

Attempts at unity



In the middle of 1956, a meeting held at the Little Flower of Jesus High School on Princess Street, Bombay, which tried to unify the different parties involved in the Liberation movement failed.

The meeting was organized by Rama Hegde and T. B. Cunha who attempted to form an umbrella organization. From the letter, it appears to be heavily weighed in favour of the Congress.

This letter is an account by organizers and signatories of the attempt to set up a Goa Action Committee.

Those named in the letter were prominent in the history of the movement:

Shri Vasant Borkar, Eng· T. B. Cunha, Shri Waman Desai, Dr. Simon Fernandes, Dr, Rama Hegde, Shri J. Heredia, Shri C. Kakodkar, Shri J. V. Kamat,  Shri N. B. Kamat, Eng. R. G. Kamat, Shri Shamrao Lad, Shri George Lobo, Shri Lambert Mascarenhas, Dr. U. M. Mascarenhas, Shri A. X. Mendes, Shri Luiz Mendes, Shri Gerald Pereira, Shri R. da.Gama Pinto, Prof. Lucio Rodrigues, Shri V. L. Shingbal, Shri S. B. D’Silva, Shri J. M. D’Sousa, Smt. Laura D’ Souza, Dr. Menino D’Souza, Shri J . Sukhthanker and Shri George Vaz.

A telegram arrived urging a postponement of the meeting: img014 2

The meeting decided against postponement and efforts at unity, in any case, fell through, owing it appears, to criteria set out by the organizers.

Amchem Zuz, a leaflet from the time of the movement can be read here. It was distributed, as the handwritten note says, in Bandra, at the Mount Mary’s Feast in 1956. (contributed by Diana Pinto)


Sources contributed by Diana Pinto




Letters from Bombay, 1956 – George Lobo, Mazagon Dock, and the Voice of Freedom –

This post was possible because of contributions by Lydia Lobo and family, of letters written by George Lobo when he was Labour Officer at Mazagon Dock Limited.  These letters are between Lobo and Nicolau Menezes who was involved with the liberation movement, initially with its underground activities, and later with the underground radio station, Voice of Freedom.

George Lobo was eventually sacked from his position for his political participation. Subsequently, he was appointed to the Indian High Commission in Glasgow. (source: Diana Pinto) Details in Lobo’s letters reveal the connections between trade unionists, white-collar workers and anti-colonial movements in Bombay. It also has signs of the struggles against racism that continued within white-collar enterprises owned by Europeans after Indian independence.

Those familiar with the history of the city will find mention of the riots in Bombay over the formation of linguistic states, following the submission of the States Reorganization Commission Report. Eighty people were killed in January 1956 in Bombay.

Lobo also mentions the Azad Gomantak Dal, a militant organization in Goa, Lambert Mascarenhas, and his own involvement in the Goa Liberation Council, set up by Aloysius Soares, intended to be a platform to unify those with political differences.

img186 23-2-56 pg1


img188 23-2-56 pg3

img189 23-2-56 pg4


img191 23-2-56 pg5


In a letter to the General Manager at Mazagon Dock Ltd., Lobo argues for equal pay for European and Indian workers on the ground that such differences would create dissatisfaction. He makes an appeal at the end: ‘When you took over at the helm of the Dockyard a feeling went through all ranks, and me in particular, that a new era cutting away from the past, was commencing in this Company…However…certain things have taken place which have disillusioned many of us in officer ranks, leave alone others, particularly in the ranks of Indian Assistants.’

Following his victimization by the management, Lobo made a representation to Shantilal Shah, Minister for Labour, in which he discusses both, his positions on equal pay, as well as his links with the Liberation movement.

img168 11-1-56 pg1


img196 6-4-56

This is a representation to Morarji Desai, then Chief Minister to the government of Bombay, drawing attention to the effect that the victimization of Lobo in Mazagon Dock Ltd. could have among the Navigation companies and seamen’s unions which had many Goan members.
















