Swimming with the Trouble
Science and Religion by the Banks of the Ganges
The waters of the Ganges River are of key importance in the Indian subcontinent. Not only do they provide subsistence to the almost half a million people that live in its basin, these waters also play a significant role in Hindu rituals, being part of the everyday of temples and household across India and beyond. In the beginning of the current pandemic, gangajal – holy Ganges water – made the news as the Water Ministry of India (Jal Shakti) called for research to be carried out on the river's water as potential cure for COVID-19. Taking the multiplicity of water as a starting point I explore how such request arises in between myth, microbiology and politics, coalescing in the river's waters.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in North India between 2019 and 2020, in this paper I consider rituals of immersion in and incorporation of gangajal as well as laboratory practices of cautious separation of elements in the river's water to reflect on how water mediates between scales and knowledge practices inside and outside laboratories and temples. I look at the how the river's waters are configured and configures social life around its banks through an exploration of the intersection between microbiology and Hinduism. I suggest a twist to Haraway's idea of "staying with the trouble" (2016) to focus on the relevance of water to understand human entanglements with environments, other species and spiritual beings.