Brief summary of the activities of BARMS since 2009 In 2009, some of us who were interested in the development of archives and historical studies in Bangladesh formed a Society named Bangladesh Archives and Records Management Society in short BARMS to make pertinent stakeholders aware of the importance of archives /archival development in the country and the preservation of historical records and documents.It is purely a non-political, educational and a voluntary body run by an Executive Committee elected for two years.
During the last few years we have carried out many activities like workshops and seminars for raising awareness among the public and other stakeholders about the need for preserving records and documents; gave training to the archivists and record keepers in the conservation and preservation of public and private records both in traditional and digital forms ; helped setting up archives; met high government officials and ministers highlighting the unsatisfactory state of record keeping in public offices in the country; visited district and divisional offices drawing the attention of relevant officials to the need of good record keeping; participated in international seminars and conferences etc. on archives; observed International Archives Day every year on 9 June since 2012 and most importantly put pressure upon the government to enact an Archives Law.
At the moment a draft archival law is being prepared to which BARMS has also contributed. We do not claim that we have achieved a lot but our efforts are not all in vain.
The general awareness about importance of archives and record keeping has increased and the Right to Information Act, 2009 is an outcome of this awareness. Moreover, at least in one sector we have achieved a grand success. During our visits to District and Divisional Record Rooms throughout the country we found most of them housed in dilapidated buildings and utterly neglected; records are preserved in the most unsatisfactory manner.
When we asked about the reasons for such un-kempt record rooms, the officials explained that there was no budget allocated for the maintenance of Record Rooms and hence they were not properly looked after. We took up the matter with the relevant higher authorities who assured us that the matter would be looked into.
We waited but without any results. However, we did not give up and after so many years of our efforts we have at last succeeded in convincing the government and for the first time in the country’s 44 years’ history, a special fund of Taka 3.2 crores has been created in the national budget for 2015-16 for the maintenance and development of Record Rooms of the 64 Districts. Hopefully, the allocation would continue and will increase in the years to come. For this we are however, grateful to our own General Secretary i.e. the General Secretary of BARMS, Mr Jalal Ahmed who also happens to be the Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Finance and one of the key persons in budget preparation. It was through his intervention that our efforts have finally come to fruition. We thank him a lot.
We have also promoted historical research and held seminars on historical subjects, the last being a seminar on Gangaridai in collaboration with PATA. It is in line with these activities that we resolved to initiate a discussion leading perhaps to a project on Historiography in Post- Independence Bangladesh in June 2015.
Like in many other sectors a new lease of life was given in the writing of historical works in the country in post Liberation days. Free from the restrictions of the colonial period and post- colonial West Pakistani political and cultural hegemony, our senior historians and following them the younger generation began to work on historical themes in a more congenial environment. The result is the publication of a huge number of historical works in the last four decades. We tried to find out the possible numbers of publications but neither the National Library- which publishes the National Bibliography nor any other University Library could provide any information.
A National Data Base on historical works is thus urgently needed. Be that as it may, there is no room for doubt, that many hundreds of historical works on Bangladesh and several thousand onLiberation War have been published in recent time. Indeed it may be said that Bangladesh for the first time in its history is witnessing perhaps a golden period of historical writing by the Bangladeshi historians, academics and scholars. We call these efforts as Nation-building endeavors.
The public and private records and documents of a country are the principal sources of history of that nation. Several centuries ago people have realized this important matter and from then on began to conserve and preserve records very carefully. The conservation and preservation of records led to the establishment of repositories which at one time come to be called as “archives”. It is believed that in the territory now known as Bangladesh records and documents were preserved from ancient days. There was a heritage of keeping documents, land records etc. by the state as well as by individuals. However, as there was no system or state policy of keeping these records and documents for a longer period, these were destroyed or lost somehow.
The public and semi-public records and documents were created and began to be preserved in the subcontinent in a regular and systemic way with the foundation of the British Colonial rule.
Records Manual After making the preservation of records and documents a secure affair, the British Government made a law in 1866 regarding ‘Life Circle of Records’ which came to be known as ‘Records Manual’. Later on the Records Manual was corrected, expanded and chastened. The latest edition of the manual is dated 1943.
