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Concrete ‘progress’: irrigation, development and modernity in mid-twentieth century Sind

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 November 2010

Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, TW20 0EX, UK Email:


The idea of ‘developing’ Sind has been a lynchpin of government action and rhetoric in the province during the twentieth century. The central symbols of this ‘development’ were three barrage dams, completed between 1932 and 1962. Because of the barrages’ huge economic and ideological significance, the ceremonies connected with the construction and opening of these barrages provide a unique opportunity to examine the public presentation of state authority by the colonial and postcolonial governments. This paper investigates the way that ideas of ‘development’ and ‘modernity’ appeared in discourses connected with these ceremonies, in order to demonstrate that the idea of imposing ‘progress’ on a province considered ‘backward’ by the state administrators survived longer than the British regime which had introduced it. The paper begins with the historical links between water-provision and governance in Sind, before examining the way that immediate political concerns of the sitting governments were addressed in connection with the projects, demonstrating the ways in which very similar projects were cast as symbols of different political priorities. The last part of the paper draws out deeper similarities between the logic of these political expressions, in order to demonstrate the powerful continuity in ideologies of ‘progress’ throughout mid-twentieth century Sind.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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8 Research for this paper failed to reveal any official material or newspaper articles concerning the Gudu Barrage opening ceremony in 1962. Therefore, the narrative of the Gudu foundation-stone-laying ceremony has been used.

9 The vernacular press in Sind sometimes took issue with the way that the projects were constructed, and worries abounded among zamindars outside the areas which the projects irrigated. But the response of the Anglophone community—British and Indian/Pakistani—was often derisive. For instance, an article in the Bombay-based Times of India in 1930 refused to ‘[A]ccept the definition of the more moderate of the Sind journals we have referred to above that “by the word foreigner we mean all non-Sindhis”; and it is hardly to be expected that such an interpretation will appeal to the people of this [Bombay] Presidency whose credit stands pledged for the repayment of the vast sums which are being expended on the Lloyd Barrage Scheme’. This clearly iterates the financial imperative behind discounting Sindhi opposition to the scheme [‘Land in the Lloyd Barrage Area’, Times of India (Bombay), 5 May, 1930. Collected in India Office Records (IOR) Private Papers, MSS EUR E 372/2]. After Independence, the tension between ‘provincial’ and ‘national’ concerns became a defining feature of the idea of ‘nation-building’—an ideology in which large-scale development projects such as construction of the Barrages played a defining role.

10 Panhwar, M. H., History of Sind Irrigation: 3500 B.C.–Present (Islamabad: Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Science and Technology, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources, 1991), p. 66Google Scholar.

11 Panhwar cites James Hughes, Deputy Collector of Shikarpur in 1847, and Richard Burton. M. H. Panhwar, History of Sind Irrigation, p. 73; Lieutenant Postans, writing in 1841, is cited by Aitken, E. H., Gazetteer of the Province of Sind (Karachi: ‘Mercantile’ Steam Press for the Government [of Bombay?], 1907), p. 258Google Scholar.

12 See Buckley, Robert Burton, Irrigation Works in India and Egypt (London: E. & F.N. Spon, 1893)Google Scholar; Anonymous, ‘Lord Stanley & the Lloyd Barrage’, n.d., IOR Private Papers MSS EUR E 372/1. Conversely, when Britain was given the post-First World War Mandate in Palestine by the League of Nations, Indian irrigation experiences helped to guide the new administration. Gaarde, K., ‘British Colonial Water Legislation in Mandatory Palestine’, in Coopey, R. and Tvedt, T., A History of Water, Volume 2: The Political Economy of Water (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2006), p. 178Google Scholar.

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14 See Aitken, Gazetteer, p. 262

15 ‘Memorandum by the Commissioner-in-Sind’, dated 14 July, 1920, paragraph 5. Enclosed with Shourbridge to Secretary to G.o.I. P. W.D., 30 July, 1920. Government of Bombay, Public Works Department Irrigation (Works and Accounts), A Proceedings for July 1920, IOR P/10797.

16 Pirs are Sufi Muslim spiritual leaders, considered by their followers to be living saints, who have traditionally wielded considerable temporal power in Sind. Their followers include both Hindus and Muslims.

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20 Zamindar, Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali, The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia: Refugees, Boundaries, Histories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 9Google Scholar.

21 ‘World's Greatest Irrigation Project’, The Daily Gazette (Karachi), 25 October, 1923.

22 Quoted in ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 N.a., The Opening of The Lloyd Barrage and Canals by His Excellency The Earl of Willingdon, G.M.S.I., G.C.M.G., G.M.I.E., G.B.E., Viceroy and Governor General of India on Wednesday, the 13th January 1932 (Bombay: The Government Central Press, [1932?]), p. 23.

