Dancing with the RiverPeople and Life on the Chars of South Asia

Dancing with the RiverPeople and Life on the Chars of South Asia

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt and Gopa Samanta

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780300188301

Publisher: Yale University Press


This book discusses chars as uniquely fluid environments where the demarcation between land and water is neither well defined nor permanent. Chars form a fluid and problematic category, as much of politics and history as of the environment; both of these social and natural elements are products of control. Within the Gangetic plains, the focus in this book is on the Bengal delta, and specifically the bagri, or the western part of the delta. Lying outside or at the margins of the land revenue system, the complex and fluid environment of chars presents opportunities to some people. Understanding the transition to British rule is explained in this book. The livelihoods of people who neither benefited from rehabilitation programs nor were able to fully merge with the mainstream life are also explored. To study women-headed households, broadly ethnographic qualitative methods are employed. The livelihoods linked to the hybrid hydraulic regimes of tropical rivers are also intrinsically hybrid. On chars, water remains the most important source of wealth as well as the biggest threat to a secure life. No conventional ways of understanding security and vulnerability apply to the lives that are defined by water; people do the best they can on an everyday basis, either individually or collectively.