What Records Can Do

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The Manipur police celebrated its 118th anniversary yesterday. Any organisation this old would have plenty of interesting stories to tell, or hide as the case is also likely to be. Indeed, the organisation would be a fit subject for a history research project and even a nice coffee table book. However, given the abysmal reputation of the establishment here of preserving archival materials, it is doubtful if much of any old photographic records or documents pertaining to the subject are still around. Quite ironically yet again, even if such a project were to be commissioned by the government or the Manipur University, in all probability researchers will have to depend on what is preserved in the British Museum and other British archival institutions for hard records. This lacuna continues even after a full-fledged department of information and public relations, DIPR, has been established, besides the state archives, museum and library. As for instance, if today an information seeker were to request for a picture of the former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, when she was injured in stone pelting at the Kangjeibung during a public rally, in most likelihood, the department authorities would be left gaping back stunned as if hit by a thunder bolt. Most archival material from even as recent as 30 years have already become out of bounds, so it is only imaginable what would be the case in matters of materials from the past century.

But let that be. What has happened cannot be undone. However, let the lesson be taken note of and mistakes not allowed to repeat. If 30 years or more later, future researchers want to do an update of the Manipur police, with all its moles and warts, let nobody be left disappointed. Probably, it would not be as bad, considering there has since been an explosion of newspapers and digital media in the state. It is for no reason that journalists are also often referred to as the first draft writers of history. Even if the government is not respectful of its archival material, the media by the very nature of its responsibility would have maintained their daily chronicles of events in the state. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say newspaper reports have today become important ammunition for even academic queries into history. With the improvement of digital information storing, these records would also not only be much more efficiently and faithfully preserved, but also easier to be accessed.

But it is better late than never as they say. The government should pay much more attention to preserving records from now on. Not only current records, but it must also invest more in preserving whatever records are still available of Manipur’s hoary past. It could for instance undertake a mega project of digitising all the valuable records in the Manipur State Archives, including the original manuscripts of the puyas. The responsibility should also not be thrust on only the state archives department. All major departments of the government should also be made to handle the responsibility individually. As for instance, we cannot imagine what great service to the people government would be doing if the state revenue department were to be made to maintain and preserve its land records more efficiently, both on paper as well as in digital formats. This would prevent the irritating and unforgivable excuse of the department of having misplaced or lost records in fires and floods. In fact we would even suggest the government to even think of dedicating a website in which these records can be accessed by the public openly. Apart from everything else, the money saved from preventing silly, unnecessary revenue related court cases would be substantial. Perhaps the only ones to be at a loss by such a government move would be lawyers. In fact it was once quite rightly pointed out that lawyers in Manipur have forgotten criminal laws which require extensive and delicate interpretations of the Constitution and contestations of these interpretations etc, because the only cases that come up in our courts have to do with land disputes between neighbours and more often between siblings sharing parental landed properties amongst themselves at the end of each generation. If not this, then they would be fighting service cases where the lawyers again interpret not the Constitution, but service recruitment rules, RRs, even as colleagues fight over promotion hierarchy, or else messy situation created by ad hoc rules introduced by government authorities in trying to accommodate their cronies and relations in the various government services. Just a little more meticulous management of records would do wonders in these areas, besides many others.

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