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Large dams and changes in an agrarian society: Gendering the impacts of Damodar Valley Corporation in eastern India

Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt
Resource Management in Asia Pacific Program, Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; kuntala.lahiri-dutt@anu.edu.au

ABSTRACT: This paper traces the gendered changes in agrarian livelihoods in the lower Damodar valley of eastern India and connects these changes to the large dam project of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC). The DVC, established in 1948, was one of the earliest dam projects in India. Although it was not fully completed, the DVC project has initiated unforeseen changes in the farming economy. The floods for which the Damodar river was notorious were not fully controlled, and the suffering of people living in the lower reaches of the valley never really diminished. This paper gives a brief description of the river and its history of water management practices and the roles of women and men in these practices. It traces the resultant impacts on gender roles, and outlines the new kinds of water management that emerged in response to the DVC's failure to provide irrigation water when demanded. More specifically, the paper explores the changes in floods, changes in the farming economy, and the impacts of temporary sand dams or boro bandhs on the livelihoods of women and men from farming families in the Lower Damodar Valley. It observes that even over a longer temporal scale, the changes unleashed by large water control projects have significant and gendered impacts on agrarian societies.

KEYWORDS: Gender impacts, canal irrigation, Damodar Valley Corporation, floods, large dams, West Bengal, India