2. Detailed Programme


27th March

10:00 am – 10:30 am


Ines Zupanov (CNRS, CEIAS)

10:30 am – 12:00 pm


Peter Meiksins (Cleveland State University)

Constructing Engineers. How Comparative Analysis Can Enrich the Study of Indian Engineering.

12:00 pm – 1:30 pm: Lunch

1:30 pm – 3:30 pm


Chair: Satish Deshpande (University of Delhi)

Discussion: Aparajith Ramnath (Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode)

Company Engineers: Water Infrastructures and the Making of a Colonial Profession

Debjani Bhattacharyya (Drexel University)

“In this paper I propose to analyze the development of early colonial engineering as a discipline forged at the intersection of military work (primarily in building infrastructures of the empire) conducted with the help and knowledge of unnamed Indian “workers and helpers” as well as resistance from the indigenous population whose properties came under the purview of these various infrastructural projects of the East India Company. By focusing on the history of fortification, embankment and irrigation in and around Calcutta, I document the history of colonial engineering from 1748, with the creation of the post of Engineer, then headed by Captain Alexander Delavaux, to 1847, by which time engineering emerges fully as a field of professionalization within British India with the founding of Thomason College for civil engineering in Roorkee.

By examining the extensive archives of the Royal Bengal Engineering, Bengal Army and the diaries of surveys housed at the British Library (UK) and the Proceedings of the Territories, Survey, Irrigation and Sanitation Department housed at West Bengal State Archives (Kolkata, India) and National Archives of India (Delhi, India) the paper charts the nebulous growth of the profession by exploring the range of activities carried out by the Royal Bengal Engineers, ranging from riparian surveys in a tidal basin, to irrigation works and the building of ports, harbors and docks from the mouth of the Bay of Bengal to the Calcutta, one of the principal Factories of the East India Company through the eighteenth and nineteenth century. I move away from the figures of the great engineers of the Company to document a range of engineering projects which employed teams of workers and surveyors employed for instance with Major James Rennell in his early surveys of the Bengal Delta. I then move onto chart how early survey work was transformed into specialized branches of hydraulic engineering projects focusing on irrigation projects, embankments, and constructions of docks, harbors for ship repair. Finally, I explore the processes through which the Company engineers developed irrigation techniques which borrowed heavily from local practices and adapted it to western science to embank and contain the tidal formations in the volatile and ever changing Bay of Bengal region. In this manner I am able to chart how engineering in the colony gradually evolved become a civil discipline and site of professionalization from its early beginning as “skills in every branch of military science.””

“To be sacrificed on the altar of political progress.” Indian and British Engineers in the Bombay Public Works Department (1860’s-1940’s): Analyzing Discriminations and the Policy of “Indianisation.”

Vanessa Caru (CNRS, IFP)

“As early as the 1850’s, engineering institutions were created in India to train local manpower and from the 1860’s Indian engineers have been recruited in the Public Works Department (thereafter PWD) and granted the same title as their European colleagues. India can therefore appear to be a notable exception, especially when compared to other European colonies, where technical knowledge was perceived and ascertained as a white man’s monopoly. The fact that the British domination in India rested on a wide range of racial discriminations does not need demonstrating though and this paper is more specifically interested in analysing how these discriminations operated within the Department and how the British managed to maintain their hold on highest posts till the end.

We will therefore assess the evolution of the position of the Indian engineers within the PWD of Bombay Presidency from the 1860’s to the 1940’s and hence question the notion of “Indianization” which is widely used in the literature to describe it. Despite the strong capacity of collective mobilization the Indian personnel demonstrated from the 1910’s, the paper argues that the process of “indianization” was correlated with a levelling down of the status within the Department, which served political and economic interests in the context of the constitutional reforms.”

A Study on the Reservation Effects on State Engineers’ Careers: The Case of a Water Supply Service in Contemporary India.

Charles Gadea (Université Paris 10 Nanterre, IDHES)

“Reservation quotas are widely measured and discussed, but there is little work on their effects on the careers of public employees to which they apply. This paper presents a study of the careers of  1040 engineers from a public water supply service, trying to locate the respective roles of  degree, gender, seniority, position held at the time of recruitment, and to compare them to the influence of the group to which the engineers belong in the in the reservation system. The results suggest that the quotas manage quite well in neutralizing the disparities of opportunities due to castes, although in a uneven way according to the group of quota.”

