Pressure: the politechnics of water supply in Mumbai

Cult Anthropol. 2011;26(4):542-64. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01111.x.


In Mumbai, most all residents are delivered their daily supply of water for a few hours every day, on a water supply schedule. Subject to a more precarious supply than the city's upper-class residents, the city's settlers have to consistently demand that their water come on “time” and with “pressure.” Taking pressure seriously as both a social and natural force, in this article I focus on the ways in which settlers mobilize the pressures of politics, pumps, and pipes to get water. I show how these practices not only allow settlers to live in the city, but also produce what I call hydraulic citizenship—a form of belonging to the city made by effective political and technical connections to the city's infrastructure. Yet, not all settlers are able to get water from the city water department. The outcomes of settlers' efforts to access water depend on a complex matrix of socionatural relations that settlers make with city engineers and their hydraulic infrastructure. I show how these arrangements describe and produce the cultural politics of water in Mumbai. By focusing on the ways in which residents in a predominantly Muslim settlement draw water despite the state's neglect, I conclude by pointing to the indeterminacy of water, and the ways in which its seepage and leakage make different kinds of politics and publics possible in the city.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Drinking Water*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • India / ethnology
  • Politics*
  • Population Groups / education
  • Population Groups / ethnology
  • Population Groups / history
  • Population Groups / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Population Groups / psychology
  • Public Facilities* / economics
  • Public Facilities* / history
  • Public Facilities* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Public Health* / economics
  • Public Health* / education
  • Public Health* / history
  • Public Health* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Sanitation* / economics
  • Sanitation* / history
  • Sanitation* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Technology / economics
  • Technology / education
  • Technology / history
  • Technology / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Water Quality
  • Water Supply* / economics
  • Water Supply* / history
  • Water Supply* / legislation & jurisprudence


  • Drinking Water