Undrinkable water, untouchable people : negotiating purity and pollution on a toxic aquifer




Sadiq, Sarah Eleazar

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Situated on one of the most heavily polluted deep-water aquifers in Punjab, Pakistan, the residents of two villages, Kot Asadullah and Kalalanwala, have been dealing with the problem of bone deformities among children and osteoporosis, liver disease, and other health problems among adults for over two decades. They trace the prevalence of pervasive disease around the emergence of factories in their area and the subsequent pollution of the water aquifer, a recognition which drives their struggles for access to pure drinking water through the installation of reverse osmosis filtration plants. This paper interrogates the social life of the filtration plant which is shared by residents of both villages and the Christian basti (neighborhood), which straddles the two villages. It asks: how do caste, untouchability, purity, and pollution feature in the social life of the plant? Through an ethnographic exploration of the villages, this paper examines unequal relations of access and the nodes around which are solidarities built in a toxic space, where shared experiences of deformity and death become a segue into deeper conversations about social inequalities



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