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Experiences of mr. Lutful Haq in local archives in Bangladesh, speech for seminar
March 4, 2009, 8:17 pm
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This text is explaining the basic problems of records keeping and how to start the improvement process in an excellent way.

Difficulties in Record Keeping:
Experience in Dinajpur Municipality

Muhammad Lutful Haq

Bismillahirahmanirrahim

Dear President, Chief guest, Special guest and the respected audience, present here – Assalamualaikum

At the very outset I must admit that I am not an archivist, rather I am a beneficiary of archives. For last few years I am doing research on past events and most of the information for my research, I gathered from documents kept in different archives and record rooms. Thus I understood the importance of archives and record rooms. Till that period the importance of archives and record rooms was for my personal reasons or benefits. At this stage I came across with Prof Sharif uddin Ahmed, the than Director of National Archives of Bangladesh (NAB) and now President of Bangladesh Archives and Record Management (BARM) Society and was educated by him about the role and importance of Archives. Later, my knowledge was enriched by Dr. Mahbubur Rahman of Heritage Archives: Rajshahi, and Mr. Florus Geraedts, an internationally reputed archivist and a key actor of BARM Society. This is how I became a volunteer in archive movement and standing in front of you to narrate an archive related experience.

In May’08, I read a book on Dinajpur Municipality written by Mr. Mehrab Uddin. I find lot of information regarding Dinajpur town and municipality work in that book. I got interested to know farther and met the Mayor of Municipality and asked him to allow me to see the old records. I was introduced with Mr. Baccu; keeper of old records, and sent to Record Room. Record Room was approximately 12feet by 10feet and packed with files, documents, stationeries, old and unserviceable office equipments and small hardware items. I find very small space for me and Mr. Baccu to sit or work; whole space was occupied with the items of different categories mentioned earlier. I was confused whether it was a Record Room or a go-down for junk stores. I withdrew myself from the so called Record Room and left Municipality without advancing farther.

In August’08, Mr. Florus came to Dinajpur and accompanied me to Dinajpur Municipality. He visited many sections and offices of Municipality including the Record Room I described earlier. He with his keen observation and vast experience found out lot of valuable and historical documents. Florus along with me and Baccu tried to salvage some of the valuable documents separating and putting those into few boxes. As the time was short and we couldn’t spare more than two hours there, Florus requested me to continue the work in later days.

After the departure of Florus I talked to Mayor and convinced him about the importance of record keeping. He agreed to help me in every way. Baccu also showed some interest to restore the old records.

At this stage I should give some basic and essential facts regarding Dinajpur Municipality. Dinajpur Municipality is one of the oldest Municipalities in Bangladesh. It was established in 1869. Municipality has one old building with approximately 2500 sq feet space and another two storied building with approximately 5150 sq feet space. All its offices, stores, public activities are conducted within these 7650 sq feet. Municipality has total 94 regular staffs but no one as record keeper. Municipality has no computer for record room or administrative offices though it has 12 computers in other sections, mostly in billing and engineering department. Municipality doesn’t have any separate room for old records. Most of the old records were destroyed due to space constrain and ignorance. Few of these records were destroyed during the War of Liberation also.

In between September and November’08, for number of times I visited Dinajpur Municipality and tried to rescue files and documents from different parts of the Record Room and organized them in a safer place. It was not a very easy task. As I told you earlier, that the so called Record Room is used for many other purposes including stationary store, thus remains busy for issue of stationary whole day. Baccu is the lone man working in the Record Room as temporary record keeper though his actual appointment is store man etc. At the same time, he is a very important person in Dinajpur Municipality and involved with different functioning of office and extra office activities, for these reasons some times I find this office closed. However, by the end of November’08 I could separate 12 boxes of files and documents and put them separately on one of the racks of that room. Still there are few hundred files to be organized.

The most valuable files and documents we could recover are:
1. Proceedings of Executive Committee meetings from 1907-1937.
2. Record of death caused due to atrocities in 1971.
3. Documents related to primary schools run by Municipality.
4. Records of different Municipality elections.
5. Land and tax dispute correspondence.
6. Personal documents of staffs.

I had the following limitations during my work at Municipality and didn’t produce the desired result:
1. I couldn’t spare much time for the said job as I was not a resident of Dinajpur, I had no helping hand or extra manpower.
2. There were no places to gather, clean, sort out and put the documents in boxes in a professional way.
3. Documentation and list of the recovered items couldn’t be made due to the lack of secretarial service.

I identified the following problems for good record keeping there, which I understand is typical in all Municipalities of Bangladesh:
1. Lack of awareness about the importance of old records at all level.
2. No separate space for old records.
3. No permanent, designated or regular staff posted as record keeper. Record Room is maintained by irregular and ad hoc staffs.
4. Lack of knowledge in record keeping.
5. No budget for good keeping of old record or record room.
6. Concerned persons are not aware of the Archive Ordnance (1983).
7. No knowledge about the existence of NAB.

Basing on my experience, I like to make the following suggestions for good record keeping at different municipalities:
1. Municipality must have a place for their old records.
2. Municipality should have a regular and designated staff as record keeper.
3. NAB should write letters periodically reminding the municipality authorities through LGRD Ministry to deposit their records as per Archive Ordinance 1983.
4. NAB should visit Municipalities at a regular interval to asses the record keeping situation, I understand that it is very difficult but not impossible and after a certain period visit may not be required. As a test basis NAB may select only the Municipalities of 19th and early 20th century (until 1920).
5. BARM Society should send leaflets and brochures to municipalities to increase awareness about the good record keeping.
6. BARM Society should send letters mentioning the importance of good record keeping to Municipalities and offer them technical advices to organize their record room.
7. Municipality should display some of their old records and heritage items at a public place in their office and can also participate in the Book Fair at their city; this may encourage municipality to keep their old records in good condition and people may also be aware of the importance of archives.
8. Municipality should be encouraged through BARM Society to write their history, while doing so they may look for their old documents and restore those from being destruction.

The work I did in Dinajpur Municipality is not a very significant or prominent one, neither had it cost me much but I gathered a lot of first hand and practical experience of working in a record room. I think that the picture I painted will be similar in any other record room of government or semi government and corporation office in Bangladesh. The best experience I gathered during my work is that people concerned are interested to preserve their history and heritage but they don’t have any guidance and training to do so. I believe that with little financial help and technical support, Municipalities can certainly preserve their records. NAB from the government side and BARM Society, Heritage Archives, Rajshahi, Bangladesh Itihas Samiti and the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh etc from non-government side can play a major role to assist the Municipalities in record keeping.

Thank you very much for your patient hearing.

Assalamualaikum

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