Water in Culture: Issues and Consequences – An Ethnographic Study in Rangapur, Barasat, North 24 Paraganas, West Bengal

  • Sudip Dutta
  • Abhijit Das
  • Priyanka Paul


The anthropology of water is a self declared rational field that attempts to transcend nature-culture distinctions by attending to the fact that the social-cultural and ecological aspects of water are separated only by convention. Anthropologists contribute by seeing water not only as a resource, but also as a substance that connects many realms of socio-cultural norms and values. Because water permeates every aspect of human existence, ethnographic accounts describe many forms of engagement with it, including its centrality to modes of production, its influence on how societies organise themselves socially and spatially, its role in leisure activities and the enjoyment of its aesthetic qualities.In recent decades, anthropology has focused increasingly on debates about water ownership and rights of access to water, and considered how the control use of water reflects social, economic and political relations. This has encouraged a new area of anthropological focus on non-human as well as human rights in relation to water along with its holistic issues. Thus, the anthropology of water extends from its multiple uses in everyday life to the major issues that all societies urgently need to address.The present ethnographic study has been conducted in Rangapur, a multi-ethnic village, located in Barasat-I Tehsil of North 24 Paraganas district in West Bengal. The present researchers attempt to identify existing milieu of water with regard to the cultural knowledge, belief systems and practices related to water and analyse their efforts and impact on the behaviour of water user communities. People of different cultures conceptualize water in different ways. The inhabitants of Hindu and Muslim communities in the studied area consider water as both spiritual, natural resource and a commodity that is not only essential to livelihood, but has significant economic value. Tribal people are connected to water and its resources, obtain and maintain spiritual and cultural identity, life and livelihood from water, protect the cultural heritage and knowledge associated with water and water places. Poverty, loss of agricultural and pisicultural productivity, high morbidity of various water-borne diseases are some of the direct effects of lack of fresh water.The objectives of the present study in a nutshell are to throw light on role of water in daily life and culture, indigenous knowledge around the water uses in daily life, perceptions of water and its socio-cultural roles in the communities under study. The data as collected for the present study were through participant observation, intensive interviews and case studies. The secondary data were collected from administrative materials, books, journals and internet resources.Keywords: Water, Community, Indigenous knowledge, Value, Socio-cultural role, Disease