ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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IITs and the Project of Indian Democracy

Technological education in India has privileged the demands of the market and industry, while ignoring the demands of democracy to create an egalitarian society. The engineer is trained to "make" and "innovate" for a growing economy without understanding the social processes that produce certain "demands" in the first place, or considering how goods manufactured are to be distributed fairly in an unequal society. To make a successful journey from passive suppliers of technology to thought leaders on the question of India's development, the Indian Institutes of Technology must respond to the dominant discourse on development and articulate paradigmatic ideas on what development ought to be for India's democratic project.

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), first set up in 1951 as an institution of national importance, has enjoyed tremendous glory as the pinnacle of technological education in contemporary India. In the words of an observer, “the IITs became the producers of the only high-tech product in which India was internationally competitive” (Kapur 2010: 255). Yet, its exalted status as the ultimate prize and final destination for aspiring Indian engineers and scientists is tinged with a fair share of criticism.

The IITs have been censured for being elitist institutions that have diverted crucial state resources away from primary education. The penchant of their graduates for leaving India for lucrative professional careers in the West has been an age-old lament, and their insufficient research output has been a serious concern. At a public event at one of the IITs, the Vice President of India complained about the fact that none of the IITs was ranked among the 100 best institutes in the world (Pandey 2010). While such evaluations of the IITs are certainly valid, official commissions (Saha and Ghosh 2012) and academic and journalistic commentaries have missed perhaps the most important question about the IITs: how have the IITs fared in defining their relationship with the project of Indian democracy?

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