Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
The Vital Machine: Water Scarcity and Hydrosocial Assemblage in Punjab

My dissertation research explores how water scarcity and climate change challenge and reconfigure hydrosocial relations in the canal colony villages of Punjab–the 'land of five rivers'. Control and management of its five rivers have shaped the geographical, cultural, and political contours of the societies in Punjab. The Vedic prophets sang the glory of the "Divine Waters" that gave life and beauty to the landscape and people have, for ages, worshipped their mighty powers. These river gods were transformed into hydraulic machines by the British colonial government through a network of headworks, main canals, and distributary canals on all five rivers of Punjab. Canal colony villages were set up to put water, nature and the native to productive use in the service of colonial, and later, postcolonial state. This hydraulic infrastructure assembled together and put to work the material and affective energies of rivers, peoples, lands, crops, and animals. Apart from being the country's food basket, this hydrosocial assemblage is the second biggest contributor to its economy and employs a third of its population. This giant water machine is running out of steam due to climate change and consequent water scarcity. My project explores how material conditions and the narratives of water scarcity and climate change articulate and challenge current hydrosocial relations in the canal colony villages of Punjab through a combination of ethnographic, archival, and literary research. Building on recent interdisciplinary work exploring human condition and possible futures in the face of climate change, this project investigates how global ecological processes are entangled with local stories of adaptation and survival. Paying simultaneous attention to the material and the discursive processes, the project also traces the co-constitutive transformation of matter and meaning, rivers and peoples, and nature and society in the canal colony villages of Punjab.