Strikes in the gold fields and royal inheritance disputes – the Karnataka State Archives

The Distractions of the Archives

Janaki Nair

‘A Handbook to the Ports on the Coast of India between Calcutta and Bombay, including the Island of Ceylon.’, Herbert Samuel Brown, Mangalore, 1897 from the British Library collection on Flickr

The tryst with dust begins with the dog-eared catalogues, in an untidy row on a rack near the few sets of tables reserved for scholars. The ambient noise and frequent and anxious queries about whether her last meal has been taken (“oota ayitha?”) combine to slowly inure the scholar visiting the Karnataka State Archives to assaults on the senses. KSA has never believed that research must take place in a sequestered environment; the true test of the committed researcher is to remain undistracted and absorbed with the yellowing crumbling pages before her despite the constant shuffle and loud talk around.

The business of settling down to work by the archival staff – opening and closing metal drawers, to the accompaniment of loud comments on the bus ride to work (now happily shifted to the travails of the metro), children’s illnesses, the state of the State – is best ignored by the scholar easing into the normal working of archives. By about 11.30 am, after having sat fidgeting in their cabins, or at their desks, depending on their place in the hierarchy, as staff start drifting away for their morning cup there is a respite when the huge cavernous archives fall briefly silent. Then, vigorous discussion is resumed, within the earshot of scholars, of the price of sites, houses in this fast-growing metropolis. Yet the stacks of files exert their own charm and fascination. And their own set of distractions.

The Kolar Gold Fields – attaching the past to the present

Looking back on my career, I wonder how often that sidetracking from the determined search for paper trails, the tracking of a chronological sequence, has been rewarding. Sometime in 1989, while in the Karnataka State Archives, I came across a reference to a strike in Kolar Gold Fields on April 6, 1930, the very day when Gandhi broke the salt laws. Requisitioning the file transported me immediately to another part of Mysore, to the dark tunnels two kilometres underground where three generations of gold miners had worked. That file, an accidental find, then led me to KGF, to “reattach the past to the present” (as Arlette Farge has put it). I developed a warm association with and a deep understanding of its inhabitants, their sense of the place as both liberating and exploitative.

An inheritance denied

Many such engagements are suddenly enabled when the bundles of files are brought out: disappointment at a trail running dry, elation when, not one, but fifteen fat files related to the debts of the Maharaja of Mysore tell a fascinating tale of women, widowed, driven to insanity, hopeful, being denied their rightful inheritance. We may not have gone looking for these women, but they spring, from the enigmatic shadows of petitions written by those adept at the law, they turn, as if in despair, to the possible new airing that the mere historian may give to their faded, papery presence.

Sensory pleasures of the paper file

Imagine the surprise when, on my recent visit to the Karnataka State Archives, I was warmly welcomed to a completely new way of doing research, since all the files had been digitized. No more that tactility, that direct connection with the past as your turn the yellowing pages, that perpetual acquaintance with dust. Natalie Davis, similarly, laments what we have lost in the process of new technologies of access, which are so much more convenient, and yet deprive us of the file as a sensory object. The petty joys of easier access, of going home with entire bundles of files in your small thumb drive, cannot replace the rewards of that meandering, that slow absorption that marked our own pasts as researchers. In that unexpected, chance encounter with the cantankerous bureaucrat, the frightened peasant, the pious but unhinged woman, that eloquent worker and his “anonymous” note, that which may never become an article or a book, or even a footnote, but yet has enthralled the reader for many hours at the small cramped desk, that encounter will never be the same again.

and of distractions that lead nowhere

I still remember the call I once received from a student who had visited the National Library in Calcutta, where she had found some strikingly relevant materials with which to take her research forward. Her enthusiasm matched that of one who discovered a new vein of gold in the dark, spent, underground. Others may report how their eyes glaze over when they see the long rows of spidery figures, meticulously maintained, on what has been spent on say, education, or on the construction of a building. But it is those who report that they have been distracted by the trial of witches when they were searching for the agricultural labourer, or by the long disquisition on the infirmities of caste when they only wanted access to the education of the artisan or those captivated by the richly embroidered handwriting in the private papers of a businessman, these trails that might lead nowhere, that make the defiantly dull environs of the archives an absorbing and enticing place.



