Kolkata Urban Archive


How does civic action produce an understanding of the city at particular points in time? How can archival practices excavate and activate these submerged knowledges? These are questions that S. Bharat engaged with to create an archive of these narratives in a multiplicity of forms: letters, memos, reports, field notes, checklists, parliamentary bills and legal documents, newspaper clippings and articles, concept notes, press releases, circulars, reading lists, bibliographies and more, offering a close-grained look into the everyday dynamics of grassroots civic action, urban movements, planning and policy initiatives, and developmental activity in Kolkata.

S. Bharat has worked on building up a public archive on civil society action and developmental initiatives in Calcutta/Kolkata from the work and private collection of the urbanist V. Ramaswamy and women’s rights campaigner Krishna Roy. Additionally, four important Unnayan publications were donated by Arun Deb, a former Unnayan employee.

How does civic action produce an understanding of the city at particular points in time? How can archival practices excavate and activate these submerged knowledges? These are questions that S. Bharat engaged with over the course of ten months archiving the papers of V Ramaswamy and Krishna Roy. Covering a roughly 25 year period from the 1980s to the mid-2000s, the papers offer a close-grained look into the everyday dynamics of grassroots civic action, urban movements, planning and policy initiatives and developmental activity in Calcutta, shedding light on diverse matters, such as the emergence of housing rights as a major area of civic intervention and contestation in urban India, the autonomous women’s movement in Bengal, popular mobilisation to tackle displacement and ecological degradation, participatory planning and urban renewal initiatives by the state and civil society, and the emergence of the non-governmental development sector in the country.

The archive houses these narratives in a multiplicity of forms: letters, memos, reports, field notes, checklists, parliamentary bills and legal documents, newspaper clippings and articles, concept notes, press releases, circulars, reading lists, bibliographies and much more. Alongside this, an audio archive of interviews with V. Ramaswamy, Krishna Roy and other key individuals brings context to the documents and offers pathways to navigate them while also functioning as an oral repository of its own.

A guiding principle of this archival process has been to allow for the archive to be read across multiple registers and for each document to be accessible from multiple directions – it can be read biographically as maps of personal trajectories of engagement with the city, as the story of organisations and their networks, or even as an archive of events – rallies, seminars, workshops, of city-wide endeavours and national campaigns.

The Archive currently is a repository of the following Collections-

  • Calcutta’s Metro Workers Report
  • Canalside Study
  • Calcutta Environmental Management Strategy and Action Plan (CEMSAP)
  • The Foundation for Conservation and Research of Urban Traditional Architecture (CRUTA Foundation) Papers
  • National Campaign for Housing Rights (NCHR)

The Kolkata Urban Archive can be accessed here.

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