PhD thesis: Water, land and politics in Sindh, 1898-1969

Timothy Daniel Haines, ‘Building the Empire, Building the Nation: Water, land, and the politics of river-development in Sind, 1898-1969’ (unpublished doctoral thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London, 2011)

“Major attempts to control the natural environment characterized government ‘developmental’ activity in twentieth-century Sind.  This thesis argues that the construction of three barrage dams across the River Indus, along with a network of irrigation canals, enacted human control over nature as a political project.  The Raj and its successor state in Sind, Pakistan, thereby claimed legitimacy through their capacity to benefit humans by re-modelling the landscape.  These claims depended on an implied narrative of material progress, which irrigation development was expected to bring about, in a province considered technologically and socially backward.

In allocating land that was newly made available for cultivation, government officials found an unprecedented opportunity to also re-shape agrarian society.  As well as providing the means by which ‘ideal types’ of cultivator could be encouraged to proliferate, the development of Sind’s irrigation system was based on concepts of modernization that promoted increasing state intervention in agrarian life to render a ‘disordered’ society more easily governable.  This trend was constrained, however, by successive administrations’ need to balance the lure of radical modernization against the powerful claims on new land of local magnates.

The colonial belief in the agricultural, economic, and social benefits of large-scale irrigation projects was transplanted into the post-colonial state.  The construction of irrigation works, the colonization of land, and their political implications before and after Independence are therefore analyzed, in order to demonstrate how and why the logic of large infrastructure schemes remained consistent.  At the same time, differences in how successive administrations framed and enacted barrage projects are shown to have depended on contemporary circumstances.  In the process, the thesis sheds new light on the tensions between and within the central and provincial governments, demonstrating the contested nature of concepts of Imperial governance, nation-building, and material progress.”


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