British Library on flickr: Image from ‘A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar’






Janaki Nair is Professor, Modern History, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her publications include The Promise of the Metropolis: Bangalore’s Twentieth Century, OUP, 2007, Women and Law in Colonial India: A Social History, Kali for Women in collaboration with the National Law School of India University, 1996, Mysore Modern: Rethinking the Region Under Princely Rule, University of Minnesota Press, 2011, and Miners and Millhands: Work, Culture and Politics in Princely Mysore, Sage Publications, 1998. 


G. N. Saibaba on his medical condition and experience in prison, January 18


Colleague Dr. G. N. Saibaba’s current condition (described in the latest letter to Prof. Hargopal)

Professor Hargopal ji,
Committee for the Defence and Release of Dr. G.N. Saibaba

I am grateful to you and all the eminent members of the committee for your kind concern about my deteriorating health condition after being lodged in this prison without medical investigations and treatment for the last more than 10 months. I also want to express my deep sense of gratitude to the committee members and all my fellow teachers at my university and various other universities across the country for the concern and consistent help and care given to my family.

Apart from my 90 percent disability and complete wheelchair-bound condition coupled with my severe and fatal multiple ailments, I am also depressed for being wrongly judged without following the basic criminal legal jurisprudence and ignoring the total lack of evidence against me in the false and fabricated case.

My severe disability renders me to face a doubly oppressed condition in the prison, over and above the rigorous punishment intended by the law through this incarceration. You all are aware that I am being subjected to this degrading human condition for being a conscientious teacher and responsible citizen by opposing and writing against the most obnoxious violations of human rights of Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalised sections in our times. As I am not allowed to write the entire picture of my situation, in this letter I restrict myself to my fast deteriorating health condition, though I only refer to my degrading and inhuman condition in passing hints.

At the time when the unfortunate judgement was delivered on March 7, 2017, I was undergoing treatment for acute pancreatitis in Rockland Hospital, New Delhi under the direct medical payment facility of my University. Though the doctors advised me not to travel and continue to take treatment by undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy (surgical removal of my gallbladder), I took special permission from the doctors to discharge me from the hospital so that I could attend the court in Gadchiroli for the judgement. The doctors warned me that the non-removal of gall bladder would effect my pancreas which was already infected due to the slippage of stones in my gallbladder into the duct connected from it to the pancreas. A second attack on pancreas would turn to be fatal causing irretrievable jaundice, diabetes and other complications, and failure of the pancreas itself. However, I explained my doctors that I would return to the hospital for the surgery the day after the judgement. Little did I expect that I would be sentenced? I was sure that I would be acquitted from the false and fabricated case for I never did any crime and the evidence on record assured me of that.

After I was imprisoned, I have been continuously suffering from the attacks on my pancreas frequently and reeling with unbearable pain from time to time and with frequent indigestion, loose motions and pangs of stomach-ache. I have lost weight considerably, though I can’t check it as I can’t even stand. Meanwhile, an internal mass bulging developed in my stomach on the left side and it started growing gradually in the last three months. It has been causing severe pain. Any amounts of antibiotics couldn’t subdue it. There are no symptoms of hernia. It could be malignant/ cancerous growth unless ruled out through appropriate medical investigations. The pain from this growth is humanly unbearable. It’s a mystery for myself how I have been still surviving.

You are aware that I was taking treatment for my left brachial plexopathy, three damaged muscles of my left shoulders along with the attendant nerve system at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi. Physiotherapy, hydrotherapy along with occupational therapy combined with electromagnetic modes of TENS and STIMULUS were going on to revive the damaged nerves and the muscles. The treatment came to an abrupt halt with the judgement sending me for rigorous incarceration for life. Without these therapies on daily basis, I will lose my left hand totally. The tests at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre after months of treatment showed that the nerves and the muscles (two) started responding and reviving. These 10 months of gap in the treatment must have caused relapse of the damage and the revival must have reverted back. I have been suffering from shooting pain in my left hand and left leg day in and day out. There has been no possibility of a physiotherapist available in the prison. If I do some exercises on my own, I am getting a swelling and pain in my left shoulder muscles.

