Caste and Technology Part I - Introduction

Marx (in)famously predicted that “modern industry will dissolve the hereditary division of labour upon which rest the Indian castes”(Marx 2019: 657). Modern employment opportunities (Srinivas 1995: 1230-1232), collective social movements (Phule 2002 & Ghurye 2008), universal adult franchise, and democratic constitution were often cited as sources to annihilate caste.

India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, famously said, "Dams are modern temples of India." Nevertheless, like temples, modern technologies have often been the preserve of dominant caste elites. Ajantha Subramanian has shown how “upper-caste” (sic) Tamil graduates have converted their caste privilege into professional prestige and resisted attempts to increase the enrolment of oppressed caste groups.

On the other hand, agricultural and communication technologies have played a crucial role in the independent nation-building project in India. For example, in the 1960s, farmers referred to the semi-dwarf high yielding wheat and rice varieties as “Radio Varieties” since they had heard about them for the first time over All India Radio (MSSRF, 2018).

However, both the technological optimists and pessimists agree that tech development has been the product of Western, male social practices (Omvedt and Kelkar 2005). This has called for a gender analysis of technology (ibid). More specifically, Donna Haraway's analysis of modernity’s unshakable faith in state apparatus, technology, and democratic agencies has noted how the social practices of “masculinity and much other structured inequality get built into and out of working machines” (Haraway 1992: 331).

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Omvedt, Gail and Govind Kelkar. (1995) Gender and Technology: Emerging Visions from Asia, Gender Studies Monograph 4, Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok.

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