27 Speech of the Hon'ble Mr. M.A. Khuhro, Chief Minister of Sind, on the occasion of the Opening Ceremony of the Kotri Barrage by His Excellency the Governor-General of Pakistan on 15th March 1955, p. 4. In United Kingdom National Archives (U.K.N.A.) File DO 35/8581: ‘The Kotri Barrage Project, Pakistan’.

28 Speech by the Hon'ble Mr. M.A. Khuhro, p. 2.

29 Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General at the Opening Ceremony of the Kotri Barrage, 15 March, 1955, p. 2. In U.K.N.A. File DO 35/8581.

30 ‘Kotri Barrage’, Commerce (Karachi), 19 March, 1955.

31 ‘Impressive Ceremony’, Dawn (Karachi), 16 March, 1955.

32 The concept of ‘nation building’ was a favourite post-Independence trope and covered various aspects of moral and material ‘national progress’. For instance Sind Information, a Government of Sind journal, carried a column called ‘Towards Nation Building’, which, to cite one issue, reported on the opening of new workshops, sea port development, and the functioning of a new labour exchange. ‘Towards Nation Building’, Sind Information (Karachi), 1:4 (1948), 101.

33 Address presented to Major-General Iskander Mirza, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the occasion of the foundation stone laying ceremony of Gudu Barrage. In U.K.N.A. File BT11/5110, ‘Pakistan: Upper Sind or Gudu Barrage’.

34 Iskander Mirza, speaking on 2 February, 1957, speech transcribed in U.K.N.A. File BT11/5110, ‘Pakistan: Upper Sind or Gudu Barrage’.

35 Gudu Barrage Project (N.p.: Directorate of Information, Government of West Pakistan, n.d.). In U.K.N.A. File BT11/5110.

36 The One Unit Scheme merged Sind with Punjab, Baluchistan, and the North-West Frontier Province to form a new province called ‘West Pakistan’. It proved to be unpopular with Pakistani Bengalis, Sindhis, and Balochis, and was reversed by Yahya Khan in 1970.

37 Address presented to Major-General Iskander Mirza.

38 Pithawalla, Maneck B., ‘Water resources of the dry zones in Pakistan’, Sind Observer Illustrated Sunday Supplement (Karachi), 26 September, 1948Google Scholar.

39 Jalal, Ayesha, The State of Martial Rule: The Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 200Google Scholar.

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42 Untitled note by Dow, dated 16 March, 1926, paragraph 8. IOR Private Papers. MSS EUR E 371/2.

43 Hugh Dow, ‘Note on Sind’, undated (circa mid–late 1920s). IOR Private Papers MSS EUR E372/1.

44 Opening of the Lloyd Barrage, p. 1.

45 Times of India, 12 December, 1932.

46 See Wilder, Andrew, ‘Islam and Political Legitimacy in Pakistan in Syed, Muhammad Aslam (ed.), Islam and Democracy in Pakistan (Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 1995), pp. 3840Google Scholar.

47 This statement takes up Chatterjee's argument that some nationalist thought in India took on Western claims to rationality as the truest form of knowledge. Chatterjee, Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: a derivative discourse? (London: Zed Books, 1986), pp. 1417Google Scholar.

48 Examples include, Leaflets for distribution in Sind, No. 31 (1023): Improved varieties of cotton recommended by the Department, and Agricultural Leaflet No. 30 (1st Edition August, 1933): The cultivation of rabi oil-seed crops in the barrage areas of Sind. Issued by the Government of Bombay Agricultural Department.

49 Untitled note by Hugh Dow, dated 16 March, 1926, paragrah 43.

50 ‘Sind's efforts to develop her agriculture and industry’, Wealth (Karachi), 13 August, 1950). Jagir landholdings were large areas on which the master did not pay land revenue to the government. The ‘problem’ of jagirs, the financial losses to the state which they represented, and the social and political strength they gave to the big landlords, had exercised Sind's administrators ever since Napier's conquest. The British in Sind had maintained the status of jagirs to a great degree, and did nothing significant to challenge their power. On jagirs and land tenure reform in British Sind, see Cheesman, David, Landlord Power and Rural Indebtedness in Colonial Sind, 1865–1901 (Richmond: Curzon, 1997), Chapter 2Google Scholar.

51 Ayub Khan promulgated the West Pakistan Land Reforms Regulation No. 64 on 7 February, 1959, but it was fatally undermined by loopholes and by cooperation between landlords and the local revenue authorities, which had the responsibility for implementing the reforms. Talbot, Ian, Pakistan: A Modern History (Lahore: Vanguard Books, 1999), pp. 165166Google Scholar.

52 ‘Sind Agriculture: its past present and future [sic]’ in n.a., Sind People and Progress (N.p.: Directorate of Information Sind, n.d., n.p. n.).

53 ‘Farmers asked to work hard’, Dawn, 22 December, 1967.