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Battle of Patparganj to Bahadur Shah Zafar’s trial: Delhi’s journey since 1803, at the click of a mouse

A 100-member team of archivists is digitising over 10 crore documents to prevent further loss. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in two years.

delhi Updated: Dec 14, 2017 15:11 IST
Gulam Jeelani
Gulam Jeelani
Hindustan Times
Delhi archives,Old documents of Delhi,History of Delhi
A letter from General Lake Sahib to Zaibun Nisa Baigum dated 8 October 1802 at Delhi archives.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

On March 9, 1858, a British court declared Delhi’s last king, Bahadur Shah Zafar, guilty of rebellion, treason and murder before exiling him to Rangoon in the then British-controlled Burma. The trial was approved and confirmed a month later by N Penny, major general commanding, Meerut division.

One hundred and fifty nine years later, the 42-day trial conducted at Diwan-e-Khaas of the Red Fort by British prosecutor Major F Harriott lies preserved word for word at the Delhi archives in the form of a hardbound book comprising 262-pages.

Apart from the handwritten trial papers, the Delhi archives is a repository of over 10 crore rare documents comprising Mughal firmans (imperial orders), maps, land acquisition award statements, jail records, manuscripts and government orders narrating the historical and political journey of Delhi since 1803.

So far accessible to only researchers, the treasure trove will soon be just a click away for those interested in the history of the national capital. An ambitious ‘digitisation and microfilming of archival records’ project started by Delhi government is underway with the target of converting 4 crore documents in the first phase by 2020.

An official with a copy of the trial of Bahadur Shah Zafar. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

“Some of the records are so old that they might get damaged. So, it is required to preserve them in digital and microfilm formats for posterity,” said Sanjay Garg, the chief archivist of the department of archives of Delhi government. The city government is the second repository of records from early 19th century after the National Archives of India.

Mughal firmans to land acquisition for Lutyens Delhi

In September 1803, East India Company’s forces under general Gerard Lake fought the Marathas in what is popular as Battle of Delhi, or Battle of Patparganj — named after the area now in east Delhi.The earliest documents at the Delhi archives relate to this battle. The British emerged victorious, but they allowed Shah Alam II — the blind emperor of Delhi — to issue firmans in Persian language, many of which are also preserved at the archives.

Documents being scanned for digitisation at Delhi archives. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

“There are different sizes of royal seals in Persian language depending on the hierarchy in the Mughal courts on the firman with gold marks,” said Ashutosh Kumar Jha, assistant archivist pointing at ‘A letter from General Lake Sahib to Zaib-un-Nisa Baigum’ dating October 8, 1802.

The transfer of power to the British crown in 1958 followed setting up of a new administration and eventually the construction of the new capital, Delhi, in 1912. The archives also have records of land acquisition during this historic shift of the national capital from Kolkata to Delhi.

“From photographs to award statements of land acquired from the owners, we have rare documents that bear testimony to how the present day Delhi came up,” said Sandeep Singh, assistant archivist. In one of the records dating March 1913, an individual named Ram Das was awarded a compensation of Rs 172, two paisa and nine annas for his 285.38 acre of land acquired by the government in Khanpur. The deal was signed by Kamruddin, revenue assistant, Delhi province.

Rare documents are being preserved using high-end scanners from Germany which can digitise about 50,000 pages each day. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Photographs, honorary titles, jail documents

The repository at the archives includes pictures of construction of historical buildings housing Parliament and Rashtrapati Bhavan in early 20th century. Originally called House of Parliament, the Sansad Bhawan was designed by the British architect Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker in 1912-1913 and was constructed between 1921 and 1927.

A poster of a debate being organised by Delhi Students’ Federation on May 29, 1937 at Arabic College Hall (Ajmeri Gate) is in the section of rare documents showing how teachers would support students’ concerns. The debate on why “the proposed scheme of educational reconstruction of Delhi University will be detrimental to the best interest of the students’ community and the cause of education in the country”, had C Eyre Walker, principal Arabic college, S Dutt, principal Ramjas College, and BB Gupta, principal Ramjas inter college among speakers.

A rare document dated April 7, 1912 is testimony to how ‘Khan Bahadur’ title was awarded to one Chaudhari Nabi Ahmed on the occasion of ‘His Majesty, the King- Emperor’s Birthday’.

The Delhi archives is a repository of over 10 crore rare documents comprising Mughal firmans, maps land acquisition statements, jail records, manuscripts and government orders. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Digitising 10 crore rare documents

The digitisation project, billed as the largest in Asia, envisages digitisation of 10 crore records stored in the four specially constructed floors of the Delhi Archives building in Qutub Institutional Area. In the first phase, four crore records are expected to be ready and uploaded on the website of the Delhi archives website over a span of 30 months at a cost of Rs 25.4 crore.

The project was fist conceived in 2011 but was taken up by the incumbent government on August 31 this year. Led by Garg, a 100-member team of archivists, scholars and employers are busy with the digitisation task using computers and high-end German-made scanners.

“We have got eight scanners for now. We digitise about 50,000 pages each day,” Garg said.

A collection of old newspapers at the archives includes a copy of Hindustan Times, Evening News, published on September 25, 1948. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Once digitised, the records would be transformed into microfilms.

“The thumbnails of the records with some information would be available on the website. For higher resolutions, one has to pay,” Garg said

A welcome move

“It’s a welcome move to preserve and digitise records particularly Bahadur Shah Zafar’s trial. The public will know who sided with British and who was with revolutionaries in the first war if Independence,” said historian Rana Safvi, who has translated Zahir Dehlvi’s Dastan-e-Ghadar which comprises eyewitness account of the 1857 uprising against the British

An old invite of Delhi Student Federation, now DUSU (Delhi University Student Union), at Delhi archives. (Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Established in 1972, the Delhi archives is a repository of non-current records of Delhi government under the department of art and culture. It is responsible for preservation of the archives and making them available research and references.

“We are committed to make knowledge more accessible to the common people. This is an important step towards preserving our precious heritage. While digitisation will ensure preservation of documents, making them available to a larger audience through a website and outreach events will play a key role in dissemination,” said Manish Sisodia, the minister of Art, Culture and Languages said in a reply from his office.

First Published: Dec 14, 2017 10:50 IST