Naveeda Khan

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Naveeda KhanNaveeda Khan is an associate professor of anthropology and director of graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. Her thematic interests include: Bangladesh’s riparian society, ecological consciousness, and climate change, Pakistan’s religion, urban anthropology, and law, to name but a few. She earned her PhD in Anthropology from Columbia University, and has recently been a research fellow for the American Institute for Bangladesh Studies and the Wenner-Gren Foundation, both for her research in Bangladesh. Khan is the author of Muslim Becoming: Aspiration and Skepticism in Pakistan (2012) and the editor of Beyond Crisis: Re-evaluating Pakistan (2010).

from The Death of Nature in the Era of Climate Change

The Jamuna River is everywhere at my field site of an island char in the district of Sirajganj in so far as it constitutes the single most important condition of possibility for this char and those living on it. The specific community of itinerant farmers I study originated in a westward shift of the river in the 1930s (Coleman 1969; Best and Bristow 1993), which displaced many hundreds of thousands of villages living along its banks. This migration of the river effectively produced a new culture of people in the northern region who have to move with the movements of the river (Haque 1988; Baqee 1998; Schmuch-Widman 2001). At the same time the river is curiously not entirely visible to me. People don’t speak of it that often, busy in their agrarian lives, village dynamics and domestic squabbles. Yet it is there. It is enfolded into their every word in the awareness that they may at any point fall victim to river erosion as they have done many times before, packing up what they can in the hopes of moving to another life much like this one.

Despite its singularity, I fear that I cannot do justice to the river, that my description will have the look and feel of the conventional description of geographical settings that introduces untold anthropological works. In the past my eyes have simply skimmed over such sections to advance eagerly upon the stuff of ethnography, such as, ritual, politics and the everyday. Now I am tasked by the responsibility to produce a gripping description of the river to show its physical liveliness and entanglements with chaura lives and my own growing awareness of it. I have also to attend to the concerns over global warming within this description of the river to communicate something of the difficulties of speaking about climate change in such a physically dynamic ecology.

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