How the Internet Came to the Tibetans

I had a very Buddhistic (karmic?) feeling while surfing the internet today.  Something that I had written about many years back (1993) came back to me through the power of the internet. Interestingly, the topic of my writeup was, what else, the entrance of Tibet into the electronic age.

It was an article that I wrote for the Tibetan Bulletin, the official journal of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, on the introduction of email to the Tibetan community in Dharamsala in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.  The article was republished by GASSHO, Electronic Journal of DharmaNet International and the Global Online Sangha.

Some of the individuals mentioned in this article are no longer holding the position mentioned here. One of them has passed away. But it made interesting reading (am I being narcisstic?) to see the experience of the people as Dharamsala entered the email world.

When the email experience began in Dharamsala, it was a comparatively slow and patience-trying dial up service. Today, we are going beyond broadband.

This one is for all the internet-savvy young Tibetans out there.

DHARAMSALA GOES E-MAILING
by Bhuchung K. Tsering

After several years of feasibility study, the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala is finally on E-Mail.

The idea of putting Dharamsala on the electronic mail map of the world was conceived in 1989 when a New York-based computer consultant, Ms. Indira Singh, suggested the setting up of TibetNet. Ms. Singh felt TibetNet would provide the Tibetans the technological ability to disseminate the Tibetan story worldwide. She made preliminary trials in collaboration with the Department of Information & International Relations. The then DIIR Kalon Lodi G. Gyari shared Ms. Singh’s
feelings saying, “TibetNet is the vehicle which will take Tibetans to the twenty-first century.”

Despite the unreliable telephone system, an ad-hoc connection was made in early 1990.  As a simple message, “Hello from Dharamsala” made its first journey from a laptop (Indira Singh’s) to the computer in Office of Tibet – New York, there was jubilation. Reporting on the event, this journal, in its March-April 1990 issue, said it was the first  tottering steps the Tibetans, cooped as they are in their own little
Shangri-la, are taking to catch up with what has bypassed them — telecommunications.

Since then much water has flowed down the Bhagsunath rivulet in  Dharamsala. Some problems made the experiment remain as it was: just an experiment. But the Tibetans were given a taste of what was in store for us. Just as the shrewd business sense of a Tibetan does not let an opportunity pass by, this idea of a private electronic mail service became merely placed in the backburner, not totally forgotten.

Meanwhile, Dharamsala’s Planning Council had set up a Common Publishing Center (later rechristened as the Tibetan Computer Resource Center) to provide an organized computerized service to the Tibetan community. Simultaneously, in Canada, the Canada Tibet Committee had taken the initiative to enter Tibet into the E-Mail world actively.
The offices of Tibet in New York and London followed suit. They all had the experience of Tibet Information Network (TIN) in London which had over the years become one of the few independent sources for objective news from Tibet. Dharamsala began to feel the pressure to set up a nodal point here.

The TibetNet case was reopened, so to say. Discussions took place among concerned officials as well as with the Canada Tibet Committee which had set up CanTibNet.  Welcoming the move, DIIR Kalon Tashi Wangdi, in a letter to Tibet-related organizations on November 3, 1993, said it would facilitate a fast and reliable exchange of information among all of us.
Finally, it was decided to transfer the e-mail project from DIIR to CTRC which would explore all possibilities. The end-result became apparent when yet another simple message went from New Delhi to USA and Canada, via e-mail. Responded Conrad Richter of CanTibNet, “We are happy that the TCRC and the CTA is now able to participate in computer networking.” John Maier of the International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet expressed his feelings thus: “Hallelujah! I am elated to see your message today in my e-mail mailbox. This is indeed a huge step
toward establishing a consistent, inexpensive communications link with
Dharamsala… Let us hope the next link is Lhasa.” The technical director of the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), USA, Mr. Steve Fram, who has been instrumental in not only encouraging us to go forward in this project, but also in providing both technical and material support, became overjoyed. Said he, “(I)… cannot fully express my delight this morning [October 22, 1993 — ed.], when I
received your message from New Delhi….it is a small, but substantial step towards democracy and for the Tibetan struggle.” Mr. Fram had made it possible for an official of DIIR, Tendar, to participate in a workshop on e-mail in the USA in August 1993.
Mr. Phuntsok Namgyal of TCRC is currently leading the e-mail project in Dharamsala. TCRC has secured a temporary e-mail account. TCRC is in the process of working out the financial implications for getting a permanent account with ernet. For those interested in having e-mail  linkages with Tibet-related organizations, a partial list of numbers follows:
1.  Dharamsala (Phuntsok Namgyal): tcrc@unv.ernet.in
2.  CTC National Office (Thubten Samdup) fourniel@ere.umontreal.ca
3.  CanTibNet Newsletter ctn-editors@utcc.utoronto.ca
4.  Int’l Committee of Lawyers for Tibet, USA (John Maier):
iclt@igc.apc.org
5.  International Campaign for Tibet, USA: ict@igc.apc.org,
6.  Office of Tibet, New York: otny@igc.apc.org
7.  Office of Tibet, London: tibetlondon@gn.apc.org
8.  Institute for Global Communications, USA (Steve Fram):
steve@igc.apc.org
9.  Tibet Information Network, London (Robbie Barnett):
robbie@gn.apc.org
10. Alaska Tibet committee: dpaljor@igc.apc.org
Dharamsala going e-mail is a small step for mankind, but a giant step
for the Tibetans.
[This article originally appeared in TIBETAN BULLETIN, Nov/Dec 1993.
TIBETAN BULLETIN is the official journal of the Central Tibetan
Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and is published by the
Department of Information & International Relations, Central Tibetan
Administration, Dharamsala – 176215, H.P. India.  Mr. Bhuchung K.
Tsering is the Editor of TIBETAN BULLETIN.]

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3 thoughts on “How the Internet Came to the Tibetans

  1. Tibetan youth are very internet-savvy these days. Not a week goes by when another Tibetan requests to be my friend on facebook; most of them I do not know, but they seem to be using facebook to social network in a way that most of my fellow Americans don’t really. (It’s considered “weird” to add someone you don’t know in person, yet this might attest to the Tibetan sense of family on a larger scale; every Tibetan is “family” and sometimes that includes those non-Tibetans working for the cause.) It tickles me to type in “Tenzin” and have a gazillion people come up on my friends list alone. 🙂

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