Fluid Epistemologies

The Social Saga of Sediments in Bengal


  • Jenia Mukherjee Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur
  • Pritwinath Ghosh Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur




river islands, sediments, ecosystem services, Ganga, Bengal


By using the term “fluid”, this article critically interrogates western ontologies of “solid” (land) and “liquid” (flowing waters), which were transplanted in colonial South Asia and transmitted in post-Independence river/water policies and actions with severe socio-ecological implications. Drawing lessons from recent environmental history and political ecology of water (“hydrosocial”) literature that shed light on liminal scapes beyond the mainstream land/water binary in hydrological studies, this study conceptualizes “fluidscapes” by drawing on field research in the river islands (chars) of Lower Bengal. By capturing snippets of livelihoods in the chars of the Malda and Murshidabad districts, West Bengal, situated upstream and downstream of the Farakka Barrage respectively, this article advances why and how it is imperative to rethink sediment beyond its physical-geomorphological existence and to see it as social sites of interactions. It unravels avenues through which chars can be perceived as not only emblems of uncertainty but also as zones of possibility bestowed with rich ecosystem services and the collective resilience of choruas.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

Jenia Mukherjee, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, West Bengal 721302

Pritwinath Ghosh, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur

Research Scholar, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, West Bengal 721302


Appadurai, Arjun and Carol A. Breckenridge. 2009. “Foreword.” In Soak: Mumbai in an Estuary, edited by Anuradha Mathur and Dilip Da Cunha, 1–3. New Delhi: Rupa Publications.

Baruah, Mitul and Jenia Mukherjee. 2018. “Rivers and Estuaries.” In The Routledge International Handbook of Island Studies, edited by Godfrey Baldacchino, 324–338. Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Basu, Madhurilata, Rajat Roy, and Ranabir Samaddar. 2018. Political Ecology of Survival: Life and Labour in the River Lands of East and North-East India. New Delhi: Orient Blackswan.

Das, Saudamini. 2012. “The Role of Natural Ecosystems and Socio-economic Factors in the Vulnerability of Coastal Villages to Cyclone and Storm Surge.” Natural Hazards 64 (June): 531–546. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0255-9.

Das, Saudamini and Nisha Maria D’Souza. 2020. “Identifying the Local Factors of Resilience during Cyclone Hudhud and Phailin on the East Coast of India.” Ambio 49 (September): 950–961. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-019-01241-7.

D’Souza, Rohan. 2006. “Water in British India: The Making of a ‘Colonial Hydrology.’” History Compass 4 (4): 621–628.

Howitt, Richie. 2001. “Frontiers, Borders and Edges: Liminal Challenges to the Hegemony of Exclusion. Australian Geographical Studies 39 (2): 233–245. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8470.00142.

Krause, Franze. 2017. “Towards an Amphibious Anthropology of Delta Life.” Human Ecology 45 (3): 403–408. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-017-9902-9.

De Micheaux, Flore Lafaye, Jenia Mukherjee, and Christian A. Kull. 2018. “When Hydrosociality Encounters Sediments: Transformed Lives and Livelihoods in the Lower Basin of the Ganges River.” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1 (4): 641–663. https://doi.org/10.1177/2514848618813768.

Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala. 2014. “Beyond the Water-Land Binary in Geography: Water/Lands of Bengal Re-visioning Hybridity.” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 13 (3): 505–529.

Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala, and Gopa Samanta. 2013. Dancing with the River: People and Life on the Chars of South Asia. Yale: Yale University Press.

Linton, Jamie and Jessica Budds. 2014. “The Hydrosocial Cycle: Defining and Mobilizing a Relational-Dialectical Approach to Water.” Geoforum 57 (November): 170–180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.10.008.

Mukherjee, Jenia. 2011. No Voice, No Choice: Riverine Changes and Human Vulnerability in the “Chars” of Malda and Murshidabad. Occasional Paper 28. Kolkata: Institute of Development Studies. http://idsk.edu.in/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/OP-28.pdf.

Mukherjee, Jenia. 2018. “From Hydrology to Hydrosociality: Historiography of Waters in India.” In Routledge Handbook of the History of Sustainability, edited by Jeremy L. Caradonna, 254–272. UK: Routledge.

Rudra, Kalyan. 2003. The Encroaching Ganga and Social Conflicts: The Case of West Bengal, India. West Bengal: Department of Geography, Habra H.C. Mahavidyalaya.

Additional Files





Special Section: New Epistemologies of Water in India