Ribbon runs out on typewriting tests in India

MUMBAI • The unmistakable clatter of typewriters outside courthouses and government offices will soon fall silent in India's financial capital Mumbai as stenography colleges today hold their final manual exams.

The roughly 3,500 institutes teaching the antiquated ways of the typewriter across Maharashtra state will be phased out as India pushes ahead with a drive to digitise the economy. "It is absolutely the end of an era as typewriters bite the dust due to technological innovation," Mr Ashok Abhyankar, who runs a shorthand and typewriting institute in Mumbai, said.

Long relegated to the history books in the West, typewriters are still a ubiquitous feature at legal chambers, police stations and official offices in India. Typists are found at courthouses punching out affidavits, family deeds and other legal documents for as little as 25 rupees (two Singapore cents).

Mr Abhyankar, whose institute has been teaching stenography skills for more than 80 years, estimates that roughly 700,000 students across the state sit tests for official manual typing certifications every year. These certificates are a ticket out of unemployment and village life for many poor people, who pursue typing as a way to land coveted jobs as government clerks and stenographers.

But these skills are becoming increasingly redundant amid "Digital India", a government-run initiative to modernise and harness technology to roll out e-services across the subcontinent of 1.3 billion.

"With falling computer prices and governments phasing out its usage, typewriters have no future anymore," Mr Abhyankar said.

India was the last country in the world to run a major telegram operation before it shuttered in 2013 after 163 years of service.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2017, with the headline 'Ribbon runs out on typewriting tests in India'. Print Edition | Subscribe