Indian standard time is artificial, solar time is real time – Ogle.

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Vanessa Ogle reports how in 1905, the Indian government sought to introduce a national, standard time, to engender geopolitical cohesion with other countries. Whilst a politically popular decision, Ogle notes that the media, and the Indian population, criticised such a change. The basis of this criticism was that the government had created an artificial, fictitious time, which had separated Indians from their natural, solar time.

In the face of what appeared to be a solid consensus among those canvassed, the Government of India moved to introduce the time five hours and 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich to the colony. The new time was designated as “Indian Standard Time,” to deflect from its potentially controversial “British” source…

In January 1905, the Government of India instructed the Public Works Department to introduce the time five hours and thirty minutes in advance of Greenwich as “Indian Standard Time” while in Burma the time to be adopted would run six hours and thirty minutes fast. As of July 1, 1905, all railways and telegraphs on the Indian subcontinent were to follow the new time…

The Government of India accurately anticipated the opposition to uniform time it was about to unleash, although perhaps less so its scope and intensity. Once more, it was Bombay, and to a lesser extent Calcutta, that became the focal point of collisions between deeply rooted urban identities and imperial policies. In 1905 as compared with 1881, protests against a new colony- wide mean time struck a much more anti- British chord than previously. Now it mattered that this was a time decreed by the British colonizers, that it was “British” time being imposed on colonial subjects. Twenty years after the Government of India’s first brush with time, under the changed circumstances of British rule in India in 1905, retaining local time became a matter of Indian national politics. Indians now perceived the change in official mean times as yet another in a long series of attempts by the colonial state to meddle with local and personal affairs…

Such was the situation when Indian Standard Time was to be introduced in the summer of 1905 on railways and telegraphs. Emboldened perhaps by similar moves of other local administrations, Bombay authorities suddenly made the decision to push for the adoption of Indian Standard Time for all official purposes and in government offices throughout the Bombay Presidency. In October 1905, the Government of Bombay asked the Government of India for permission to introduce the new time.

Outside the meeting halls of the Bombay Municipal Corporation, the general public was voicing its dislike for the new order of time evermore loudly. As with other time changes in Europe and North America, the new Indian mean time was criticized for being “artificial” and unnatural. “We are asked to forget our natural time, the same that we have been familiar with from times immemorial, and adopt the new ‘standard’ which the ingenuity of the Astronomer Royal has devised,” the newspaper Kaiser-i-Hind complained, adding that nature herself must be in rebellion against this time. Later, the paper proclaimed, “nobody has asked for artificial time” to replace a time “which Nature has given to us and which mankind has faithfully followed these eight thousand years at least.” A letter to the editors of the Bombay Gazette found the new time to be “fictitious.” Another newspaper established, “the solar time is really the true time which regulates the affairs of each Indian house hold” (Ogle 2015, 107-12).

Ogle, Vanessa. 2015. The global transformation of time (1870 – 1950). Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press.



Categories: Politics

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