Secretariat Management In the wake of the development of a good and elaborate system of administration in the subcontinent under the British, the bureaucracy grew into a strong body in India. One of the chief characteristics of bureaucracy was the creation of public records and their preservation. Thus the British colonial government was also known as ‘Paper Government’. The final shape of the bureaucracy took place in the secretariat wherefrom the senior officials of the central government directed the administration of the country. With the foundation of the British rule this secretarial system grew up in Kolkata, centering the Writers’ Building.
District Officer and District Record Room During the colonial period, the most important administrative layer at the lower level was the District administration. The entire country was divided into several districts and in these districts that the nature of colonial government found its full expression. The district administration centered round the chief officer of the District-Collector- Magistrate. Every office of the District Collector had a record room attached to it where all the important records and documents concerning the District were preserved.
Divisional Administration and Divisional Record Room During the Colonial rule a middle layer of administration was created in 1829. This layer came to be known as Division. The Division comprised of a few districts and the title of the head of the Division was given Divisional Commissioner of Revenue, later more popularly known as Divisional Commissioner. To each of the Divisional Commissioner’s office a record room was attached which came to be known as Divisional Commissioner’s Record Room.
Zamindari Kachari and Records The rise of big Zamindars or landholders during the British colonial period was a great socio-economic event. This rise was the outcome of the Zamindari system or the Permanent settlement. After initial upsets, the Zamindari system took deep root, and the Zamindars became rich, prominent and influential people in Bengal. They were the people whom the British government awarded titles of Maharaja, Raja, Nawab, Khan Bahadur, Sir etc; and turned them into landed elites of the country. Quite easily they became the natural leaders of the people. The chief responsibility of these Zamindars was to collect rent from the peasants or ryots. But it was not an easy task. From the beginning the Zamindari system became a complicated affair, and there rose several layers of intermediary class of landlords. Moreover, because of new rules, litigation became rampant. As a result the Zamindars had to grapple with huge records of court cases. The Zamindars kept these court records and other documents in a place which was generally called Kacheri or office.
Educational and other Institutions During the British colonial period there took place a significant development of modern education and cultivation of knowledge. As a result many general and technical educational institutions grew up. Among these educational and technical institutions there were many in the territory which is now Bangladesh like Dhaka Collegiate School, Dhaka College, Jagannath School and College, Rajshahi College, Chittagong College, Mitford Hospital, Dhaka Medical School, Dhaka Medical College and Dhaka University. At the same time various economic and commercial institutions also developed. In the tradition of colonial period the records of these institutions were preserved in the Record Rooms.
Chittagong Port and Chittagong Railway Headquarter During the colonial period the city of Chittagong housed two of the most important administrative institutions of the country namely Chittagong Port and the Railway Headquarter of East Bengal. Both these two institutions were for East Bengal new experiences and symbol of modern age. In the colonial period the record and documents of both these institutions were kept very properly.
Post Colonial Period and the Foundation of the National Archives of Bangladesh The British colonial period ended in 1947. Unfortunately during the immediate post colonial period both the management and preservation of records and documents in Bangladesh suffered severely. This happened largely because of lack of experienced high officials and proper governmental infrastructure. During that period Bangladesh was the eastern part of Pakistan and was known as East Bengal and East Pakistan. The East Bengal comprised an area of 55000 square miles. Within this territory there were 16 Districts and 3 Divisions. Each of these Districts and Divisions has its Record Room. In addition there was the Secretariat Record Room in Dhaka. With the emergence of Bangladesh, the National Archives of Bangladesh was established in 1972. After that record management and record keeping began to get attention and importance in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh Archives and Records Management Society (BARMS) Being concerned with the unsatisfactory state of records management in Bangladesh and in order to extend helping hand for the preservation of historical records on a long term basis, a group of historians, researchers, high government officials, intellectuals, journalists, archivists, librarians, members of civil society, information technology experts, university teachers and cultural activists established a voluntary society called ‘Bangladesh Archives and Records Management Society’ in February 2009. The principal aim of this Society is to provide all kinds of help to any initiative to collect and preserve the public and private records and documents. The Society will also take measures and hold seminars, workshops and training programmes to make concerned people aware of the need for proper record management and long term preservation of records and documents as sources of national history.