We thank Diana Pinto, Lydia Lobo, and Sandra Lobo for these materials and invite other contributions at

A digital archive of Indian Christian manuscripts and other texts on colonial Goa

The Endangered Archives Project

by Leonard Fernandes

In addition to publishing texts, CinnamonTeal offers digitization and archival services to libraries such as the Central Library, Goa, and to publishers and authors, who did not have soft copies of their books or manuscripts, and used this route to develop them.

About the EAP 636 

Cinnamon Teal partnered with Dr. Ananya Chakravarti, who was awarded a grant by the Endangered Archives Programme that aims to preserve material  in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. Project 636 of the Endangered Archives Programme run by the British Library, London, is a digital archive of Indian Christian manuscripts, which had two goals: to identify and locate Konkani and Marathi Christian manuscripts in governmental, church, private, institutional, and family collections, and to start digitising texts pertinent to the history of Christianity in India. The project later included manuscripts and books in other languages, such as English and Portuguese.

Ananya Chakravarti, University of Georgetown



A few organizations were apprehensive about where the digitized images would be stored and who might be able to access them. Libraries that are sensitive to the relative advantage they can command on account of possessions that are rare, sometimes see digitization as a threat to this advantage. They tend to reject such proposals outright or allow some less-sensitive material to be digitized. It took some convincing to assure these organizations that the images would be secure and would not be exploited commercially. On the other hand, others were only too happy to allow digitization as it ensured that they would obtain a copy of the digital images. Since the project was funded, the cost of digitization was not a factor in any of the decision-making.

Some of the online full-texts  at the EAP site

Boletim Eclesiástico da Arquidiocese de Goa (1944 – 1962): Ecclesiastical Bulletin of the Archdiocese of Goa, with information and articles related to the Archdiocese. It also had information about priests that were newly ordained. It was available on subscription.

Kristapurana: A 17th-century handwritten manuscript (written by more than one scribe), deemed to be a copy of Thomas Stephens’ Kristapurana;catid=317823;r=6334

Possibly a 1571 record in Goykannada of the village community of Goalim-Moula.

The Gomes Catão papers: Papers written by Pe. Gomes Catão related to the genealogy of priests

Sancto Antonichi Acharya (1655): The book documents the miracles of St. Anthony of Padua. This was digitized from a microfilm.

Janua Indicasive pro Concanica et Decanica Linguis: A detailed comparison of the grammar of the Konkani language with that of Marathi.

A Campanha Luso-Marata de Baçaim: A series of books bound together, the first of which documents Luso-Maratha battles at Baçaim.

Adishankaracharya krut Aatmbodh Satik: Not much is known about this collection of sheets aside from the fact that Adishankaracharya authored the text, and its title, which is written on a paper wrapping these sheets.

As Gavetas da Torre do Tombo: The book describes the catalogue in the former Royal Archive. Each drawer was designated to documents relating to a particular subject of state: charters, wills, treaties and judgments, among others. This nomenclature is now not used and the lockers are referenced by numbers.

Collection II – Typewritten Manuscripts: A collection of typewritten manuscripts such as one on “The last Portuguese embassies at the Mughal Court”

Documentação Avulsa Moçambicana do Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino II: A documentation of the Mozambican archives

Garcia de Orta – Comemorativo do Quarto Centenário da Publicação: A commemorative magazine released to mark the fourth centenary of the publication of “Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia” by Garcia da Orta

The Poona Orientalist Supplements 1948-1963: A collection of bibliographies from various supplements of The Poona Orientalist, an annual journal devoted to Oriental Studies.

La Vieille-Goa: The book describes the city of Old Goa, with a historical overview of the city from accounts of travelers, with notes on St. Francis Xavier, and an archaeological sketch of the city.

Pelo clero de Goa: This book, about the Goan clergy, refers to the schisms in the clergy and the naiveté they displayed. The preface is written by Dom José da Costa Nunes, Bishop of Macau and Timor.

