(Last Updated on : 29/08/2009)
There is no denying that in the total scheme of historical investigations archaeology in post independent India was only a marginal, vocational activity undertaken by a government department, despite the achievement of archaeology in British India.
In the post-Independence period, the scale of government support to widen the base of archaeological research in the country was fundamentally changed. The basic shape of the central Archaeological Survey remains the same, but in scale there can be no comparison between the official strength of the pre-1947 Survey and that of post-1947 India. In terms of approved manpower, budget and the number of its circles and branches, the modern Indian Survey was truly an archaeological juggernaut. On a different level, the state governments had assumed the responsibility of archaeological research and conservation within their own territories, thus sharing a substantive amount of archaeological power with the central government. On another level, the Indian University Grants Commission had injected large amounts of money into the university system to establish units of archaeological research in different parts of the country. The number of archaeological museums and miscellaneous organizations interested in archaeology had also increased manifold.
Compared to the pre-1947 scenario, the result of all these efforts had been spectacular. The prehistoric and protohistoric roots of every part of the country had now been put in sharp focus. In the historical field too there had been a sharp increase in the quantity of both explored and excavated data. As far as the natural-scientific techniques are concerned, a beginning had been made in most of the major fields. The questions which were being asked of the archaeological data were also manifold and refute the allegation aired in some quarters that theoretically Indian archaeology had not moved forward after Wheeler. Archaeology in Indian universities has been traditionally built around history departments, and in a country with a rich past such as India archaeology is considered quite logically a historical discipline. Other disciplines like anthropology, geology and geography can certainly have archaeological components just as the hard-core natural science subjects like physics and chemistry can play major roles in archaeological dating and analytical techniques. However, because of certain constraints of the Indian university system these multi-disciplinary aspects were yet to make a systematic headway. But to argue that archaeology in India had only to be anthropologically structured and not historically oriented was unacceptable.
If Indian archaeology has significantly progressed since Independence, it had also made the mass aware of the manifold issues and both organizational and academic problems associated with it. The two fundamental issues continued to obstruct the progress of the subject as a whole in India. One was related to the traditional Indological framework of ancient India in terms of race, language and culture. Although strong voices have been raised in recent years against this approach, this has not gone out of scene in archaeological literature either in India or abroad. As long as this antiquated and overtly racist approach to the past persisted, which it did in the framework of traditional Indology, archaeological emphasis on the grassroots history of the land was unlikely to be appreciated. It is this mind-set which provided the greatest stumbling block to the progress of archaeological research in India as a full-fledged academic discipline.
The second major issue offsetting the progress of archaeological research in India is rooted in the way archaeology developed in the country. It got systematized only as a government activity and even now, to a very large extent, it is dominated by provincial and central bodies. A strong bureaucratic and authoritarian element ran through the organization and execution of archaeological research in India, and in this sense archaeology in India was not a free academic subject like other subjects taught in the universities. Besides, Indian archaeological bureaucracy had been unable to take stock of the changing dimensions of archaeology as an academic subject and orient its planning accordingly. What was perhaps worse is that it had not yet woken up to the sheer scale of destruction of archaeological sites of all kinds due to the ever-mounting population pressure. Further, in an authoritarian bureaucratic structure of management a lot depends on the quality and commitment of the people in higher echelons of the structure. The progress achieved by Indian archaeology in the post-Independence period, was possible because of the presence of some who had the necessary education and mental frame to look beyond their personal interests and the interests of their caste-groups and regions and focus on the evolution of a national archaeological policy even within the bureaucratic constraints. That policy now lies in tatters, in an increasingly politicized and factious world of higher education and bureaucracy. The only sign of hope was a heightened awareness of archaeology as an academic discipline among the general educated class of the country.