Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - National Hydroelectric at Standstill: The Political Life of the Brahmaputra Waters

Friday, March 23
12:45 PM - 2:45 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall West, Mezzanine

Dams and dikes are “thick things” - thick not only in size, as Wiebe Bijker (2007) says, but also with values, connections, linkages and power. One can locate the large dams - long-proposed-but-not-yet-constructed - on the myriad Eastern Himalayan rivers of the Brahmaputra basin, as ideological imperial remains, since their thick histories could be traced back to the late colonial and early postcolonial era. While the material absence of most of the proposed large dams in India’s northeastern margins reveals the ambiguities of decolonization in large parts of the postcolony, their presence is now challenged by a new lowland art of not being governed. By focusing historically and ethnographically on the sociocultural visions soliciting the large dams in the Brahmaputra valley; the early postcolonial aspirations of TVA-mimicking infrastructures;  the alterations in their form from multipurpose river valley projects to solely-hydropower-generating structures; and on the entanglement of political, cultural and technoscientific voices challenging the dams, I propose to make two points- 1) the shift in governmental emphasis –from the large dam as an infrastructure for agrarian success to it being imagined as an infrastructure for perennial power for neoliberal growth, as the Brahmaputra basin is now envisioned as the “future powerhouse” of India; 2) the simultaneous disruption of this hydroelectric utopia by those who live along the rivers downstream, and whose current invocation of a riverine indigeneity, is a good illustration of the conflation that Bruno Latour (2014) invites us to see in the Anthropocene, between sediments and sentiments.

Tanmoy Sharma

Yale University, Connecticut

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4 - National Hydroelectric at Standstill: The Political Life of the Brahmaputra Waters



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