Request for Advice About Accessing the National Archives of India, Delhi, in Light of New Government Access Restrictions

Deana Heath's picture

I'm contacting the list with some queries relating to accessing the National Archives of India (NAI), in Delhi, that I hope fellow list members can help with:

- firstly, is anyone aware of any news regarding the Indian government's plan to close the National Archives and destroy the annex, where most archival records are housed? I know there was considerable protest, last year, about the Indian government's plans to close the archive for up to 5 years and its lack of consultation with archivists and scholars about such plans, not least about the movement and storage of the archive's materials, but I've not come across any news on this matter since then. As I'm planning a six-month archival research trip to Delhi next year, I'm trying to figure out if I will actually be able to go;

- secondly, I'm wondering if anyone has encountered access issues in regard to the NAI? The new guidelines for access, issued in February, state that:

  • permission to access the archives can only be made, now, by sending a relevant form through email. This must include both proof of vaccination and of the applicant having had a recent Covid test, although the instructions provide no details on the latter (i.e., how recent the test needs to be, what tests are acceptable, etc.). Has anyone tried to do this, and was it relatively straight-forward, or are there potential hitches to be aware of? One potential hitch, for UK applicants, seems to be in securing the consular letter that is still, unfortunately, required as part of this process; when I checked the on-line booking portal for the British High Commission in Delhi, it had no available appointments for the next month, and has not yet released later dates, so the prospect seems to loom of having to wait months to get an appointment to get a piece of paper needed to re-register to use the NAI. I'm wondering, then, if any UK-based researchers have experienced any particular difficulties in securing a consular letter to complete this registration process?

 

  • furthermore, researchers must now also submit requisition slips via email - and only for up to 15 files or other items per day, down from the previous limit of 30 (a problem exaccerbated by the fact that photography is still not permitted in the reading room). According to the new guidelines, moreover, "Only those researchers who get confirmation mail would be permitted to visit RR on the date mentioned in the mail". While on-line documentary request systems generally speed up the research process, this one seems to be doing the opposite, since it is reliant on someone responding to an email in a timely manner. It also seems to pose the potential of limiting access to certain materials. I'm wondering, then, if anyone on the list has experience of how this process is working in practice - i.e., does it work effectively, and is permission being given to see all requested materials? As I will be working on a project to do with policing and sexual violence, this is an issue that I am considerably concerned about - not least since the new guidelines seem, in part, to be designed to further limit access to the NAI for researchers.

I'd appreciate, therefore, any feedback on these queries and concerns.

Hi Dr Heath,

I've just spent three months working at the NAI for my dissertation research, which actually is also about histories of sexual violence! I cannot speak to the requirements for getting a consular letter, as I am not a foreign national, but I can talk about some of the other things:
- regarding the closure of the annex, there appears to be no sign of it for now and no further news about the schedule for its taking place, although the whole of the surrounding central vista area is a giant mound of dust. From what I can tell, the project seems to be delayed by the pandemic because it's been like this for a while. Everything is operating as normal.
- I don't recall being asked to furnish both a COVID test and proof of vaccination for registration; only proof of vaccination seemed to work in my case. Once I sent in the requisition slips and my forms/documents on email, I was granted approval within a day; this was in early December. The email will state how long your permission is valid till, and then you have to show it at the gate each day that you enter to get your entry pass. Saturday passes have to be obtained in advance.
- regarding the emailing of requisition slips: this is only necessary for the first registration. After that requisition slips can be submitted on paper as normal, with the last call being at 3pm and the documents generally being ready within a few hours or by the next day. But the limit on the number of documents is lower, as you mentioned, and unless you are only getting very few pages copied (and can therefore cajole the officer), most file xerox requests are taking more than a month to be processed.
- on the particular source material: most of the files I've requested also pertain to sexual violence and/or police, and none of my requests have been denied due to content: the explanations given are usually either that the file is not actually stored at NAI itself, or that it's too brittle. It's not the most effective, as the online search engine often gets details like number, section, etc wrong, but the staff will point out the mistake and tell you what additional information is needed for a successful request. I would say that of every ten slips I submit, 2-3 lead nowhere, which is actually more luck than a lot of my friends have been having.
I'd be happy to try and answer—or convey—any other questions you have, as I will still be here at NAI for the next three weeks or so. I can be reached at ns3208@columbia.edu. I hope your trip is successful!

Best,
Niyati Shenoy