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Fulbright Scholar joins ASU Decision Center

October 01, 2009

Mayank Kumar, a Fulbright recipient, has joined Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City for a nine-month period to take part in a comparative study of water-management systems and conservation practices in arid and semi-arid regions around the world.

“My primary research interests pertain to man-nature relationships in pre-industrial societies, both at the material level and in the larger philosophical traditions,” says Kumar, who teaches history as an associate professor at Satyawati College (Evening), University of Delhi. “My area of specialization is the environmental history of India, particularly early-modern Rajasthan.”

While at DCDC on a Fulbright Doctoral and Professional Research Fellowship, Kumar, who received his doctorate degree from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, will explore water management systems and conservation practices, including the role of DCDC as a boundary organization working to improve water decision-making under climate uncertainty in a desert city.

Kumar says he is particularly interested in DCDC’s research initiatives, including downscaling IPCC projections to fit the specific needs of the American Southwest and using the panel’s forecasts to help develop future models. He also is keenly interested in DCDC’s work in its role as a boundary organization.

“Greater interaction between different stakeholders, beginning right from the community to the political authorities and from service providers to academia, is worthy of imitation in other regions of the globe, especially in the developing world,” he says.

Throughout his academic career, Kumar has brought a variety of perspectives to bear in exploring both social responses to nature and unequal access to natural resources. In the process, he has delved into the ecological significance of religious, social and cultural practices in India, and his work has even included literary examinations of the consequences of caste on access to natural resources. 

“Religious, social and cultural practices create a very complex web of influences, which shape the functioning of society,” he says.

In 2003, the Indian Council for Historical Research, New Delhi, awarded Kumar a research project documenting water conservation systems in medieval Rajasthan. The project gave him an opportunity to perform an extensive survey of water management systems and conservation practices in parts of India’s largest state, located in the northwest of the country. His findings, which included documenting numerous water bodies, will appear in an upcoming monograph, adding to his previous body of work, published in journals such as Conservation and Society (2005), Studies in History (2008) and The Icfai University Journal of History and Culture (2009).

“Unfortunately, very few of these waterways will survive the onslaught of ever-growing urbanization and industrialization,” Kumar says.

Similar to Arizona, Rajasthan encompasses large expanses of arid land and mountains. The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, dominates most of the region, and the Aravalli Range, which runs 528 miles southwest to northeast through the state, fails to intercept the moisture-giving southwesterly monsoon winds off the Arabian Sea because they run parallel to the winds’ path.

India is currently experiencing mounting pressure on its natural resources, brought about by a booming population, a rising standard of living, and the looming threat of climate change. Rajasthan, an area with a rich history of conflicts over water rights, exemplifies these problems, but it also has a longstanding tradition of water management and conservation.

According to Kumar, many old practices of water conservation in rural Rajasthan, such as rooftop water harvesting and rainwater via check dams, today are being adopted and reinvented throughout India, including Delhi. Kumar’s research will involve investigating similar themes at work in other regions of the world.

The Fulbright Program is a prestigious international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Recipients are chosen for their academic merit and leadership potential and are granted the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research abroad.

Nicholas Gerbis
Decision Center for a Desert City