‘Imperial Cross-connections: Capital interest and bureaucratic discourse over the establishment of telephone business in colonial India’
Dr. Medha Saxena,
Colonization introduced new forms of communication technology in South Asia. They were the channels for obtaining and controlling information. While telegraphs, which formed a separate department by 1854, gradually became critical to the British administration, new technologies threatened to create rival networks of communication. After the Revolt of 1857 an acute need was felt to guard the communication monopoly of the colonial state. The early history of the establishment of telephone exchanges in India involves a battle between vested interests of the colonial state and private capital when private companies from Britain first arrived in India in 1880 to establish a telephone exchange business in major cities. The technocrats within the Indian Telegraph Department and British Post Office pushed the colonial state to bring the telephone within its legal purview. Social perceptions shaped the legal principles that bound these new technologies. Many means like buying out legal patents, granting limited licenses, erecting rival exchanges and so on were adopted to acquire a handle over the new enterprise. Issues of copyright and patenting emerged along with a much more complex picture of how private capital functioned in conjunction with the colonial state. Colonial mercantile classes and private companies across imperial dominions presented a combination of interests in this field. This talk will take a look at the first moment of accosting and reinterpreting the new technology and its uses in a way to suit the needs of the colonial state.
Dr. Medha Saxena has taught as an Assistant Professor at Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. She did her BA in history from St. Stephens College, University of Delhi and has an MA and Ph.D from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Currently she is engaged in further developing her work for publication as articles.