Accepted paper:

Intervened River, transformed muddyscapes: exploring clashing perceptions across state-society interface in the 'chars' of Lower Gangetic Bengal, India


Jenia Mukherjee (Institute of Development Studies Kolkata)
Flore Lafaye De Micheaux (University of Lausanne)

Paper short abstract:

It captures how intervention on a tropical River altered deposition pattern of its alluvial sediments, leading to the disruption of socionatural metabolism and changing perceptions towards riverine islands (chars) among multiple social actors.

Paper long abstract:

Hydrosocial framework provokes understanding transforming fluvial processes of different waters (canals, marshes, sandy shoals, etc.) of a river basin not as objects of social processes, but as natural entities that are shaped by and shape politico-economic trajectories, social relations and subjectivities over space and time. The muddy terrain of human engagements with water assumes significance in the context of River Ganges in Bengal when it meanders and bifurcates into numerous channels, forming sandy shoals (chars in local dialect), before meeting the Sea. Riverine flood-erosion and formation of chars are natural-historical processes across Lower Gangetic Basin. Being extremely fertile, these provided revenue to the state and ecosystem services to marginal inhabitant communities (choruas). The construction of Farakka Barrage in 1960s, to manipulate flow in one of the major distributaries of the Ganges, intercepted the normal sediment transport-deposition pattern causing increased flood intensity and leading to the rise of running chars in upstream and downstream of Farakka. The continuous emergence, submergence, re-emergence and re-submergence of chars have influenced social processes of settlement, displacement, re-settlement and re-displacement among choruas. While the state considers running chars as 'sikasti' (water) to legitimize its strategy of not providing infrastructural provisions in these 'fragile' spaces, considering choruas as non-citizens, the latter, struggle for getting the status of 'payasti' (revenue villages) for these muddyscapes. An understanding of these complex processes of shifting water paradigms and its impact on the River and its sediments across hydrosocial framework provides the context for addressing future water management policies in the region.

panel P29
Muddy footsteps and hydrosocial futures: understanding relationality with, through and about water