The Making and Unmaking of Kuttanad : Development and Transformations Below Sea Level
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The aim of my research is to explore the transformation of the physical and social landscapes in Kuttanad, which is closely related to the political and economic dynamisms in Keralam, India and the rest of the world. By social landscape, I mean, the social composition, stratifications, relations and the complexities connected with the society. The transformation of the physical and social landscapes in my study area is deeply connected to the concept of ‘development’. Hence, the study also explores the question, what is ‘development’ in Kuttanad? Through participant observation and interviews, I studied how the society in Kuttanad is linked to the geography of the region. A research into the physical landscape in Kuttanad led me to two challenges faced by the inhabitants – the new land reclamations and floods. A probe into these two issues exposed the development initiatives undertaken in the region. An investigation into the development initiatives revealed the conflicting development perspectives, the contest over natural resources and the prevalence of corruption and misgovernment which engulfed development programmes resulting in environmental degradation in Kuttanad. The study of the physical landscape also involved a probe into paddy cultivation. This exposed the close relation and unity that is necessary for cultivating paddy in Kuttanad and the way it developed a deep bond between the inhabitants and the region until recent past. A scrutiny of the problems faced by the paddy cultivators now, revealed a shift in their attitudes, relations and perspectives with the changing social, economic and political conditions. An examination of the changes in the land utilization patterns exposed how the physical and social landscapes mirrored each other. This prompted my research into the changes happening in the social composition and stratifications. It has been found that ‘development’ is used as a means to exploit the natural resources in Kuttanad at incredible proportions by both the people and the government for status, power and capital. However, in the process of ‘development’ – both physical and social, the environment is getting neglected resulting in environmental degradation, which is ultimately bringing damage to the people. Hence, my research points at the need to rethink about ‘development’.