Sunday, June 12, 2016

Accessing the National Archives of India (NAI)


I am Elham Bakhtary, a summer research fellow with the Sigur Center for 2016. I want to discuss my experience accessing the National Archives of India. I will be discussing the procedure for getting registered with the archives and some of the particulars I wish I had known prior to arriving in India.

Anyone who plans to access the archives needs to get their documentation in order. You cannot just show up to the archives with an ID and expect to do research like in the U.S. or U.K. In addition to getting a visa before you come to India, you will need to prepare a few other documents.

1. The first is the letter of introduction from you home institution. The NAI is quite vague as to what they are looking for in this letter. The NAI does not specify who should write it. Because I am a doing this research as a fellow with the Sigur Center, I thought it best to get a letter from there. However, it appears acceptable to get one from your advisor, department chair, or college dean. My letter basically stated that I was a student in good standing at George Washington University and was awarded a grant from the Sigur Center to conduct research at the NAI. If you plan to visit multiple research sites in India, you may want to keep the letter more vague about research sites or have all the sites listed in the letter. A general rule is that the more professional the letter looks, the better. I recommend submitting the original harcopy signed by the author with the univeristy letterhead. Another fellow American scholar submitted a photocopy of his letter and it was accepted, however, he was a professor and was known by the staff since he had used the archives before. It is best not to take chances.

2. The second document you need is the letter of introduction from the U.S. Embassy in Delhi. You can only obtain this document in person. This is was probably the most frustrating experience I had. I went to the embassy and was told I could not enter with any electronic device. There is a kiosk across the street where an attendant will hold your belongings until you are done. You have to pay him 50 rupees (roughly $1) for each item. I gave the gentelman my phone and laptop and returned to the embassy only to be told I could not enter without having an appointment. To avoid this, I suggest the following steps.

- Make your appointmnt online at Pick a day you will be able to go. It may not be wise to pick it the day after you arrive since you will probably have jetlag. But if you will only be in Delhi for a short period of time, you may want to go as soon as possible to get the most research done. It does not appear they allow appointments on Wednesdays. Once you make an appointment, print out the confirmation page. An embassy official told me via email that bringing the confirmation number was enough, but the guards seem pretty committed to seeing an actual printout, so it would probably best to bring one. If you are staying at a hotel, the front desk will likely do this for you. You can also cancel and resechedule your appointment online.

- The embassy is quite strict about what you can bring. Here is a list of banned materials:
Considering the length of this list, it is probably best to only bring the essentials. You will need your passport, appointment confirmation page, and $50. Yes, the cost of the letter of introduction is quite high. The embassy accepts dollars, rupees, and credit cards. I believe I overheard one employee say they do not accept debit cards. If you plan to visit the archives the same day, you will likely want to bring your electronic devices. In that case, there is the kiosk across the street that will hold your belongings for 50 rupees per item. It seems safe and you only have to sign a logbook. They will give you a ticket that you will present when you return to redeem your items.

- There is a separate line for U.S. citizens at the U.S. Embassy. Once the guards confirm you have an appointment and check your passport, they will direct you to the appropriate room. You will go to one window and fill out a document that explains who you are, where you plan to do research, and what you plan to research. After that you will go to the cashier's window and pay the $50 and get a receipt. You will then wait until your name is called. You will present the receipt, sign the documents and will be handed your letter of introduction.

3. The third document is the F8 form. However, they have a version of this at the archive that you can fill out. It appears to be slightly different from the one online. However, it is more or less asking for the same information. You can view the online F8 version here:
The online version has an option to send it online, but it doesn't appear to work.

4. The final document is your passport (and the visa inside).

When you arrive at the archives, you will have to go to the booth in the front and enter your name, institution, part of the archive you are going to, purpose, time, and signature. For part of the archive enter "RR", which stands for Reading Room. For purpose you can write "research". Once you enter the info, the clerk will give you a day pass. You will show it to the guards at the gate as well as the ones at the front door of the entrance. Some will not bother to look at it, others will examine it. It is best to just make eye contact with them, hold up the pass, and see what they want to do. Sometimes they will tear the pass slightly to indicate they read it. You will have to obtain a new pass each day you go to the archives.

Once inside the Reading Room you may be asked to sign in by writing entering your name and signature in a binder by the door. You will then go to the staffer in charge of registration. You will hand them all four of these documents at the same time. They will keep the letters of introduction and F8 form. They will scan your passport and visa and return it to you shortly (I got mine back about 20 minutes later). Once they hand back your passport you can begin requesting materials.

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