3:30 pm – 4:00 pm: Tea Break

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm


Chair: Stéphanie Tawa Lama Rewal (CNRS, CEIAS)

Discussion: Karen Coelho (Madras Institute of Development Studies)

Public Civil Engineering : An Expertise from the Past? Ethnography of a Criticized Administration, The Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam

Bérénice Girard (EHESS, CEIAS)

“Created in 1975, the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam (UPJN) is in charge of water supply and sewerage in the State of Uttar Pradesh. This public company, mainly composed of a technical labour force, became a central actor in sanitation in 1985, with the launching of the Ganga Action Plan. This centrally-funded programme released important funds to build and/or renovate the sewerage systems of the largest towns along the Ganga River. In the 1990s, environmental activists started criticising the technical plans of the UPJN and rumours of large scale corruption became widespread. The launching of a new programme in 2008, partly funded by the World Bank, allowed for a very symbolic clean break with former modes of conception, implementation and management. Based on a long-term ethnographic study, this paper will focus on the evolutions of the day-to-day work of the UPJN engineers, provide insights on how the engineers attempt to resist the reforms and question the consequences of these reforms on the engineers’ professional and social self-representations.”

Colonial Modernity Shaping the Pipe Dream: A Teleological Imagination of Urban Water Supply

D.Parthasarathy, N.C.Narayanan & Gautam Ganapathy (Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai)

“Modern urban water supply systems that emerged in West by the end of 19th century were predicated upon rationalised conception of urban space and more importantly deploying large scale technical systems and integrated networks to meet increasing water demands engendered by modernization. In India, colonial influence saw attempts to introduce an ‘up to date’ centralised water supply network along the lines of systems established in West in the beginning of the 20th century.

Trivandrum is the capital of state of Kerala in India. A modern urban water supply system was instituted in Trivandrum by the end of 1931. This paper is an attempt to understand the role of engineers in the conception and planning of Trivandrum water works, one of the oldest in the country inaugurated in 1931. We trace the contradictions faced by engineers in realizing a technical ideal derived from the West amid fiscal and ideological reality of the times. More importantly, this paper attempts to understand the kind of knowledge (and disposition of engineers) required to replicate urban water supply networks of West in Trivandrum in 1931.

We examine the archival material on the Trivandrum water works which contain the debates between various planners (including engineers). Compared to other pre-independence urban towns in India during the time, Trivandrum water works needed higher capital investment per capita to institute the modern centralised water supply system. It is observed from various plans that productive deployment of capital and consequently protecting the interests of the donor (in this case it was the Government of Travancore) was a priority for the planners. Government of Travancore invested in Trivandrum water works in spite of the fact that the project held no promise of immediate economic return.

The Trivandrum experience brings out the need to consider geographical and social peculiarities of a place before finalizing the details of the scheme. Engineers questioned certain presuppostions that were consequence of trying to import the municipal hydraulic technical ideal from the European experience. There were a number of queries raised on this regard including 24X7 water supply in a place where people predominantly used traditional modes of resource mobilisation and consequent closing down of community wells, quantum of per capita consumption which was based on the European or other colonial Indian city’s experience and use of conventional system layout that may not be appropriate for Trivandrum’s geographical features. Although most of these queries were motivated by the apparent paucity of funds, these are still very relevant concerns. In the ‘universal’ plan for Trivandrum, the preference for nucleate dwellings among majority, custom of the elite to have large gardens and use of alternate mode of water supply were not considered although some of the engineers flagged these issues especailly on the issue of wastage. The teleological approach of the planners’ vision derived from the European experience (the integrated modernist ideal) completely sidelined the social and material reality along with the cultural habits of people inhabiting the place.

The study of archival material brings out peculiarities and specificities of the Indian urban water service provision, which till date remain key challenges that need to be addressed by the policy makers. Ongoing Policy debates in urban water provision in India tend to pose techno-financial feasibility and social viability in opposition to one another. The case of Trivandrum water works demonstrates how instead of posing the two as mutually exclusive, it might be more constructive to approach them as co-dependent.”

Railwaymen of Real Estate? Intimate Practices and Rationale for Changes within Railway Institutions in India. The Case of the Rail Land Development Authority and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

Bérénice Bon (Darmstadt University of Technology)

“There is a shift today in the mode of capitalizing transport infrastructure projects through land. This paper focuses on the recently created authorities of the Indian Railways and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation in charge of real estate development. Our analysis shows that monetisation of land opens up a new professional territory for railway engineers. It introduces new norms, new procedures, new forms of partnerships with private sector actors. It also wrestles with ways of problematizing urban issues, the structure of the organization, its historical legacies and rationalities.”

