Karine Gagné is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Guelph. She has a PhD in Anthropology from University of Montreal (2015). Prior to joining the University of Guelph, she was a Postdoctoral Associate at the Department of Anthropology at Yale University (2015-2017) and a Visiting Scholar at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University (2012). She is the author of Caring for Glaciers: Land, Animals, and Humanity in the Himalayas, published by University of Washington Press.
The region of Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas has recently seen a rise in attacks by stray dogs, some of which have been fatal. The dogs’ claims on territory have not gone uncontested in an emotional landscape fraught with anxieties over religious identities as tensions prevail between a Buddhist and a Muslim population. Consideration for the political effects of ethical discourses about dogs in Ladakh reveals how dog population control, and the intricately linked question of dog care have implications for the shaping of an animal ethics as a contentious political question. In the public sphere, some interpret matters related to dogs as a problem of human territoriality, while others foreground animal care as a virtue of Tibetan Buddhists. While these ideas about dogs and their treatment are shaped by a network of local and translocal ideas and practices about animal welfare and about religious identity, the politics of dog ethics in Ladakh is not an exclusively human product. Dogs are also agents of this politics, both in their physical capacity, to define dog-human interactions, as they are capable of being both affectionate and extremely violent, and because they have the potential to act on human’s production of meaning and exceed human expectations.
The author is extremely grateful to the inhabitants of Ladakh who generously and kindly took the time to answer her questions over the years. This research has been supported, at different stages, by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, the International Development Research Centre, and the Canadian Anthropology Society. This article has benefited from helpful suggestions and comments by two anonymous reviewers.
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Gagné, Karine. 2019. Deadly Predators and Virtuous Buddhists: Dog Population Control and the Politics of Ethics in Ladakh. HIMALAYA 39(1).
Available at: https://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/himalaya/vol39/iss1/6
Dogs scavenging trash in search for food. Photo by Jigmet Lhundup, September 2015, Leh (Ladakh)
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A pack of dogs in winter. Photo by Jigmet Lhundup, January 2016, Leh (Ladakh)
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Despite his small size, this dog is kept to prevent predators from roaming around the house of his carer. Photo by Tsering Tashi, May 2017, Ladakh.
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Young monks playing with a dog. Photo by Jigmet Lhundup, September 2016, Stongde, Zanskar (Ladakh)