Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Pradyumna P. Karan


Millions of people rely upon the Ganges River as a source of water provision and a site of disposal for sewage, solid waste, agricultural runoff and industrial effluent. The river is also a goddess in the Hindu pantheon who is worshipped for her purificatory powers, despite water quality levels that fall far short of standards for use in bathing, washing, and drinking. In recent years, a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have formed to oppose both pollution of the river and the failure of state-run pollution abatement programs. They are joined by an increasingly frequent number of seemingly spontaneous protests held during the large Kumbh Mela festival gatherings at Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. Led by priests, sadhus and religious leaders, these protestors refuse to participate in the ritual bathing that is central to river worship until local and state officials take action to improve water quality at the site. These events indicate that the politics surrounding pollution abatement in the Ganges River Basin (GRB) are changing and that civil society organizations are struggling to gain greater representation and influence in the processes that shape pollution abatement and water use management in the GRB.

This dissertation investigates the growing debate around pollution and pollution abatement in the Ganges River Basin and interprets the struggle over pollution abatement and river water management as a struggle over meaning in which various groups attempt to influence the context and context of local environmental knowledge(s). The research compares abatement efforts, civil society activity, and the "pollution knowledge" and water use practices of water users in three urban centers in the central GRB. An analysis of archival data, policy documents, a survey of water users, and interviews with government officials, NGO leaders and members, and other local scientists and activists conducted during fieldwork in 2008 and 2009.

Discussion centers on the meta-discursive productions surrounding public participation and popular "awareness" as precursors to public participation in decisionmaking and policy-making processes. Findings indicate that water users in the GRB are well aware of pollution in the river and that many users exhibit a degree of cognitive dissonance in their pollution knowledge, indicating that a disconnection may exist between the knowledge that guides opinion and the knowledge that guides water use activity. Anti-pollution social movement organizations are found to employ methods and tactics that reflect local contexts of environmental degradation and pollution production, but which ultimately aim to reproduce broads shifts in the ideas, values, and power relations associated with water quality and water use in the Basin. Discussion considers the politics of upstream/downstream relations in shaping pollution abatement measures and the occurrence of "missing movements", or the absence of anti-pollution civil society activity. Research findings contribute to literature on the role of environmental knowledge in shaping the “politics of meaning” around which ideological struggles over natural resource use, access, and conservation are waged.

Included in

Geography Commons



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