Delhi’s oral history recording project to begin from August 5; government collaborates with Ambedkar University
After a delay of over a year, Delhi government’s oral history project which will be launched next week in collaboration with the Ambedkar University of Delhi (AUD).
On August 5, the university will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state government and lend its expertise to record lived histories of Delhiites over the next two years, along with Delhi Archives, which comes under the arts, culture and language (ACL) department of the Delhi government.
Deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, who is also in charge of ACL department, said, “The history of a place is incomplete without the lived experiences of its people. For a historic place like Delhi, documentation of oral histories will add an important layer to the city’s incredible journey. Tracing the personal journeys of common people will help us chart the journey of Delhi, which no history book can offer.”
The Delhi Archives ran an oral history programme from 1972 till the early 90s, but officials said it had to be discontinued due to lack of staff and resources.
“This project is like a revival of that unit. AUD was chosen because they have a specialisation in the field,” said Sanjay Garg, Head of office (Archives) at Delhi Archives.
Garg was referring to the university’s Centre for Community Knowledge (CCK)—a research centre which runs a similar project documenting experiential histories of communities. So far, CCK has recorded over 270 interviews over the last seven years. For the project with the Delhi government, the centre plans to conduct at least 100 interviews with 50 people each year for the next two years.
“We will be looking at people from all sections of life, including politicians, economists, cultural enthusiasts along with the aam aadmi (common man). We will also be uploading the contents of the project on our website throughout these two years for the public,” Garg said. “The university will be the implementing agency.”
The interviewees will be shortlisted by a committee at Delhi Archives. Researchers at CCK said they were asked to look at stories of disappearing Delhi and interview people from all strata of society who have been staying in the nation capital and have seen it change over the years.
Programme coordinator Surajit Sarkar said that apart from viewing the city through the eyes of its citizens, these lived histories would also help in understanding sustainability. “Sustainability cannot happen without oral knowledge. For instance, during our interviews, we learnt of people who engaged in fish farming, which is rare in Delhi. Some progressive farmers in rural belts were also producing fly ash bricks which are of great demand in Delhi. This information could be of use if documented,” he said, pointing towards his laptop which displayed the picture of a ginning machine (charkhi) used to spin threads.
Historian Rana Safvi said the project was significant since the younger generation must know what their heritage is. “A lot of written material from homes and libraries and palaces were destroyed first in Uprising of 1857 and then in the riots following the partition. Many people from Delhi migrated to Pakistan. It is essential to record oral history of those who are left with pre-partition memories—the Delhi that was and its syncretic culture.”