You know about this injury of brachial plexes system of nerves in my left shoulder that happened due to the dragging of me by my left hand from my wheelchair by the police constables at Aheri police station after I was arrested in Delhi and taken by the Gadchiroli police on 9th May 2014. Had I been given treatment within days of the injury, I could have regained my left hand. It was only after 9 months after imprisonment, I was taken to a hospital. It was after a division bench headed by the then Chief Justice of Bombay High Court gave the order to shift me to a private hospital in Nagpur that a proper investigation was done but it was already too late to heal my damaged nerve system. Ever since this injury, I have been living only with my functional right hand, having both my legs totally effected by polio in my childhood.

The damage to my left shoulder further restricted my bodily movements. I was managing myself in a wheelchair including successfully performing my teaching assignments at the university of Delhi. But this injury caused devastating impact on my life as it restricted my wheelchair or to get into my car to go anywhere.

I had submitted all my past medical records at the time of my admission in the prison on 7 March, 2017 following the conviction on the same day to the prison hospital. I have been also submitting my requests for medical investigations and treatment. I have submitted in writing from time to time whenever I suffered chest pain, palpitations in the stomach and chest followed by black outs.

On 5 January 2018, I submitted my latest condition requesting for immediate medical investigations and treatment to the Chief Medical Officer of the prison hospital. I mentioned the following symptoms and ailments in the letter:

1. Serious Heart Condition: I have been suffering from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy diagnosed earlier.
–Frequent chest pain
–giddiness, systemic Hypertension
–Dyspnoea, on exertion
–Recurrent Syncope – 4 episodes in the last 5 months
–Palpitations in the chest.
2. Gallbladder stones
–Choleclithiasis diagnosed earlier
–advised for Laproscopic Cholecystectomy
–frequent attacks of gall stones on Pancreas.
3. Acute Pancreatitis
–Diagnosed earlier, but treatment left incomplete due to imprisonment.
–Pain in the stomach
–Gas formation
–Palpitations in stomach/ abdomen
–Daily indigestion, loose motions continuously
–Acute pain in the stomach extending to the chest.
4. Bulge of mass on the left side of the stomach
–Painful bulging of cyst like mass of flesh internally
–It started 3 months ago and gradually increasing every day.
— It was told, it could be hernia or malignant/ benign inflammatory growth
not investigated so far.
5. Left Shoulder / Left hand partial immobility with shooting pain
–Earlier diagnosed as Post-polio syndrome with HT, IHD, HOCM, COPD
–Contradictory diagnosis as: Left brachial plexopathy
–three damaged muscles in the left shoulder/ hand: Deltoid, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus.
–partially damaged muscles: Teres minor, rhomboidus
–shooting pain from shoulder to fingers persisting
–unbearable pain in shoulder if I shift from bed to wheelchair more than 3 times.
–Rotator cuff injury with tearing in supraspinatous tendon.
–Before incarceration after conviction, I was taking regular course in physiotherapy, occupational therapy, hydrotherapy along with electro-magnetic wave therapy called TENS & STIMULUS to the damaged muscles for pain reduction and rejuvenation of damaged muscles and nerves at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre (ISIC), New Delhi every day for two- three hours. With the incarceration, the therapies stopped abruptly.
–Any exercises on my own causing swelling in shoulder muscles with severe pain. Since my left hand doesn’t raise, I can’t do much. The therapies are machine-assisted and assisted by specially trained therapists at ISIC.
6. Sleep Apnoea
It was diagnosed at CARE Hospital, Hyderabad that I was suffering from severe obstructive sleep apnoea. Earlier diagnosed of severe obstructive sleep apnoea
–I am suffering from frequent breaks in sleep
–feeling of obstruction in throat
–I was advised to use auto C-PAP machine. And I was practicing the machine for continuous sleep before imprisonment.
7. Postrate Problem
–Pain in anus
–reduced frequency of urination
–difficulty in passing urine, pain in urination
–enlarged postrate. Have been on medication for this.
8. Kidney Stones
–Earlier diagnosed with renal stones / calculus
–Frequency and flow of Urine reduced
–difficulty in passing Urine
–Recurrence of renal calculus treated twice earlier.
9. Frequent Cough and Cold with Fever
–continuous fever with cough and cold in the last 2 months
–chest congestion
–breathlessness, frequent chest pain
–palpitations in chest
10. Muscle Spasms – Cramps
–Severe spasmatic attacks in both hands and left leg
–Paralytic attacks in left hand and left leg
–Spasmatic / cramps in chest and stomach.
11. Bachache
–Severe pain in the bach
–Pain in the vertebra column
12. Bend in the Spine / vertebrae column
–causing severe pain
13. Severe pain in the legs
–twisting pain in the legs
–continuous and constant pain in both legs
–Spasmatic attacks in the legs.
–legs get severely cold.
–I was taking alternative cold and hot pack therapy at home.
14. Bilatral Vocal Cord nodule
–Vocal cord lesion
–pain in speaking
–voice has changed drastically
— 10 months before advised excision biopsy.
15. I need to be investigate for diabetes
16. I need to be investigated for Thyroid problem
17. Eye-sight might have changed. Investigation is required
18. Post-polio syndromes need to be explored to check them and control their growth

