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Thursday, 23rd March 2017
 

PRESERVING DIVERSE HERITAGE

Jain community delegation visiting the London Metropolitan Archive in May 2010

As Board Member of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, I am learning a lot about the vast heritage sector in the UK. I have discovered that significant skills and resources are devoted to protecting heritage, and that the stories and records of migrant communities are being archived across the country. The sector is seeking to actively reach out into minority communities - many of whom do not have a 'physical' tradition of maintaining histories and records, but instead an oral one.

As a Jain, I made an attempt to explore the possibilities of preserving Jain history at the London Metropolitan Archive. The staff were most helpful and welcoming, and suggested a visit day where members of the community could come to explore and understand the processes of record collection and keeping. We managed to get a small group of community elders, academics, writers and educators to come together - and on 18th May 2010, the visit materialised. Among those present were Sushilaben Shah, Religion Chair of the Oshwal Association of UK, Dr. Peter Flugel, Director of the Centre for Jaina Studies at SOAS, Dr. Alpa Shah, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, Dr. Prakash Shah, Senior Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary College and Dr. Bindi Shah, Research Fellow at Roehamption Institute.

It was a very unique experience for the community to see the collections of other migrant communities and also to understand how archives collect and preserve material and make them publicly accessible. One of the most eye-opening aspects was that in a public archive, the community can be viewed from outside and its history studied and interpreted by anyone interested. Hitherto, the Jains have been more inward looking. By opening up, they can enrich their own understanding of themselves and their contribution to society. History is not just about the past, but also about the roots of the present generations.

At the end of the visit, Charlotte Shaw, the Head of Archives, explained:

"It was delightful to welcome the Jain community and share with them the work of the archive - please come again."

The community then sat down and reflected on its history and how it could work with such an archive. A sense of history was being catalysed, and there were many there keen to get started - there was a strong interest in capturing the oral history of the elders, before this would be lost. However, caution was urged here by scholars, as it is important for the historians to ask the right questions and gather relevant information which the future could interpret. Mr. Manhar Mehta of the National Council of Vanik Associations was keen to get actively involved and promote the collection of quality records and materials.

As a social enterprise, Diverse Ethics does a lot of pro-bono work to break barriers and encourage such dialogues, and we were very pleased by the event and the ensuing discussion. We hope and pray that this is only the start of a process which is not just about storing history for the future, but about giving the young people in the community, a sense of their history so that they can enrich the present day quality of their lives and identities. Could leaders and employers one day visit such archives to understand the diversity of their employees living in London? We certainly hope so.

Dr. Atul K. Shah, CEO, Diverse Ethics

Article added on 19th May 2010 at 2:26pm
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