A short history of BARM, by Florus Geraedts
December 13, 2015, 12:13 am
Filed under: History, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

The BARM program, started in 1995 as a consultancy program in cooperation of archivists in Bangladesh and the Netherlands, aims at enlargement of the profits of international cooperation in archival development by exchanging experiences of archivists of both countries, embedded in the international archival community´s professional knowledge and practices. The BARM program has its spiritual roots in the general conclusion of the ICA´s 1966 conference demanding international cooperation in order to help the developing nations in creating proper archival systems.

At the end of the 18th century de authorities in India took a decisive step in the development of public life in South Asia. The introduction in 1793 of the permanent settlement and its influence in the peasant economy in India also generated the need for land-registration. This resulted in
the introduction of a complete records management system that would have impact on the whole society in India. Main feature of that information system was its invisibility to the large majority of those who were dependent from its functioning: the peasants. Only by using the services of mediators who could read the documents and follow the proper procedures to request information (copies of deeds, excerpts of the registered rights and proves of ownership of land etc.) these mainly
illiterate people could take part in this information system. Thus,  the  development of the right of information as part of the generally  acknowledged citizen´s rights did not take place. The records became a databank of the government and the privileged elite in the villages and  townships of India. This gave the records management system – form the very beginning of the new land registration an image of dishonesty and secrecy.  Rasheed, a landowners son who cares about the rights of his father’s tenant Kaccheru (at stake in the land reform in post colonial India of the 1950´s) finds out that the village patwari (officer in charge of the local land registration) is reluctant to inform him from the land records and that the written information itself was totally denying the rights of Kaccheru in the real situation. Above all: Rasheed’s request to correct the information, crucial for the peasant Kaccheru, was simply rejected by the Landlord’s decision, humbly asked for by the patwari who fears the Landlord’s power. This example given by Vikram Seth in his novel A suitable boy is characteristic for the practice of the juridical, social and economic functioning of the records management system in the South  Asian subcontinent. Those who really depended for their rights neither  could  see the records management system, nor could they rightfully use  the information system itself. This invisibility and uselessness of the  records management for the vast majority of the subordinates made the South Asian citizens almost completely disinterested in records management as something meaningful in their life.

In Bangladesh, East Pakistan from 1947 to 1971, the records management  system got in decline under pressure of the rapidly growing burden on the government’s shoulders caused by the explosion like population growth and the need for development on every aspect of life after 1971. The decentralization of record keeping within the departments of the  Secretariat gave the final blow to the continuation of the tradition of  records management (mr Sushanta Chandra Khan) dating back to the  already in 1854 foreseen structure of records management in Bengal; Bengal Records Management Manual (last printed edition: 1943). The central Pakistan authorities did not feel a real urgence of installing an Archives & Records Management system in East Pakistan (the former East Bengal) or in Pakistan as a whole: before 1971 secession of East Pakistan no Pakistani Archival Legislation was promulgated. The traditional Current Records management in the Secretariat (at the level of the national government) got a final blow by the replacement by decentral records management in 1965/1966. Consciousness of the need for records management, still present in the 1970 manual on this subject as part of the training of civil servants in the Pakistan Academy for Rural Development in Peshawar and Comilla, faded away. Yet there was a tendency of growing consciousness of the need for an Archives & Records Management system in the newly created state of Bangladesh. In 1973 the Bangladesh National Library and Archives started from scratch. Still in 1982 / 1983 the Chief Martial Law Administrator General Ershad, sincerely concerned about the need for a modern Records Management system had to be convinced of the necessary bond with an Archives Management System while he was considering the Records Management System as some kind of modern documentary system that could replace “all old and obsolete archives reminding us of colonial and later on ineffective forms of government” (prof Ratan Lal Chakraborty). In 1982 the National Archivist dr Karim took a great part in the production of the magazine of SWARBICA, thus emphasizing the Bangladesh National Archives as member of the international archival community. The SWARBICA (established in 1976) and its publications covering the archival systems in India, Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka), is the regional organization for archival cooperation in South West Asia.