Those who participated

Thomas Stephens Konkani Kendra

a. Goenkaranchem Daiz, a small library in Margao, where only the accession registers were digitised.

b. Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol (here, the scope of the work was limited to the cataloguing of the library alone)
c. Percival Noronha’s private collectionparticularly the papers of Fr. Gomes Catao, prolific in the production of nineteenth century ecclesiastical and religious history
d. Goa University Library
e. Library of the Pilar Mission Seminary                                                                                                                                            f. Thomas Stephens Konkani Kendra                                                                                                                                                             g. Xavier Centre of Historical Research

In the case of the last four repositories, books, papers, unbound manuscripts, and microfilms were digitized.

Malayalam manuscript from the Pilar collection

Over a period of 18 months, we digitized more than 45 thousand pages, spread over 260 collections (books, manuscripts, microfilms, etc.). We were required to catalogue all files and information and ensure that the files were not damaged during the process of copying, using checksum manifests.

Museum at Pilar, from the Government of Goa site

The Process

For those interested in taking this up in their regions, this is what a project of this scale involves: We identified sources of such manuscripts, and requested permission to digitize, catalogue and store them.
a. The material was identified, handed to us for digitization and taken back before the next item was handed over.
b. The pages were cleaned with a brush to remove any dust.
c. These were then digitized, and where the sheets were too large, they were photographed one at a time.
d. Information related to the book and to the collection was recorded.
e. The digitized files were stored through a fixed naming convention. Files were stored in the RAW format at 300 dpi (at 48-bit colour depth). All files related to a single book or manuscript or collection of papers were stored in its own folder. The folder was then subjected to a checksum test.                                         f. A separate folder was created with the TIFF equivalents of each RAW file.


In the mission field

We used a Nikon D5100 to capture the images. The software ViewNX 2.1W was used to convert RAW images to TIFF. We set up 1 or 2 stations depending upon the space available, and at all times, digitization was carried out at the premises of the organization concerned. To digitize microfilms, the Epson V500 scanner was used.

For each file, the following information was recorded

a. The title of the book or manuscript                                                                                                                                                 b. A description (a complete statement describing the form and subject matter of the material, including the following as appropriate: function of material, record type, context, geographical areas/places/locations/buildings, topics, events, people, organizations, languages, decoration etc.)
c. Custodial history (brief details of the provenance/history of ownership of the material being described)
d. Dates of original material
e. Physical characteristics
f. Languages of material
g. Creator(s) – (and whether the creator was an author, scribe or publisher)
h. Rights (If the material is still in copyright,  the name of the person who owns the copyright to the material is required.)
i. Sensitive personal data (Racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious beliefs, membership of a trade union, physical or mental health, sexual life, commission/alleged commission of an offense or proceedings for any offense/ alleged offense, or sentence of court).
j. Digital folder name (related to the book or manuscript name)
k. Digital file name
l.  Creation dates of digital copies
m. Extent and format of digital copies                                                                                                                                           The details of the contributing organization was also recorded.


Archives in South Africa: an overview

Isabel Hofmeyr is Professor of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and Global Distinguished Professor at the University of New York.

Among her publications are: Popularising History: The Case of Gustav Preller, African Studies Institute, 1987, The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, Princeton University Press, 2004, Gandhi’s Printing Press: Experiments in Slow Reading, Harvard University Press, 2013, and Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire: Creating an Imperial Commons, Duke University Press, 2014. 

South Africa hosts a rich range of archival repositories. this article provides a rough guide to the major collections and outlines some of the debates emerging around the politics of archives in post-apartheid south Africa.

State repositories across 140 KILOMETRES

States repositories (comprising some 140km of shelf space filled with material in a variety of media) dominate the archive landscape. The organisation of these state archives follows colonial and apartheid provincial divisions. Currently, the major repositories are located in Pietermaritzburg (Kwa-Zulu Natal), Bloemfontein (Free State), Cape Town (Western Cape) and Pretoria (Gauteng).

