Conceiving Modernity: Discourses on Reproduction in a Community of Tibetan Refugees

Abstract

This article examines the trope of reproduction in narratives of Tibetan refugees living in Dharamsala, India. As they make sense of their personal histories, Tibetan refugees invoke a collective story that mirrors human rights literature on Tibet. Women come into contact with this literature through its incorporation into a political discourse expressed by the exile government and health institutions. The article traces facets of this discourse that deal centrally with reproduction. Political discourse on reproduction articulates pronatalism as a solution to the refugee community’s concern with survival, and the discourse frames modernity as a site of violence through China’s reproductive regulations. And yet, Tibetan refugees also employ the notion of modernity when discussing their own free reproductive decision-making, positioning modern reproductive interventions in opposition to Indian society. The article demonstrates that Tibetan refugees navigate competing figurations of modernity by expressing political resistance and affiliation through the idiom of reproduction.