The Effect of Religious Diversity in McLeod Ganj (India: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Social Justice)

Essay by Experimenter Brendan:

In the town of McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama, there exists two major religions that have affected the development of India: Hinduism and Buddhism. The more locally practiced of the two, Buddhism has made it’s temporary home in McLeod Ganj to escape persecution by the Chinese government, acting as a magnet to draw Tibetans, Buddhists and tourists alike. Hinduism is the second-most present religion in the town, practiced mostly by native Indians and is the dominant religion in the country of India. Citizens of McLeod Ganj were asked how religious diversity affects the town. The interviews conducted for this project touched only upon the two local major religions, as the only subjects found were Buddhist or Hindu.

The five subjects interviewed consisted of two Tibetan Buddhists- one of which was a monk and the other a shopkeeper- and three Hindu shopkeepers. Of the entire group of interviewees, one woman was interviewed, who was Tibetan and Buddhist. The issues described as “solved” by religious diversity varied between the two groups though remained homogenous when speaking to each of those religious persons within a single group. The two Tibetan Buddhists both labeled violence as having a weaker presence due to Buddhism, and one described McLeod Ganj as having a stronger sense of community because so many families had “wide roots” in the area (“wide roots” means many members of one family living in one area, which is different than “deep roots” in that the second phrase refers to a long history of ancestors inhabiting the area.) The monk retold that in much of his travels, when he had visited New Delhi and parts of southern India, he witnessed much worse treatment of stray/wild animals, such as neglect and abuse towards those that had not caused visible problems to the community. He gave an example, saying that in New Delhi he saw multiple dogs be kicked with no provocation, and those same dogs would snarl and turn, but not return the attack. Adverse to that experience, he said that in McLeod Ganj many members of the community put out tiny bits of uneaten food for the untamed dogs to eat from. Both Tibetan Buddhists stated that there is less physical violence in this locale than in other areas where Buddhism is less prevalent. Only the monk provided an example, as evidence, though he used the city of New Delhi as said example which is incomparable as the populations are very different in number and density.

The Hindus who were interviewed had a less powerful grasp of the English language, though still offered good alternative opinions to the Buddhists. One member of the three said that he felt “…my belief is not strong, because there are much more Buddhists than Hindus here.” After discussing with him what he meant by that statement, it was clarified that he feels that the high amount of Buddhists is diminishing the practicing of Hinduism in McLeod Ganj and the whole of the Dharmsala region. This particular man also expressed that he thought there was competition for employment, saying “the Tibetans hire their friends, their family, not the Hindus.” His compatriots said similarly, one man saying that his friends moved away because he felt there weren’t enough Hindus and he wanted to join his family elsewhere for better job opportunities, and the second saying there aren’t as many Hindu temples in McLeod Ganj because of the number of Buddhist ones. The problems these men said were solved by religious diversity diverged from those of the Buddhists, in that the animals (dogs and cats) were too trusting of humans and would pester people on the street for food and attention, unlike those elsewhere. One of the men, who said he grew up in Chandigarh (a city south of McLeod Ganj), stated that felt more proud of being Hindu because he had more fellow Hindus around him.

From the interviews conducted for this project, it’s challenging to compare the information to formulate an evaluation as the language barrier posed different challenges between the two groups. The contrast of opinions was apparent, though there are always outliers in data when doing a survey and the number of interviewees should be expanded to get a more firm grasp on the opinions of the local general populace. With that being said, the Buddhists and Hindus had very different opinions on the way that Buddhism influenced the town and particularly the wildlife. Traditional Buddhists value all life, and many express that (as personally seen) through gifts of charity and compassion towards the local street dogs. Because of this, the street dogs have lost much of their fear of humans and now openly walk near and towards those with food, and sleep on the porches and steps of businesses and homes alike. No further assessment can be drawn regarding the effect Buddhism has on the rates and degrees of local crime, as the compared areas had a much larger and dense populace than McLeod Ganj. The Tibetans made no comment as to favoritism in local employment, though it is a logical possibility that families and friends would employ one another out of a sense of support and desire to aid one another as fellow refugees. From a humanitarian standpoint, the religious diversity found within McLeod Ganj is beneficial to the wildlife due to Buddhism, and the practice of pacifism within the same religion would potentially lower the crime rates in the town. However, some of the populace feels ill at ease with that same religious diversity because it creates a divide between the peoples who feel marginalized as a local religious and ethnic minority.


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