LEGACIES OF CONFLICT in South Asia: The Right to Heal

Shah Commission of Inquiry Report 1, page 1

How many of us first developed an understanding of the Indian subcontinent and its peoples from the writings of Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie or Rohinton Mistry? Their stories, A Suitable Boy, Midnight's Children and A Fine Balance, introduced the rest of the world to the socio-political tensions fomenting in India since its independence from Britain in 1947.

The Archive on Legacies of Conflict in South Asia: The Right To Heal now makes available primary and secondary source materials that bear witness to the very real events, political players and forces that shaped post-colonial South Asia. There are many living stories in this archive waiting to be discovered and heard for those seeking to establish facts and root out revisionist histories.

Spearheaded by Dr. Angana P. Chatterji, Research Anthropologist and Founding Co-chair, Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights Initiative at the Center for Race and Gender at University of California, Berkeley and a Stanford Research Fellow, Legacies of Conflict is a collaborative partnership between Stanford Libraries and University of California, Berkeley, together with other civil society leaders, collectives, organizations and allies in various regions of South Asia. The Planning Committee for the Archive is led by Dr. Chatterji and includes Dr. Thomas Blom Hansen, Dr. Sharika Thiranagama and Dr. C. Ryan Perkins of Stanford and Dr. Paola Bacchetta and Dr. Abdul JanMohamed of UC Berkeley.

Among the first digitized collections to become available are the government reports and documentation relating to The Shah Commission of Inquiry, which investigated “The Emergency” years in India from 1975-1977. This is undertaken with the Ashoka University Archives of Contemporary India Collection. The mid-1970s was a time when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi assumed unchecked executive powers, the opposition was imprisoned, civil rights were oppressed and the world’s most populous democracy was severely tested.

Included in these reports and folders are first person witness testimonies and affidavits, letters of correspondence between government officials, court case summaries and transcripts, notes from police proceedings, and government statements and legislation that set the backdrop to and show the effects of many of the policies implemented at the time. Slum clearances, the destruction of religious temples, imprisonment of journalists and censorship of the press, and involuntary mass sterilizations on poor, impaired or lower-caste men and women are among those issues examined by the Shah Commission. Reading personal accounts behind these government initiatives and from those who suffered because of them, can be very sobering. As with all difficult histories, the voices of those wronged are not easy to forget.

Rounding out these new additions are also parliamentary background papers and statements leading up to India's "Emergency,” as well as Election Commission statistical reports from the late 1950s to the 1970s. Eventually, many other collections of materials will be added to the archive. These collections will include oral history narratives, photographs, films, sound-recordings, political and cultural artifacts and ephemera. Access to the documents is intended to be world-viewable, however certain contents may be restricted. In addition, while some physical records will be housed at Stanford most sources may only be available in digitized format.

Election Commission of India - General Election, 1977

“The Emergency" swept through India less than 50 years ago and the memories of its effects still live on. At a time when democracies around the world, including in South Asia, continue to be challenged by internal and external forces, this initial collection for Legacies of Conflict in South Asia offers numerous lessons that should not be forgotten.

The government reports and documentation relating to The Shah Commission of Inquiry are now available via SearchWorks.


This blog was written by Esther Wan (esther.wan@stanford.edu), who worked previously at the news libraries of Stanford University and the Far Eastern Economic Review, and law libraries in Toronto and Hong Kong.  Esther is now involved with descriptive metadata projects and the Photography Initiative for Stanford’s Special Collections & University Archives.

Esther Wan