In 1983 a National Archives Ordinance was promulgated and gave a statutory basis to the Archives and Records management with both administrative and historical functions and providing the citizen´s right to have access to the records. In 1986, the National Archives of Bangladesh shifted to the present building in Dhaka, Agargaon together with the National Library. In the beginning of the 1990´s, the Founding father of the Bangladesh National Archives, the librarian dr Karim, left office as Director of the National Archives. In 1997 prof dr Sharifuddin Ahmed, a Dhaka University historian, entered office as Director and introduced modernizations: an elevator, a microfilm department, a computer department. Transfer of 18th, 19th  and early 20th century District Records from several District Collectorate Record Rooms  (for example Mymensingh in 1998  and  Chitagong in 2003) took place and on a modest scale, the Archives inspection took a fresh start, based on experiences of inspection tours to the District Collectorate record Rooms during the years 1978 – 1983.

Education of archivists and record keepers. Systematic professional education of record keepers, archivists and records managers is absent in Bangladesh. In the last 30 years now and then staff members of the National Archives got archivistical training  in the United Kingdom, the School for Archival Studies in the National archives of India in Delhi and the National Archives of Malaysia. No systematic transfer of knowledge by the trainees to their colleagues in the National Archives in Dhaka  took place. In several university faculties and private institutes of librarian sciences, archives classes are offered as a part of the educational program but the relation with the National Archives is absent and the training is not practically-oriented at all. The Bangladesh Itihas Samiti paid attention to the archives as a main source for historical research, at first in its conferences in Sylhet in 1998 and in Rajshahi in 1999. The growing interest in archival sources for historiography and the regionalization of historiography and the preservation of cultural heritage in Bangladesh resulted in 2001 in the establishment of a Heritage Room under direction of prof. Mahbubur Rahman in Rajshahi University and the start of a course in Records Management in the History Department of Rajshahi University in December 2003.

From the beginning, the BARMproject was inspired by the idea of seeking the advantages of international cooperation, particularly the exchange of professional knowledge and experience in archives & records management. Traditions of Bengal, British and Dutch archival systems and the outcome of the development in Australian records management’s practice of the idea of Records Continuum. BARM is focusing on the idea of applying records management as part of process management in an administrative environment in order to direct and influence administrative and business processes in order to strengthen efficiency, reliability, accountability and transparency.

As Jan van den Broek informed us in his article “From Brussels to Beijing” on the international cooperation in the archival world during the 20th century, the 1966 Washington congress of the ICA “…. resolved to give the highest priority to development programmes in non-industrialised countries and to establish Regional Branches in which countries all over the world could unite their efforts to improve the archival situation.” The ICA directory, Archivum, particularly the editions of the national Archival legislation worldwide, Janus, the RAMP studies, they all are fruits of this development and proved to be most useful while starting and running the project BARM.

The program Bangladesh Archives & Records Management, shortly BARM, was started in January 1995 in Bangladesh, to work as that tiny little quantity of germs meant to find its way and multiply almost invisibly in the substance to which it is added, like bread or yoghurt. And meant to change the substance basically. Bangladesh with its 140 million people is part of one of the oldest centers of human history. Bangladesh is also part of the most densely populated area: South Asia. Almost 1,5 billion people are living in several communities, stressed by poverty, religious disputes, criminality, violence and weak states. The democratic institutions and the judiciary are functioning under the continuing threat of being faded away by people in despair, large scale corruption, frustrated needs.

International aspects of BARM:
Studying the archival system in Australia, mainly the idea and the impact of the Records Continuum concept. Studying the advisory activities of the Australian Archivist Peter Arfanis in Cambodia. Arfanis,  in the years 1995 – 1996, helped his Cambodian colleagues in the National Archives in Pnom Penh in daily activities of accessioning and inventorising records, taking care for fysical maintainment of documents and thus Arfanis was involved in direct transfer of professional knowledge and experience to the Cambodian colleagues.