The best place to start exploring each of these is the website of the National Archives and Record Services The website provides an overview of the major holdings of each of these repositories. (Click on National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System and then on Source Codes which lists the various depots. Click on any one of these to get a list of the departments and institutions whose papers are held.) There is a facility to search file titles by keyword, which allows one to drill down and get a sense of what is available.

Some of the more famous holdings

Some of the more famous holdings across these repositories include the Dutch East India Company papers in the Western Cape Provincial Archives (for details see Dutch East India Company papers in the Western Cape Provincial Archives (for details see These have been used to produce major studies on slavery at the Cape.

The National Archives Repository in Pretoria contains the Secretary of Native Affairs papers, a major source for much South African social history from below, outlining forms of protest and resistance against colonial and apartheid rule, a major source for much South African social history from below, outlining forms of protest and resistance against colonial and apartheid rule.

The Censorship Board papers in Cape Town have been explored to good effect to understand the shaping of (or constraints on) South African literary production under apartheid. In the Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, the Indian Immigration papers have formed the basis for several studies on the histories of Indian diasporic communities in Natal.

These various repositories also contain rich photographic holdings and there is the National Film, Video and Sound Archives in Pretoria.


Currently, access for everyone (South African and non-South African) is easy: one arrives with some form of ID, signs in, orders material and on a good day, within half-an-hour, the boxes will arrive and one can be working away. The rules as to the number of boxes you can order and whether you can take photographs vary from depot to depot, so best phone in advance (the website is not up to date on these details). Some repositories have lunch and coffee options nearby but some not, so BYO is the best rule to follow, at least on the first day.

State of the Archives

At present, these archives depots function reasonably well although there has been growing concern about the general health of the state archive system as a whole. The system has been increasingly poorly funded and has been drawn into the maw of political infighting and factionalism, which dominate the ruling African National Congress regime. A 2014 study State of the Archives ( outlines severe structural problems with the archive system: underfunding, lack of a coherent policy framework, absence of digitisation strategies, little public outreach, destruction of documents without due process, and “cultures of secrecy [that] revivified that old apartheid oppressive tool – the classified document” (this latter strategy bolstered by 2011 legislation limiting access to state information).

The state archives have also failed to live up to the ambitious post-apartheid policies enacted in the National Archives of South Africa Act of 1996 which sought to increase access and public outreach; promote archives as a source of information in support of programmes of redress like land claims; and boost the presence of marginal voices in the archival holding. This failure is perhaps best captured in the controversy around ‘sensitive’ parts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission records, some of which virtually disappeared were it not for the tenaciousness of an NGO, the South African Historical Archive which through litigation prised some (but not all) of these disputed records out of a reluctant Department of Justice, National Intelligence Agency and the National Archive Services itself (for an account see

At present, these problems do not directly affect users except for growing instances of lost and misfiled documents, a product of understaffing and underfunding. However, the wear and tear on the system is likely to make matters worse while the increasing paranoia of the current South African regime may, further down the line, lead to much more vetting and bureaucracy for non-South Africans wanting to use the archives depots. So, if you’re thinking of coming on an archival trip, come sooner rather than later.

Beyond the state archive

Beyond the state archive there are rich holdings in universities, museums, libraries, and private collections. There is an excellent list of these at which reflect the diversity of material available including large holdings on Christian missions in southern Africa. This list has been compiled by an effective archival activist group called Archival Platform established under the auspices of the Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative at the University of Cape Town ( and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The Archives and Public Culture Research Initiative is a vibrant transdisciplinary centre for debate and research on the intersection of the archive and public life. The Initiative is under the leadership of Carolyn Hamilton, a leading scholar of archival theory and practice (see her co-edited collection Refiguring the Archive

With regard to the non-state archives, several of these carry major collections on anti-apartheid struggles. Highlights include the University of the Western Cape Robben Island Museum Mayibuye Archive (; the Liberation Archives at the University of Fort Hare (; and Historical Papers at the University of the Witwatersrand ( There are also oral history archives taking shape inter alia at the District Six Museum which commemorates the cosmopolitan inner community area in Cape Town forcibly removed under apartheid ( Another innovative post-apartheid archive has been GALA, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (

