Attempting to cooperate and attempts to modernize India are rooted in a racist epistemology that refuses to listen to their historical narrative
Siddiqi 10 (Asif A. Siddiqi assistant professor of history at Fordham University and member of advisory board at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology. wrote Challenge to Apollo: The Soviet Union and the Space Race, 1945-1974 is widely considered to be the best English-language history of the Soviet space program in print and was identified by the Wall Street Journal as "one of the five best books" on space exploration. This book was later published in paperback in two separate volumes, Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo. Competing Technologies, National(ist) Narratives, and Universal Claims: Toward a Global History of Space Exploration, Technology and Culture, Volume 51, Number 2, April 2010, pg 434-437, DA:6/21/11, CP)
These questions are relevant and perhaps even urgent, not only for those of us who cross the divide between Russian and American space history and the communities they involve, but also in light of the “newer” space powers such as China, Japan, and India, who are now defining and writing their own narratives about their roles in the project of space exploration. Like theirWestern predecessors, Indian and Chinese commentators locate their own narratives about space travel in indigenous scientific and technological achievements that have both national and global import. Many Chinese writers are eager to emphasize the importance of China as the birthplace of rocketry in the premodern era, while Indian writers similarly stress the importance of heliocentric ideas to Vedic Sanskrit texts that long predate Copernicus.25 In their narratives, Sputnik, Gagarin, Apollo— these all are peripheral. The case of the Indian space program specifically—but postcolonial studies in general—points to fruitful avenues of research for historians of technology grappling with the conundrums posted by multiple and conflicting narratives that make claims for the universal. A growing body of scholarship on the history, sociology, and anthropology of postcolonial science has rendered problematic such essentialist identifiers as “Western” and “colonial” when describing the development of science and technology outside of Europe and the United States.This body of postcolonial theory questions the authority of Western knowledge systems as being objective and universally valid. Warwick Anderson recently underscored that “postcolonial studies have enabled [a] sort of decentered, diasporic, or ‘global’ rewriting of earlier nation-centered imperial grand narratives.” In other words, the field has rephrased “modernity within the framework of ‘globalisation.’” 26 As such, postcolonial theory prompts us to reconsider received wisdom about existing power relations and to avoid distinct markers such as “colonial” and “indigenous” and instead focus on cultural and historical spaces where various types of interaction and exchange can occur. One way to begin such a project would be—in the words of postcolonial theorist Dipesh Chakrabarty—to “provincialize” Europe, i.e., to question the received structures that make it impossible for us to conceive of modernity (and by extension, one might argue, modernization) without reference to Europe. Chakrabarty argued that there is an “asymmetric ignorance” whereby historians within postcolonial locales must inevitably refer to Europe as a point of orientation without any expectation of the reverse.27 Postcolonial thought makes possible a provocative rethinking of both the Indian space program and the history of space exploration in general. Western evaluations of the Indian space program have reflexively been grounded in assumptions about the marriage of poverty and high technology, i.e., a rhetorical questionmark about why a nation so poor should have a space program at all. Because the project of space exploration has been a normativelyWestern idea, non-Western space programs such as the Indian one are understood in relation to aspirations for aWestern modernity. But the Indian space program, as manifested in its technology, its goals, and its architects, represents a kind of modernity that is neither completely Western nor fully postcolonial—it is a vision of modernity that is decentered, constantly mutating, often contradictory, and globalized.28 We see these processes in India in the 1960s as an influential domestic constituency invested in space exploration “sold” their goals of self-reliance and social benefit to consecutive governments. This was not easy, given the significant amounts of international collaboration as well as domestic opposition from local advocacy groups who believed that India had more pressing concerns.29 By rhetorically linking the “modern” space program with the alleviation of poverty, the architects of the space program not only overcame local opposition but created a new vision of space exploration that could exist in the postcolonial context. If previously the question had been “Why should India have a space program when it is so poor?” the answer was now “India should have a space program precisely because it is poor.” Here, on the one hand, the space program with its advanced technologies allows India to be modern, a Western metric of modernity that harks back to the European “machines as the measure of men.”On the other hand, the Indian space program fundamentally depends on the existence of those markers that Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the effort, identified as less than modern—poverty, illiteracy, and economic underdevelopment. This built-in tension is complicated by other factors, including migration (both of people and knowledge) across borders, evolving aspirations, contingent metrics of “how to be modern,” and military and strategic questions. In a sense, what is modern about the Indian space program betrays complexities, contradictions, and considerations that are not easily parsed into conventional Western ideals of modernity. This new postcolonial vision of space exploration is as much part of the fabric of space history as the more well-known American and Soviet models grounded in the cold war.30 These multiple perspectives on space travel suggest that our view of the long history of spaceflight may benefit from a standpoint that no longer privileges borders—demarcations that create rigid analytical categories such as ownership, indigeneity, and proliferation. The Indian space program was at the intersection of multiple flows of knowledge from a variety of sources, including, of course, local expertise. Likewise, the history of spaceflight has been part of a consistent flow of knowledge and technology across (geographical) space and time—among Germans, Soviets, Americans, British, French, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Israelis, Brazilians, and so on.