Except for the last four problems, all other 14 ailments were either diagnosed or in the process of investigations. You are aware that Tendon Transfer surgery was abandoned for the time being at CARE hospital, Hyderabad for correcting the left shoulder muscle at the eleventh hour by Professor (Dr) Kotwal who came specially for the surgery to Hyderabad from New Delhi. Similarly, an expert/ specialist doctor from Jaipur was to come to Fortis Hospital, New Delhi to check my damaged nerves to connect them in a surgery.

I was taken to the local Government hospital on 23rd August 2017 for sonography test. After the test, I was asked to come again for the diagnosis in the Department of Gastroenterology. I had a very bad experience during this visit. I was totally apprehensive of going to the outside hospital for medical investigations and treatment as I am a 90% disabled person completely bound to a wheelchair. A huge number of security forces accompanied me while untrained police personnel handled me in my wheelchair in an undignified way, to say the least. Firstly, I was terrified to see such a huge police force. The presence of such an armed force terrified hundreds of patients, their attendants, doctors and the Para medical staff including those who were to conduct the test.

At the main gate of the prison, the police personnel literally lifted me by holding my polio-effected legs and damaged left hand and right hand like a dead body or a bag of luggage from my wheelchair and put me in a vehicle. They did this every time I was to be taken at different buildings in the hospital, despite my protests. They simply don’t know how to handle me and my wheelchair because they are not trained for this job. However, I have no complaints against those personnel as I believe that they are not trained paramedical staff to handle a 90% disabled patient with multiple ailments and brittle bones vulnerable to break with a little force applied at them.

Apart from the police personnel not able to handle me properly, I felt humiliated for being lifted like a sack of sand or a dead body. I felt deeply hurt. I lost my self-dignity and bodily integrity. Handling a disabled person’s body with respect and treating him or her as a respectful human being is the law of the land today. It is a moral and ethical question as well. It is part of India’s commitment to international community as India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities. My intention to tell you the story of my humiliation in the hands of the police personnel is not to blame them. They were not even aware that they were not able to handle me like a human being. It was not their mistake. They were not the force supposed to handle me. For the same reason, I never lodged a complaint against the police personnel who dragged me by my left hand and damaged brachial plexes nerve system when I was arrested in May 2014. I have been suffering with enhanced disability in my body over and above the 90% disability I suffered in my childhood due to polio.

For these reasons I have refused to go to the Government hospital for medical investigations and treatment until these circumstances is removed. Now if my polio effected brittle bones fracture, there is no way I can get them healed properly. Again I have to live with more serious disability for the rest of my life. As it is, I am leading a difficult life. I do not want to take any further risk. If something untowards happens, nothing can be retrieved to save my life even if I blame the police personnel (which I don’t want to do in any case).

But my health condition has turned critical. ;I have given in writing to the authorities on 23rd August and 29th August 2017 requesting them to allow my family members, lawyers and a personal doctor of my choice to handle me while taking me to the hospital and during my stay in the hospital for the medical investigations and treatment, which is being done with other prisoners who are not disabled. Why is this not possible in my case?

Meanwhile, in the last four months, my health has deteriorated further and reached a critical stage. I have been tolerating pain and suffering with will power. My critical health condition and bench-mark 90% disability put me in far excess of the sentence of punishment I am asked to suffer. My refusal to the local hospital in the last more than four months is not my own choice. The circumstances created by the custodial conditions imposed on me are responsible. The authorities in control of these conditions have done little to address these circumstances. In fact the law of the land now empowers the Government departments to address these kinds of question. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 along with the rules framed for the Act in 2017 empowers the authorities to take all measures to protect the disabled persons from inhuman and degrading treatment. Chapter 1, section 6(1) and 7(1) of this Act make such provisions very clear.