Some keen digitizers

While state archives have undertaken little, if any digitisation, some non-state archives have begun making resources available online. Examples include the Bleek and Lloyd archive at the University of Cape Town, a collection of material generated by the linguist Wilhelm Bleek and his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd who interviewed ‘Bushman’ informants between 1870 and 1884. Parts of this collection can be seen at The Historical Papers at the University of the Witwatersrand is another keen digitizer as is the Killie Campbell Africana Library in Durban ( which has a rich cache of photographs online. The Gandhi-Luthuli Archive in Durban ( contains rich holdings on South African Indian history, many of which are online. The South African History Online ( is a vibrant site with a range of resources.

















The Baroda Record Room

Everything you needed to know about the Record Room in Baroda

by Nandini Bhattacharya



Photo courtesy of the British Library, London

The old Kothi, which housed the record room, since replaced by a resplendent building in 1922


The city of Baroda like all of small-town India has changed so much in the past two decades, that it is unrecognizable from the charming, slow-paced erstwhile princely capital that it was, formerly. Before they were swamped by the expanding concrete high rise buildings and the ubiquitous glass- and -chrome shopping malls and multiplexes, the prominent and visible architecture of Baroda included palaces, college buildings, hospital and marketplace erected in the Indo-Saracenic style during the reign of Maharajah Sir Sayajirao III (r. 1873-1939).


The archives or the Record Room of the former Baroda State is in one such princely building, the Kothi-which was the Secretariat of the Baroda Durbar until 1948. The Kothi still functions as the collectorate office of the district of Baroda (renamed Vadodara) today. The Kothi was built in 1922, inspired, it is said, by the royal Balmoral castle in Scotland, and replaced an older building, serving as the Secretariat from the late nineteenth century  on, at the same site.

The archives and records of the erstwhile Baroda State represent the reinvented and modernized state itself during Sayajirao’s reign; like similar princely states (most prominently Travancore and Mysore), the content of this modernity was ambivalent and fragmentary. Nonetheless, Sayajirao’s reign oversaw the reformulation of the Baroda State’s infrastructure in certain fundamental ways. The most significant of these was the streamlining of revenues, which included tributes from scores of smaller princely states in Gujarat and Saurashtra, and the organization of alternative sources of revenue from the traditional agrarian surplus such as the imposition of control, licensing and taxation on opium, salt, and alcohol. The new institutions of the state included the establishment of the famed Baroda College referenced on the western university model followed by the Bombay Presidency; investment in an extensive railway line across and beyond the State, and the rudiments of public education and health systems. The capital city itself was rebuilt to display the amenities of a modern civic culture: these included public gardens and libraries and a museum and art gallery that teemed with paintings and artifacts imported from Europe.


Marooned in a crowded bazaar

The Kothi is now marooned in the crowded bazaar, court house and offices of the old city that surround it. The Record Room itself, housed in a separate one-storey block, looks abandoned and quiet in contrast, much like many other provincial archives in India. The difference, however, is that here the records are generally maintained in excellent condition and are in order, a rare exception for a regional archive. There are bahis in both English and in Gujarati (the Bodiya script). The day-to-day administration of the Baroda Durbar was recorded in Gujarati, and therefore the bulk of the documents are in the Gujarati Bodhiya script. Both the records begin from around the 1770s and continue until the 1930-40s.


Huzur English and Huzur Political

The substantial numbers of archival documents in English are from two principal offices of the Baroda administration: the Huzur Political and the Huzur English. Both are comprehensively indexed. The indexes are available in the form of hand-written registers. I have had the occasion to use them the occasion to use them several times over the past ten years and although these are now in tatters, they are still serviceable. There was talk of extensive digitization in the archive around four to five years ago, but steps in that direction are now not visible.

The Huzur Political series is an eclectic one and contains correspondence related to almost every department; revenue including abkari, audit, general administration reports, education, health, government orders and notifications, roads, railways and municipal governance, to name the most substantial ones.

