British colonial rule, in the course of the long nineteenth century, introduced perennial canal irrigation in South Asia. Through a slew of infrastructures such as weirs, barrages and massive canal networks, colonial engineering assembled the first technologies and ideologies for total river control in the region. Following the introduction of perennial irrigation, the vast flood plains, especially those sprawled across the North West and previously only minimally peopled by itinerant pastoral communities, were now transformed into densely farmed zones. While these histories of radical hydraulic transformation, the growth of commercial cropping and the steady consolidation of river control have mostly been discussed within triumphalist narratives, the conquest of nature through perennial irrigation was actually plagued by a range of political and ecological crises. In particular, my presentation will focus on how inundation irrigation brought to grief many colonial attempts aimed at achieving river control. Inundation irrigation not only haunted the success of perennial irrigation but it also revealed a radically different understanding of how rivers could be harnessed and lived with.
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This event is part of the Lecture Series: “Imagining the Environment: Climate Change, Rivers and Political Ecology in India”, see more here.