Studying of development programme of the archival system of Nigeria in 1988 – 1994 in 1996, Joan van Albada informed me about the process of strengthening of position and status of the Nigerian National Archives in relation to the Nigerian government. And the involvement of the development of the Nigerian National Archives – particularly the training of archivists – in the international source of professional knowledge and skills ICA. Publishing of the first article on BARM in “Archives & Manuscripts”, May 1997, International Notes, magazine of the Australian Society of Archivists. Studying the history of the archival system in Turkey in 1997. Relevant development: under the directorate of dr Ismet Binark (1976-1997) the position of the Turkish Archives became strengthened by the developments in former Yugoslavia, post communist Bulgaria and the southern parts of the Asian republics of the disintegrating Soviet Union: records in the Turkish and Osman archives became very important while giving information on property issues, land ownership etc. from the years before 1914 and after. Dr Ismet Binark achieved  the strengthening of the Turkish National Archives position by shifting to the department of the Prime Minister (Basbakanlik) away from a relatively powerless ministry of Culture. Studying the activities of the IRMT; the combination of experience at the development of archival management in Kenya and other Commonwealth  countries since 1978.

In Bangladesh (in the context of South Asia):
National Archives of Bangladesh (NAB), part of the Directorate of Archives and Libraries of Bangladesh, joined the ICA in 1973, immediately after its erection; in 1976 the SWARBICA was initiated, uniting the archives of India, Pakistan, Iran, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri
Lanka; one of the founding fathers was dr K.M. Karim, director of the NAB; Training of NAB staff outside Bdesh in international cooperation; from time to time a staff member was sent to the National Archives School for Archival Studies in Delhi or Malaysia, USA and the Uk. The establishment of the Malaysian Archivists School was also inspired by the ICA’s idea of furthering regional schools for archivists & record keepers. BARM also concentrated on fact finding about the Bangladesh archives & records management in practice , its administrative function and its existence related to historical research, historical education and its impact on the history debate in political life. Visiting the NAB, History Department of Dhaka University, congresses of the Bangladesh Itihas Samiti, District Collectorate Record Rooms, Libraries, Schools for Information and Librarian Sciences, Academic and policy research institutes, Museums, Governmental organs, regional, municipal and village authorities. The running of the national Archives in Dhaka, the National Archives Ordinance1983, the construction of the library and archives building in 1986; the design and construction of the new Archives building started in October 2000. Paying attention to the improvements from 1994 on.

Studying on the relation between the poor quality of the police  organization, the ill performance of the judiciary and the very weak  performance of Water Board, Bangladesh Railway, hospitals etc. related to the record keeping as practised. The challenge of (re)finding (discovery) of traces of the Moghul time records management. History of the Bengal, Pakistani and from 1971 the Bangladeshi archival system. The development of the British colonial practice of Records Management, the application of lessons learned from the Dutch archivistical history and the idea of the Bangladesh Archival and Records Management as a method to strengthen democracy and Rule of Law. Studying the desirability and / or feasibility of either linking the “new” records management to the tradition of the archival system of Bengal during the British Raj (Bengal Records Manual 1854 – 1843) or breaking with that tradition and starting more or less from the scratch, aiming more or less exclusively on the development of E-records.

Issues at stake and to be debated:

  1. As far as BARM and such projects are concerned, what can we expect from ICA, from UNESCO, particularly from Archival Solidarity, from World Bank’s InfoDEV?
    2. Should be chosen for attachment of the present and near future records management system to the tradition as found in the Bengal Records manual 1943? Main advantage: using the remnants of archival knowledge and record keeping skills as basis for further development of records management.
    3. Or should be chosen for new start of records management according to the new principles of the Records Continuum, as – for example – applied in the 1997 Australian concept of Records management as tool for steering and facilitating the process of administration aiming at e-governance in the very near future? Advantage: this renewal might be expected not to become hampered by the powers of professional traditions of record management; at the same time, this renewal could become more easily sustained by the developing ICT and information science sector in Bangladesh.
    4. What method should be chosen? First emphasis on new archival legislation in order to get the parliament and government involved because of debate and struggle around accountability and transparency in discovering the broad impact of records management on the quality of the performance of government, judiciary and social and economic key sectors like the land registry.