ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Time, Temporality, and telegraphy in Colonial India: how conquering time, helped conquer India


Das Shibani


24 – Timely Histories: A Social History of Time in South Asia


 As British presence took root in India, the political, socio-economic fauna of the subcontinent was made to adjust to the foreign body. A neglected aspect of this change is the impact of British colonialism on the perceptions of time held by Indians. This paper seeks to argue that Telegraphic communication, introduced in the 1850’s, irrevocably changed the Indian conception of time and aided the colonisation of India.?The practise of telegraphy had time at its core. An obsession with reducing the time taken to communicate with London, and with offices within India fuelled the expensive endeavour of establishing telegraphy across the subcontinent. The everyday practise of telegraphy was regulated by the Indian Telegraphy Department (ITD). Indians employed within the ITD negotiated with time repeatedly, by a 5-hour admissions examination, annual code signalling tests, the failure of which would result in demotions. They worked within a schedule that regulated their working hours, and leaves, often only allowing a day’s leave for religious festivities which would have required a month’s hiatus from work. This violently challenged their understanding of professional spaces, its decorum and its coexistence with personal and communal lives. The pace of time became a ticking clock that needed to be caught up with. The stress caused by this system caused telegraphists to suffer from crippling cramps or to make mistakes for which they could be reprimanded or removed from employment.