The Huzur English series contains correspondence between the Court, the Dewan’s office, and the Residency. Given that the Residency interested itself in every branch of administration from the royal palace intrigues to the revenues, the Huzur English series is fairly comprehensive as well. It is not a coincidence that the Baroda Durbar has engaged the attention of scholars exploring a range of historical problematics related to the princely states from high politics and diplomacy to courtly culture; agrarian land systems to the princely states’ indigenous modern cultural and material entanglements. The sheer ease and access to the documents of the Baroda State and by extension, its tributary states in the south, central, and north Gujarat and Kathiawad offer great opportunities to researchers of western India. Research students from the M. S. University of Baroda use the archive extensively for their postgraduate and doctoral theses.


The room

There is a large shared desk in the sitting area for research scholars, and although there is no air conditioning, it is a pleasant working space. The deputy archivist has his desk in the same space and is present to help the scholars if necessary and to keep an eye on them. Until very recently this position was occupied by Mr. Solanki, who was very knowledgeable about the archive and represented, in fact, the sum of institutional memory in that place. He displayed several visiting cards of research scholars from India and abroad under the glass on top of his desk. I remember seeing Barbara Ramusack’s, for instance. It is clear that officials at this archive are proud of their collections and of their ability to assist research scholars. The archivist himself sits in a separate office and in my experience, found it best to direct all queries to his deputy.


Working hours and bring a letter with you 

The working hours are from 11 to 4, Mondays to Fridays. Requisitions for files and bahis are accepted all day until 3. One minor inconvenience of accessing the archive is that the Baroda Record Room insists on a letter of introduction from a member of the faculty, the department of history at the M.S.University of Baroda, regardless of any other credentials the outstation research scholar may produce. While this may provide opportunities for enjoyable socializing over tea at the history department to many, it is not always suitable for strangers who arrive there on short visits.


Kopra kachoris

There are government offices across the road from the record room; along with the collectorate itself, these contribute bustle and urgency to what would otherwise be a very quiet corner in the Kothi complex. Researchers at the archive use the canteen at the office across the road which serves tea and snacks, including delicious kopra kachoris.


Dr. Nandini Bhattacharya is Director, Scottish Centre for Global History, School of Humanities (History), University of Dundee, UK, and author of Contagion and Enclaves: Tropical Medicine in Colonial India, Postcolonial Studies series, Liverpool University Press, 2012.  Contagion and Enclaves examines the social history of medicine in two intersecting enclaves ; the hill station of Darjeeling ; and the adjacent tea plantations of North Bengal. 

Tanuja Kothiyal on the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner


Tanuja Kothiyal teaches history at Ambedkar University, Delhi. She is the author of  Nomadic Narratives – A History of Mobility and Identity in the Great Indian Desert, which examines the processes of settlement in Western Rajasthan.

On first entering the archive

I first visited the Rajasthan State Archives, Bikaner for the first time as an MPhil Research Scholar in 1995.  After I gingerly filled a requisition slip for the index register, the in-charge of the research room placed a thick bahi in front of me, to browse, while they found the index. I struggled with an unfamiliar script, which after a while seemed like a string of old nagari letters without a break. This was a sort of test, I realized much later. Once the in-charge realized I intended to stick it out, help came from several unexpected quarters, from, someone who would help me read the script, someone who would know the exact bahi which contained references to the routes I was looking for, someone who would let me in to the cavernous stacks to hunt for the exact basta that could not be found.

Research in an Indian archive is never a fully impersonal, professional exercise. A researcher’s journey through the archive is full of personal vignettes, reminders of each stage where the research appeared futile or took a definitive turn. The old research room at the Archives in Bikaner was like that. Attendants would point to the chairs where Satish Chandra and later Dilbagh Singh sat. The monotony of poring through records would be broken by the 4 o’ clock call to the pigeons which would signal the beginning of the end of the day for employees of the archive and yet another struggle for the researchers who wanted to stay on till 6:30.