28th March

9:00 am – 11:00 am


Chair: Anne Julie Etter (Université de Cergy)

Discussion: Peter Meiksins (Cleveland State University)

Who is in Charge of the Howrah bridge? Engineering Expertise and the Political Economy of Late-Colonial India

Aparajith Ramnath (Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode)

“This paper paints a collective portrait of the expatriate engineering firms in and around Calcutta in the interwar period (1914-47). These were either stand-alone firms (e.g. Jessop & Co) or small-sized works operated by a prominent managing agency (e.g. Burn & Co.’s Howrah works). Economic historians and other scholars have studied the European managing agencies in considerable detail, examining their investment and holding patterns, and even the culture of their senior management. Yet, although these agencies operated several companies of a technical nature, the recruitment, organisation and professional lives of the engineers on their rolls have not received detailed scholarly attention.

This paper explores such facets of the operation of these engineering firms. Who were the engineers who worked in these firms, where were they trained, and what was their work culture like? To what extent did these firms Indianise themselves (i.e. replace foreign personnel with Indians? Using official company histories, archives of professional institutions, personal letters of leading engineers, and exhaustive trade directories from the colonial period, this study demonstrates the following.

First, the decision to grant protection to the steel-related industries in the 1920s and ‘30s played a significant part in the fortunes of these firms. Jessop, Burn, Braithwaite and several other engineering firms were among those who were examined in detail by the Indian Tariff Board before tariffs or bounties could be granted. In the process, the expatriate engineering companies began to assert, or claim, an Indian identity even though most of their management and capital were British.

Second, recruitment to the managing agencies was often ad-hoc, through personal networks, and usually done in Britain. Each firm or works had a very small number of such experts, under whom an Indian workforce carried out the daily work. The sources indicate that the engineers in these positions came from modest backgrounds in Britain, attending technical schools rather than universities, and completing their training through several years’ apprenticeship in British industrial firms.

Third, little evidence has been found of a systematic process of Indianisation of the technical experts in these firms. Indians were conspicuous by their near-absence among the engineers of the Calcutta firms from the 1920s through the 1940s. This was is contrast to the government services, where considerable Indianisation of engineering officers took place, and to Indian firms like the Tata Iron and Steel Company, which set up its own training institute as a route for Indians to take up positions as experts in its works.”

State Policy, Technical Knowledge and Engineering Manpower: General Observations and A Study of Workforces in the Automotive Industry, c. 1943-2000

Stefan Tetzlaff (CNRS, CEIAS)

“The paper analyses the interdependency between a new state policy, resulting demands on technological knowledge and new manpower requirements to industrialize India between the late colonial period and the present. The initial part of the paper makes several general observations on how the relationship of these aspects changed in India after the Second World War and specifically sketches how the state altered technical education for engineering personnel. The second part of the paper then focuses on the emergence of India’s automobile industry and the differential trajectory in the creation of a suitable workforce, consisting of managers, engineers and technical workers.”

German Émigré Scientists and Engineers and Aeronautics in India

Jahnavi Phalkey (King’s College London)

“I wish to explore the stories of German émigré scientists and engineers in India through the history of India’s first jetfighter, Marut – HF 24. For this, I selectively study three separate waves of German emigration to India from the 1930s to the 1950s and trace their links to the development of facilities for advanced research and education in aeronautics and aerodynamics, and eventually, to, manufacturing of aircraft. Two aspects of this story are significant: the transnational networks of German speaking aeronautical engineers and scientists, including that of Indian students trained in Germany; and, second, the constraints of Cold War geopolitics as they shaped the conditions under which the aircraft could be manufactured. My arguments are twofold: the first concerns the nature of state power in India after independence; and the second is about the specific configuration of the military-industrial-academic complex in India, an idea that is yet to receive substantial attention and physiognomy.”

11:00 am – 11:30 am: Tea Break

11:30 am – 1:00 pm


Chair: Catherine Marry (CNRS, CMH)

Discussion: Irina Gouzevitch (EHESS)

Coaching the Masses, Creaming the Elites. The Educational Market at Kota (Rajasthan)

Roland Lardinois (CNRS, CEIAS)

“My paper investigates the structure and the development of coaching centers in the city of Kota (Rajasthan). Every year, thousands of students come to Kota in order to register in a hundred of coaching centers that provide preparatory courses for entrance exams for engineering and medical colleges. The specificity of Kota is that coaching is organized on a residential basis making the city an educational cluster. Boys and girls of school ages come and stay at Kota for a period of one to three years, from class Xth onwards according to their program, thus spending a long span of time far from their home at an early stage of their formative life. My paper focuses on the structure and way of functioning of this educational space, its origins and development at Kota since the 1980s. Coaching centers have profoundly impacted the whole education system of the city as their offers compete with the programs taught in schools. The intense competition to enter engineering and medical colleges put a high pressure on teenagers who are left alone at Kota in order to achieve the dreams of their parents. Consequently, for the past five years, fifty seven children failed to succeed and killed themselves at Kota. Using quantitative and qualitative data, fieldwork interviews with all kinds of stakeholders, from parents to teachers, from heads of centers to students, but also literary testimonies, my paper try to answer the question: what does the figure of engineer make to transform to such an extreme situation the Indian social fabric.”

