Redefining the River Discourse—The Angry River and India’s River Woes

Pritha Banerjee

Sundarban Mahavidyalaya, West Bengal, India. Email:

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.23

Received February 10, 2017; Revised April 11, 2017; Accepted April 15, 2017; Published May 7, 2017.


The March 2017 Uttarakhand High Court ruling recognizing the rivers Ganga and Yamuna as ‘living entities’, necessitates investigation of the rhetoric shaping discourse regarding rivers in India today. In the course of this paper, I shall try to map how this rhetoric influences the way these ‘entities’ are approached by policy documents and popular praxis in the country. Development measures and policy viewing the river as an object/resource to be controlled and manipulated, lead to intensive human intervention in the natural flow of the river, greatly affecting its capacity of self-renewal and regeneration. I shall be closely reading Ruskin Bond’s novella The Angry River, with close attention to the illustrations by Archana Sreenivasan alongside research by R. Umamaheshwari, Brij Gopal and Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, to understand the possibilities such creative interventions have in redefining the ‘riverscape’ and highlighting the importance of embracing the disequilibrium natural to the river. I shall also be referring to the Delhi Declaration of the India Rivers Week in 2014 and its recognition of the disastrous effect of an instrumentalist and utilitarian view of rivers, for ascertaining the importance of nuanced expressions like Bond’s novella in aligning with the principles articulated in the Law of Mother Earth: The Rights of Our Planet in Bolivia, 2010, the most significant being recognition of the right of the river to ‘flow’.

Keywords:  discourse, river, redefining, Ruskin Bond, The Angry River, Archana Sreenivasan, illustrations, disequilibrium, ecosystem