Mitul baruah - Guwahati Dialogue, 10th September, 2013
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  • 1. Improved water governance (and rights) in the Brahmaputra: Civil society (and citizen’s) responses Mitul Baruah Department of Geography Syracuse University
  • 2. Political ecologies of disasters • How do political economic processes, state and non-state actors, and biophysical nature interact and (re-)produce disasters and hazardous landscapes? • Floods and riverbank erosion in Assam, with a particular focus in Majuli river island - Role of the Indian state in the production of hazardscapes in Majuli and such geographies - How do the local people respond? With what implications? - The livelihoods transformations and their spatialities
  • 3. “We had our best times here before the embankments […] came up. Back in those days, there were still floods during the monsoon season, but the floodwater was evenly distributed in the island, and there were also fishes, and other organic materials that came along. We did not have any scarcity of food or fishes. But after the embankments were built, our beels and pukhuris (the wetlands) stopped receiving enough water, and there is hardly enough fish coming in these days. […] The embankments had also destroyed our agriculture since the lands do not get sufficient and timely water any more. […] Moreover, with the breaching of embankments, floods started to wreak havoc, which was not the case earlier. Before, the water used to come in gracefully and leave the island sooner.” Puniram Kutum, Sumoimari village “During the monsoon season, embankments are like atom bombs.” Gopal Hazarika, Salmora
  • 4. Riverbank Erosion in Majuli: Key Data Year Area of the island (sq. km) 1901 1255 1917 751.31 1966-72 560.01 2001 540 2011 491 • Average annual rate of erosion (1917-2001): 3.43 sq. km • Highest annual rate of erosion (1996-2001): 6.42 sq. km. (Sarma 2013; Sarma and Phukan 2004).
  • 5. Why riverbank erosion and Majuli make a distinct case • Riverbank erosion as a distinct agrarian crisis: - It means the disappearance of the land itself – and along with it the loss of homestead, agriculture, social relations, traditional organization of mutual reliance, cultural associations, and even the traces of one’s history! • “slow disaster” and its implications
  • 6. January 8, 2013: Dul Hazarika, in front of the family’s home at Salmora
  • 7. February 16, 2013: Dul and his brother standing on the spot of their old house
  • 8. July 25, 2013: the family’s new home – still under construction
  • 9. Chronicles of the Hazarika family’s displacement Year of Erosion Specific Highlights 1945 A large house where 5 brothers (including Dul’s father Bhola Hazarika) and their parents lived together was washed away. The specific year of erosion/displacement was forgotten. After 1945 1962 The family was displaced twice this year. 1965 1970 1988 After the 1970 erosion, the family moved to a place by the embankment where they had the longest stay till date. From this year on, the sons – the second generation – took over the responsibility of shifting and rebuilding their house. 1992 1998 2002 2013 The most recent erosion : twice thus far
  • 10. “We have been like the ‘aghoris’ (the nomads). We are living the life of the ‘aghoris’. […] We do not have a permanent home … always moving from one location to another. Life can’t be more miserable.” Bhola Hazarika (84), Salmora
  • 11. What happened to the civil society? • Some of the important civil society groups in Majuli are: Majuli Suraksha Samanyay Manch (MSSM), the satras, AASU, AJYCP, TMPK • Submission of memorandums is the dominant activity, combining with rare instances of sit-ins and other forms of protests • Lack of concerted, long-drawn strategies and activities. Why? • The issue of knowledge: whose knowledge? What truth? “the state and ‘‘its’’ science wields overwhelming authority in creating a singular environmental ‘‘truth,’’ and excludes from legitimate discourse other types of knowledge about the environment and the practices of natural resource use by the resource users themselves” (Blaikie and Muldavin 2004: 542)
  • 12. Civil society (contd.) • • • • Conflicts of interests? Co-option by the state and/or capital? Lack of leaderships? How can we think more innovatively and find ways of both empowering citizens and forge alliances across and beyond organizations/institutions?
  • 13. Beyond “governance”? Need for a discursive shift? • Is it an issue of “governance” alone, or of “rights” too? What does a governance discourse restrict? • Does a rights discourse open up new political avenues – in terms of actions from below as well as state responses?