Seminar: Has the Reptile trumped the Amphibian? The political limits of the large dam in South Asia
Abstract: Through the course of the nineteenth century, South Asia was introduced to an unprecedented range of modern hydraulic interventions and experiences. A period in which rivers were quantified as units of flow, disclosed through modern engineering visions for comprehensive control and sought to be repeatedly harnessed by technological fixes. This ‘great hydraulic transition’ was effectively premised on the attempted separation of land and water ? as two distinct non-overlapping natural domains. While land became property, water was valued as irrigation. Whereas soil was invested with the permanence of ownership, fickle rivers were meant to be harnessed only as resource. Revenue as legal claim and water cess as economic charge were then re-united under new technical conditions for agrarian cultivation and yet sustained as distinct elemental factors of nature.
It was also a time rife with struggles to contain rivers within their channels and efforts to shut them off from recurrent tendencies for seasonal overflow, wild oscillations, avulsions, rapid channel alteration and soaking inundations. By the early twentieth century, flood control through Multi-Purpose River Valley development (the large dam) became the technical means to force land and flow separations. But has the large dam in South Asia actually trumped the world of admixtures, relentless erosion and alluvial rearrangement? How should we assess those amphibian pasts and the short history of the reptile? Has the forced ‘separations’ become a political crises about environmental limits? In other words, is the large dam in South Asia really about imaginations over land and flow translations?
Biography: Dr. Rohan D’Souza is Assistant Professor at the Center for Studies in Science Policy at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. His M.A., M.Phil., and PhD are all from the Center for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. His interests and research publications span themes in environmental history, conservation, ecological politics, sustainable development and modern technology. Dr. D'Souza is the author of Drowned and Dammed (2006), a book that examines the intertwined rhythms of colonial capitalism and deltaic flood regimes. He is author of numerous book chapters and journal articles, and his edited books include The British Empire and the Natural World (2011), and Environment, Technology and Development: Critical and Subversive Essays (2012). Dr. D’Souza has held postdoctoral fellowships at Yale University and UC-Berkeley, and has also been senior research associate at the Center for World Environmental History at the University of Sussex. Most recently, he has served as a Visiting Fellow at UPenn's Center for the Advanced Study of India.