Muslim Engineering Colleges in Bangalore: Negotiating Community Space and Profitability

Aminah Mohammad-Arif (CNRS, CEIAS)

“The Indian Constitution gives religious minorities the right to establish their own educational institutions (article 30). As per this provision, most religious minorities have established colleges in various specializations all over India. South India in general, Karnataka in particular and Bangalore even more so, have been especially active in setting up such institutions. This paper will examine three major Muslim colleges in Bangalore and its vicinity delivering graduate and post-graduate degrees in engineering, Islamiah Institute of Technology, Ghousia college of engineering and HKBK. After presenting these colleges in a historical and sociological perspective, I will examine how they attempt to strike a balance between the concern for the upliftment of a minority group and for a profitability ensuring their survival in the highly competitive environment of engineering colleges in Bangalore.”

1:00 pm – 2:30 pm: Lunch

2:30 pm – 4:30 pm


Chair: Catherine Marry (CNRS, CMH)

Discussion: Carol Upadhya (National Institute of Advanced Studies)

Labour Market Integration and Careers Paths: The Case of IIT’s Alumni.

Odile Henry (Université Paris 8) & Mathieu Ferry (ENS Cachan)

“This communication aims to lay groundwork for a better objectivation of the careers evolution carried out by IITians since the establishment of such institutes in the early 1950s. Based on an in-depth survey undertaken in one of these IITs (one of the most famous and older), we firstly interrogate the rationales of the job placement of the current graduated students within the private sector. We will particularly interrogate the differences in the school-to-work transition (in terms of salary and social properties of the firms) between the students, according to their major, degree, marks and reservation status. On the basis of in-depth biographical interviews with alumni and current faculty members from this IIT, we will secondly attempt to clarify the rationales of labour market investments and to provide the historical trends that are necessary to their contextualization.”

Learning Gender Equity from India? Comparative Studies of the IT Sector in India and the UK

Parvati Raghuram, Clem Herman, Esther Ruiz-Ben & Gunjan Sondhi (Open University)

“While Information Technology (IT) is seen as central to the knowledge economy women constitute less than 16% of IT specialists in the IT industry (BCS 2014). Moreover, the number of women in IT is declining. This is a pattern that is repeated across much of Europe as well as in the US. Migration is often seen as the answer to meeting IT skills shortages with IT consistently appearing as the highest single However, the figures for female participation in the sector are much more promising in India. For instance, female enrolments in science and engineering education (around 65%) and IT labour force participation (around 25%) are considerably higher in India compared to other countries studied in an OECD survey (Salvi del Pero and Bytchkova 2013). Moreover, 33% of women in IT are in technical roles (NASSCOM & Mercer 2009) and these numbers are rising. This paper explores the experiences of migrant men and women in India and the UK to explore how and why gendering in the engineering industries occurs differently in the two countries and what the UK may learn from India. We will also explore what happens to the differentially gender coded IT worker when they come into contact and work together in IT workspaces in India and the UK.”

Imagined Technologists? The Evolution of the IT Engineer as an Occupational Category in India

Amit Prakash, Balaji Parthasarathy & Supriya Dey  (Indian Institute of Information Technology Bangalore)

“This study investigates the evolution of the IT engineer as an occupational category using a theoretical framework based on the works of Andrew Abbott in the field of sociology of occupations. Empirically, the work draws on the evolution of the category in India which not only graduates the second largest number of engineers in the world, but has also used that human capital to become the largest exporter software services in the world since 1985. Although few engineers are explicitly awarded a degree in IT, the term “IT engineer” is widely used. To contextualize this public acknowledgement and acceptance of the term, the study situates the patterns of individual work experiences of Indian IT engineers within the structure of institutional relations in the Indian IT industry which emerged between 1985 and 2015. Findings from approximately 50 interviews conducted at IT firms and engineering colleges in and around Bangalore suggest that (a) technological innovations, (b) technology-related policies of the state, (c) organizational practices and the division of labour at the firm level (ushered in by the dynamics of the global IT industry) and, (d) engineering education in India (as a means to create a knowledge system to formalize the required skills), have had a key influence on the emergence and the shaping of the IT engineer as an occupational category in India over the last 30 years.”

4:30 pm – 5:00 pm: Tea Break 

5:00 pm – 6:00 pm


Satish Deshpande (University of Delhi)