The history of the former princely State of Hyderabad’s liberation/annexation/integration into the Indian union was fervently discussed and debated as September 17, Hyderabad Liberation Day, drew close. It was no surprise that these debates were deeply political. Around the same time, the Telangana State Archives and Research Institute (TSARI) signed an MoU with the Noor International Microfilm Center (NIMC). The Delhi-based, Iranian government-backed NIMC will repair, conserve, digitise and catalogue Urdu and Persian historical manuscripts and documents. This could provide greater access to primary sources of history and encourage a more nuanced understanding and writing of the events that unfolded in the erstwhile State of Hyderabad and its merger into independent India.
But the TSARI is home to much more than just records from the Asaf Jahi period. It also contains documents from the Vijayanagara empire, the Bahmani Sultanate, the Deccan Sultanates, and the Mughal period. Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao said these are of “permanent value.”
TSARI has its origins in the Daftar-e-Diwani of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, notes former head of the State Archives M.V.S. Prasada Rau. The Daftar-e-Diwani is said to have been under the administration of the Rai Rayan family. The allied Daftar-e-Istifa, for a fee, copied original documents such as the sanads (documents recording cash and land grants) of the subas (provinces) of the Deccan and stored them in its repository. In the 1860s, Prime Minister Salar Jung I greatly reduced the role of the Daftar-e-Diwani, limiting it to handing out sanads to the people or subjects. The 1890s saw the appointment of a superintendent who was entrusted with preserving and cataloguing records, thus formalising the archives and turning it into a directorate.
Cut to 1965, the State Archives in undivided Andhra Pradesh moved to Osmania University, its current location, and was inaugurated by then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. Today, the TSARI has 43 million documents, some of which are from 1,406 CE. It has 20 lakh certificates of marriage dating back to 1,739 CE, gazette notifications from 1,869 CE onwards, and firmans (royal edicts). There are a staggering 1.55 lakh documents from the Mughal period. Catalogues show that there are scores of documents from Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s time.
While the sheer number of folios and their antiquity are impressive, the TSARI suffers from acute neglect. Since 2015, little resources and effort have been put into cataloguing documents. To complicate matters of preservation further, a majority of these documents are still stored using an old system of documentation called the basta system. This leaves them more vulnerable to the vagaries of weather, time, and termites. While efforts to make this change are under way, a full shift to the more efficient and protective compactor system is awaited.
The TSARI has not seen meaningful budgetary allocations, except for salaries and similar expenses. No allocation was made from FY2016-2017 to FY 2020-21 for projects. Only ₹4.6 lakh was given in the next fiscal year. After reports were published in this newspaper, ₹1 crore was sanctioned earlier this year for digitisation, descriptive cataloguing, a document management system, a digital library and a website. Although slow, work is in progress.
It is here that Narasimha Rao’s comments on the archives are relevant. Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao in 2020 described former Prime Minister Rao as a reformist who changed Telangana’s landscape and created a “global India”. The government could also heed former Prime Minister Rao’s opinion of the archives. In 1980, Rao, who was then Minister of External Affairs, wrote: “I have been personally aware of the important and valuable work being done by the Andhra Pradesh State Archives Department ever since I was Education Minister of Andhra Pradesh (1967-71), and later Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (1971-73). I have always felt that the specialised work of the Archives Department needs to be properly recognised and also reflected in the budgetary provisions that we make for this important function of archives-keeping.”
The archives cannot be arbiters of truth; it is scholars and academics who interpret records and the public which reads these interpretations. The government must heed Rao’s observation and leave no stone unturned in preserving precious historical documents.