Over 250 years of Indian diaspora heritage digitally archived in Oman

DUBAI, May 28 : In its first overseas project for digitising and archiving diaspora documents, the National Archives of India has successfully recorded the oral history of the old Indian merchant families in Oman and their historical documents.

“Over 7,000 documents in English, Arabic, Gujarati, and Hindi languages from the private collections of the old Indian merchant families were scanned and digitised under this project. The oldest digitised document dates back to 1838, while a large majority date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” the Embassy of India in Oman said.

The National Archives of India (NAI), in collaboration with the Indian Embassy in Muscat, carried out the project – ‘The Oman Collection – Archival Heritage of the Indian Community in Oman’.

In addition to the digitisation of historical documents, the project also involved the recording of oral histories of the older members of the Indian community, the first such oral history project by the NAI.

The special digitisation and oral history project was conducted at the Embassy of India premises in Muscat from May 19-27 and saw the enthusiastic participation of 32 prominent Indian families hailing from the state of Gujarat in India, whose presence in Oman spans several generations and dates back to 250 years, a statement from the Embassy said.

The wide variety of documents digitised include personal diaries, account books, ledgers, telegrams, trade invoices, passports, citations, letters and correspondences, photographs etc that shed a fascinating light into the lives and contributions of the Indian community in the Sultanate of Oman.

These documents collectively constitute a vivid narration of the history of the Indian community in Oman, including their cultural practices, social activities, trade and commerce, as well as their contributions to and integration into Omani society, and the preservation of Indian traditions abroad, the statement said.

“This was the first overseas project of the NAI for digitising and archiving diaspora documents, marking an important step in preserving the history and heritage of the Indian community abroad,” it said.

Oman is home to nearly 7,00,000 Indians and India and the Sultanate of Oman share a rich tapestry of historical and cultural connections that go back 5000 years, it said.

“Several merchant families mainly from Mandvi, Surat and other parts of Gujarat have been resident in Sur, Muttrah and Muscat since the late 18th century CE. They are an integral part of the Omani society, many having become Omani citizens, but also maintain strong ties with their motherland India,” it added.

The digitised documents will be archived and uploaded on ‘Abhilekh Patal’, the digital portal of the NAI, making these documents available to researchers and the wider public.

Arun Singhal, Director General, NAI, stated: “This is the first time that we have collected and digitised the private archives of diaspora documents from abroad. This marks a historic milestone for the NAI and a significant step towards preserving the rich heritage and narratives of the diverse overseas Indian community.”

Amit Narang, Ambassador of India to Oman noted, “This project aligns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji’s vision to strengthen connections with the Indian diaspora worldwide. By documenting and preserving the history of the Indian community in Oman, we are rekindling a vital part of our shared heritage and fostering a deeper engagement with our diaspora.”

Sheikh Anil Khimji, head of the Indian community in Oman, expressed his appreciation for the project and thanked Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar. “The archiving of the historical documents of the Indian diaspora by Embassy of India will go a long way in preserving their history and in doing so also showcase the time-tested bonds of friendship between India and the Sultanate of Oman,” Khimji said.

The initiative was supported by the National Records and Archives Authority (NRAA) of Oman, which provided essential logistical and other support, ensuring the smooth execution of the project, the statement added. (PTI)