An architect of the Madras archives

The word 'Archives' is derived from the Greek word archcion which has been defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'a place in which public records or other historical documents are kept' and as 'a historical record or document so preserved'.

The term is also used to designate the agency charged with the custody, preservation and administration of archival material after it has become non-current. A person engaged in the administration of archival material is called an archivist.

Dr B S Baliga, late Curator, Madras Record Office (now Tamilnadu Archives), deserves to be remembered on account of his outstanding contribution to the Madras Record Office. During his tenure for nearly 25 years, he made the Madras Record Office an efficient instrument of service not only to the Government but also to all the research scholars from different parts of India and the world. He was the first trained archivist in India and did yeoman service to Tamilnadu in preserving records and public documents for public use by posterity. He was respected throughout India by all the academicians and scholars. On the importance of archives for national reconstruction Dr Baliga observed: 'The value of archives for national planning and reconstruction is not sufficiently realized. Most of the states do not possess any organized archives and some that do possess such archives cannot be said to utilize them to the fullest extent possible or necessary. And yet, there can be no doubt that the very object with which the archives are preserved is to make them readily available for assisting administration. 

Nor can there be any doubt that the archives recording as they do all the achievements and aspirations of past Governments contain a mine of information on all sorts of administrative, economic and social schemes for reforms. In them are treasured up the most considered views and ideas of the most experienced statesmen, administrators and legislators of the past on a variety of vital matters of public interest'.

Dr Bantwal Surendranath Baliga (popularly known as Dr B S Baliga) was born on 11.11.1908 in Bantwal, a little town about 8 miles east of Mangalore. He took his BA degree in History and Economics from Madras University. He went to London for further studies and obtained an Honours Degree in History with special reference to India from the University of London followed by a PhD Degree in History from the same University in 1933. His thesis for the Ph D was 'Influence of the Home Government on Land Revenue and Judicial Administration in the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal from 1807'.

        He became a specialist in South Indian History. He was appointed as Probationary Curator of the Madras Record Office (today known as Tamilnadu Archives) in August 1934. He worked under P Macqueen, ICS and later replaced him as Curator of the Madras Record Office in 1935. During his probation period he was deputed to the Public Record Office in London for Archival Training.

        This training benefited him greatly because it later stood him in good stead when he was entrusted with the care and custody of the records of the Madras Government which in terms of volume was the largest in India at that time, may indeed in the whole of East Asia. With tremendous commitment, devotion, drive, dedication and professional competence he managed the affairs of the Madras Record Office with distinction for nearly a quarter century. He died in harness in September 1958 at the age of 50.

        During the II World War, when there was a threat of Japanese attack on Madras following the fall of Singapore in 1942, Government of Madras ordered the transfer of all the records and public documents from the Record Office in Madras to Chittoor Town in the Andhra Region. Dr Baliga was in-charge of this operation. After moving all the records to Chittoor, Dr Baliga informed the Government of Madras that his office was in a state of combat readiness to assist the Government in making all the records available in the manner and measure required. The British Government, recognizing his exemplary performance, conferred on him the title of 'Rao Bahadur'.

        As an archivist, administrator and scholar, he was noted for his efficiency and thoroughness in assisting all the departments of the Government and other administrative agencies by supplying them the required records with detailed explanatory notes on subjects like 'Separation of Judiciary from the Executive', 'Abolition of Zamindari', 'Rural Indebtedness', 'Rural Development', etc. The notes prepared by him were noted for their brevity, lucidity and authenticity.

        The Government of India came out with a scheme for the revision of all the old District Gazetteers of British India in 1954. Long before this scheme was introduced, Dr B S Baliga had taken special initiative to revise all the old Gazetteers in the old Madras Presidency. He personally revised and wrote the District Gazetteers of Thanjavur (with the title Tanjore District Handbook), Madurai, Coimbatore and South Arcot. He prepared a compendium on important administrative subjects and a special compendium on Salem Iron and Steel. His report on Salem Iron and Steel later came in handy when the Steel Plant was established in Salem.

        Another very important publication of his was done in 2 volumes under the title 'Studies in Madras Administration'. This is an outstanding book not only for historical research but also for practical administrative work by District Collectors and others at higher level in Tamilnadu.

        He was a Member of the Indian Historical Records Commission, its Research and Publication Committee, the Indian History Congress, the National Committee of Archivists and Convener of the Regional Committee for collection materials for the History of the Freedom Struggle in India. He was also a Member of the Board of Examiners of Madras University for evaluation of PhD thesis in various disciplines. On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of Indian Independence in 1957, Dr Baliga prepared an article on the Freedom Struggle in Tamilnadu. This article was published in 'The Hindu'. In this article he made a detailed reference to all major political parties in the old Madras Presidency including focus on the Non-Brahmin Movement. Referring to the Justice Party, Dr B S Baliga wrote: 'It was by no means, as is sometimes supposed, a thoroughly reactionary party. It was not anti-nationalist in its outlook. It was only more moderate than the congress party and it sought to attain its goal of full responsible government through constitutional methods'. C N Annadurai in his paper 'Homeland' wrote an editorial under the caption 'Truth Triumphant' and paid a great tribute to Dr B S Baliga for his historical sense, objectivity and concern for truth. Equally complementary was the response of Madras Government. C Subramaniam, Minister for Education, praised Dr B S Baliga for his fairness in assessing the record of the Justice Party Government under the diarchy from 1921 to 1935. The Government of Madras ordered the printing of 3000 copies of Baliga's article as a pamphlet for public distribution throughout the State.

        He was a personal friend of all the great historians of his time like Prof. Potdar of Pune, Prof K A Neelakanta Sastri, C S Srinivasachari, P T Srinivasa Iyengar and Dr K K Pillay. All of them acknowledged the work of Dr B S Baliga in the field of promotion of historical research. They called him an 'Architect of Archives in Tamil Nadu'.

        Baliga by his work and example succeeded in spreading a feeling of national pride in our documentary cultural heritage and creating a climate for ensuring its preservation for the posterity. He encouraged every member of the staff in the Madras Record Office to contribute his best towards the scientific management, administration and conservation of all the records in the Madras Archives.

        As a team leader, he succeeded in developing greater professionalism and inculcating a scientific temper among creators, custodians and users of public records. He saw to it that the Madras Record Office during his tenure was totally committed to providing maximum assistance to scholars, administrators as well as the common man who approached him or his office in connection with their work. Indeed his was a life of complete dedication and devotion to the welfare and development of Archives and the Archival Profession.

        When he died in September 1958, the Government of India paid tribute to him in the following manner: 'His standing among historians was very high and his work has won for him respect of several great scholars round the world. The association of a scholar of his reputation and standing was a great asset in the revision of the District Gazetteers undertaken by Madras State in accordance with the scheme launched by the Government of India. His untimely death is an irreparable loss not only to the people of Madras State but to the academic community as a whole in the whole of India and the World.'(The writer is a retired IAS officer)