Today, the engineering profession, more than any other, seems to embody the transformations which affect contemporary India. It simultaneously symbolizes the rise of the hypothetical « middle classes » and the positioning of India as an emerging power in the international job market, since the country has become one of the preferred destinations of large technological firms. Each year, India awards 3,50,000 engineering degrees.
Such figures and the current technological power of the country can only be understood from a historical perspective, particularly by revisiting the period of colonial domination. Thus India appears to be a unique case, the British having opened Engineering Colleges since 1840 there, whereas the emergence of a complete system of technical education was achieved in Britain only around 1914. Local manpower, thus trained, was expected to contribute to the exploitation of the colony. Soon after Independence, the economic and social development of the country was perceived as being largely dependent on the mastery of technology. One of the priorities of authorities became to facilitate the training of highly qualified manpower which was assigned a central role in the implementation of development programs elaborated under the aegis of economic planning of the years 1950-1970, and especially during the “green revolution”.
In spite of the position that engineers have held and still hold in the economy and social structure of the country they have been largely neglected by the scholarship. The ENGIND project proposes to fill this empirical lacuna, by analysing the role played by this group in the construction of modern India in a socio-historic perspective. Three main questions will direct this study. The first will look into the interlinkages between the rapid development of the profession and the evolution of the stratification of the Indian society. Have the institutionalisation of the profession since the end of the XIXth century and the discrimination policies of the new independent state favoured a certain degree of social mobility for some underprivileged groups (Dalits, women, etc.)? How are the inequalities, especially the gendered inequalities – translated within the profession? The second axis of enquiry will analyse the role played by the engineers in the economic development of the country. What was their involvement in the emergence of development policies immediately after Independence? What positions do they occupy in the industrial sector and within the State? These questions aim at understanding the national specificities of capitalist development in India since the colonial era. Finally, the last axis will study the re-composition of the professional group in the context of the globalization of the job market. How have Indian engineers reacted to the arrival of highly qualified foreign manpower since the 1990s and the opening up of the country’s economy to competition? What is the impact of international mobility on the organisation of the profession in India and especially the return of a fraction of engineers who had previously worked abroad? We need to undertake a long term study of the different types of logic of national market protection mainly implemented by the State and the professional associations inherited from the colonial period and their present day limitations.
The composition of the ENGIND team, which brings together sociologists and historians, specialists of South Asia and of Europe, Indian and French scholars, reflects one of its scientific ambitions: to review, through the Indian case, the models of industrialisation and social change, which have been derived largely from the historical experience of the West.