Over the years…

Over the years the research section has shifted to a new state of the art air conditioned room, with computers to examine the digitized copies of old records. Few records are now ferried from the old stack rooms, which seem far better organized than before. Yet, it is a place where old and new, coalesce and clash, with each record containing within itself histories, sometimes contentious, of acquisition.

The idea of an archive of records and manuscripts was itself located in reimagining of princely states as both, subjects of historical research as well as modern bureaucratic enterprises. The early decades of the twentieth century witnessed a rise in interest in fashioning of a ‘self’ by the princely states, leading to collection and organization of manuscripts and records pertaining to royal families. However, most of these records and manuscripts continued to be lodged within different princely states, until a reorganization of the state of Rajasthan was achieved in 1952, and a modern archive for research into history of the new state conceptualized.

The building

The brown and red Rajasthan State archive building is itself a part of the modernizing project of Maharaja Ganga Singh, a vision so visible in the Junagarh fort museum, with the World War I DH-9DE Haviland war plane acquired as a war souvenir in 1920 as a pièce-de-résistance. When it was built in 1934, the building was expected to accommodate the Government Press. However, a part of it was converted in to the Rajasthan State Archives in 1955, to store and make available for research, records of older princely states and the former Chief Commissioner’s province of Ajmer-Merwara that were amalgamated into the state of Rajasthan.

And the records

These records, ranging from a period of mid seventeenth century to 1952, are in various Rajasthani dialects, Persian, Urdu, Hindi and English. These records pertain to state orders, accounts of taxes levied, of purchases and expenses, correspondence between officials, as well as appeals made by common people. While the earlier state records are in form of bahis written in various forms of mahajani and modhi scripts, the nineteenth century records are in form of files, and organized according to departments like Railways, Salt, PWD etc. It is difficult not to be impressed by the neat rows of red bundles in the stacks of the Rajasthan State Archives in Bikaner. These bundles humble a researcher by reminding her of the vast bureaucracy that stored away little facts from the seventeenth century onwards, to be ferreted and made sense of later. However, a number of old princely state manuscripts and records are still retained by the old princely families and are accessible only through contacts with the families.

A large number of manuscripts are also located in the libraries and institutions like the Rajasthan Oriental Research Institute and Rajasthani Shodh Sansthan in Jodhpur, Anup Sanskrit Library in Bikaner, Pratap Shodh Sansthan in Udaipur etc, as well as in some private collections.

The state archive however, does house a Tessitori gallery dedicated to the Italian Indologist and grammarian L P Tessitori, who was employed by Bikaner, and collected a vast range of manuscripts and wrote copiously about them. The archive has acquired some correspondence between Tessitori and the Bikaner state, though most of Tessitori’s research notes and correspondence was transferred to his heirs and is located in the municipal library at Udine.

The Rajasthan State Archives also has an Oral History Division which contains interviews of several freedom fighters. The library attached to the Archives houses a collection of reports from the mid nineteenth century onwards, like Annual Administration Reports, Survey Reports, Census Reports, Reports of Famine Commissions, as well as gazetteers and travelogues. It is also a rich repository of historical books and vernacular journals published in Rajasthan.

As I pointed out earlier, research in the Rajasthan State Archives is never a mere professional experience. The mere fact of visiting the research room itself creates a camaraderie, based on ability to access the archive. The town itself has little to offer beyond the tourist attractions, and the researchers tend to spend most of their time in the archive itself. A few years back it used to offer a dormitory for male researchers, but the facility has been withdrawn for sometime now. Female researchers are however expected to find private accommodation, though guest houses, hostels and hotels. Food remains a concern for people not used to spicy and oily cuisine.

With increasing digitization it is now possible to view indexes, as well as some records online, but without visiting the archive, and poring over records in the old fashioned way, it is difficult to imagine writing a history through those records. I say this not merely out of nostalgia for the archive and archival research, but from the experience that archive, its assembly, arrangements, rules of access, hierarchies, all have their own histories that have to be experienced and incorporated into the histories that we write.