I have suffered a lot in the past more than 10 months. In addition to the severe ailments I have been suffering from, as a disabled person, inaccessible and unfavourable conditions have reduced me to the level of animalistic state removing all human dignity from my person. You are kindly aware that I cannot survive without the assistance of two persons round the clock. I cannot attend to calls of nature on my own. People have to help me to do my daily chores. I can only survive in the specially created environment at home and in my work place. If I could become a successful teacher and ardent researcher in my discipline of study, the credit goes to my family members, colleagues and the University where I work.

The inhuman and degrading treatment that I am compelled to face in the conditions of my incarceration, and the objectification of my body in the hands of the state go against the letter and spirit of the UNCRD and RPD Act, 2016. The values enshrined in these covenant and law emerged out of centuries of enlightened human struggle worldwide. As one of the senior most human rights activists in the country, you can understand me better than anyone else. I have been refusing to be treated inhumanly in my attempt to uphold these cherished human values. This is also because my conscience does not allow me to be treated as an object depriving me of my human dignity. Life is important certainly, but life with human dignity and human values is more important. I hope you appreciate my humble position in this regard.

In these circumstances, I request you and the entire Defence Committee to explore the possibilities to secure my freedom by bringing the falsities and fabrications in the case and the fallacious and incongruous conclusions arrived at in the judicial order without following the principles of criminal legal jurisprudence to the notice of the higher judiciary. I strongly feel that this is the only way out for me to save my life without losing my human dignity and bodily integrity.

I was taken to the Govt. Hospital once again on 17th January 2018, almost 5 months after the first time, though my requests were not looked into. Once again, I became totally helpless. This time, once again I was subjected to similar treatment. The sonography test was repeated and a doctor diagnosed that my gall bladder contained multiple stones. The problems occurring to my pancreas were due to the gall stones. I was told orally by the doctor that I should immediately undergo laparoscopic cholecystectomy. But the doctors refused to examine all other major health problems and ailments by referring me to the relevant Departments. I was told that I would need to go to each Department separately through separate processes. It will take several months to conduct several tests. For example, to examine the real condition of my gallbladder and Pancreas, alone need several tests like CBC, LFT, Serum amylase and lipase and other imaging tests (have to be conducted). Finally they would say that some of the medical investigations and treatment are not available with them and would refer me to J.J. hospital, Mumbai. You are aware that this happened earlier. This piecemeal way of conducting investigations over a period of several months without any co-ordination with the departments of several specialities is common in this hospital. Unfortunately my physical disability and the logistic of carry me to the hospital do not allow this long process to bring any relief to my ailments before they turn fatal. When some of these ailments and left brachial plexus injury developed during my imprisonment as an under trial prisoner, the same hospital stated that the medical investigations and treatment were not available with them.

For the above reasons, a division bench headed by the then Chief Justice of Bombay High Court shifted me to a private hospital in Nagpur, where the medical investigations were available in a suo-moto case based on a report on my health condition in The Hindu in May 2015. After initial treatment, I was sent to Delhi for further treatment as the private hospital referred me due to the lack of facilities with them, on bail under medical grounds. Then I was treated at various hospitals, Fortis, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi and CARE hospital, Hyderabad. The treatment was continuing at the time of the judgement at Rockland Hospital and Indian Spinal Injuries Centre as some of the ailments acquired chronic nature and the pancreas problem arose as a new ailment.
You are also kindly aware that with my 90% disability and multiple ailments I need to be under constant and regular care of the specialist doctors and therapist for my survival and well being. The medical records from all the above mentioned hospitals speak for themselves in this regard. All these medical records are available with my family members. I request the Defence Committee and you to pursue through the medical records and take appropriate decisions.

Given my deteriorating health condition and 90% disability the Defence Committee may consider taking my health condition through the available medical records to the appropriate courts of law for speedy consideration of a bail plea on legal grounds, whenever such a bail plea is taken up by my lawyers at the possible early date.

Once again I thank you and the entire Defence Committee for your concern and help.
With kind regards

Central Prison
18th January 2018.

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




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.