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Barnard College

Publication Date

Spring 2014

Program Name

Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples


The exiled Tibetans of McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India1 are caught between two worlds; forced to live outside of their native land, some cling to Tibetan tradition while others embrace their new environment and its protocol. Because their 1959 exile was relatively recent, the Tibetans I spoke with during my four weeks of research for this paper were nearly split: many of my interviewees were born in their homeland while a number of others were born into exile. This juxtaposition made for a wide range of perspectives and answers to my queries, as well as heightened insight into the ways that their new environment has affected both them and their traditions. It was clear that for some living in McLeod Ganj, Tibet is a beloved piece of their history; for others it is still their present. The one unifying factor among interviewees was the fact that, no matter where they were born, when they spoke with me they were all living abroad, exiled to India. Questions such as: How does one retain one’s culture when one is living in an environment that is not their own? How does one relax into assimilation when one is constantly fighting to prove that they belong? and How do people navigate a world where nothing is designed for them? were pertinent to all and surfaced repeatedly. The aforementioned queries permeate every facet of life for people living in exile. According to Sarah Pinto’s “Pregnancy and Childbirth in Tibetan Culture” in Buddhist Women Across Cultures, those living in exile “are both concerned with sustaining Tibetan culture and religious tradition, and integrating their practices with Indian and Western cultures.”2 For this paper, I sought to examine the ways that this integration is occurring in McLeod Ganj in the context of childbirth and maternal healthcare. I aim to address how “a refugee population keeps its beliefs and customs intact despite geographic dispersal and the threat of cultural extinction,” focusing especially on childbirth, which “can be understood to be the ritual enactment of shared cultural values.


Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Place and Environment | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Regional Sociology | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology of Culture


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