In a small office in a congested locality in this town that is the nerve centre of Tibetan activities, young men and women clack away at their computer keys. They are busy chatting, making friends online. It’s not entertainment, it’s for the Tibetan cause.
The friends on the other end are the Chinese. And they are being told of the alleged rights violations in Tibet — the homeland the Tibetans have been fighting for for the last 50 years.
Everyday, for six to eight hours, these surfers — volunteers with the group ‘Online Outreach’ — search for Chinese people on social sites. From their office near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, they make contacts not just with people in mainland China but with Chinese settlers across the world.
Sonam (who uses one name only) and 10 friends who are fluent in Chinese contact 50-150 people each day. The 34-year-old painter, who has been in exile for six years now, told HT: “Our motive is to make the Chinese aware of what is happening in our mainland.”
He claims he has more than 500 Chinese friends online. Records at the office suggest the Tibetans have made contact with 80,000 people so far.
“It is not easy to chat as a majority of them are more interested in searching for love than talking about real issues,” Sonam said.
It is here the women in the group feel they have an edge. “Male chatters are mostly interested in talking to woman, so we have a slight advantage,” said one woman who did not want to be identified.
The group uses Yahoo Messenger Service, MSN and Q, a popular social site in China. They are all adept at outfoxing the Chinese censors. They use instant messenger services to contact people. When it’s time for more sensitive conversations, they prefer email as it is hard to monitor.
The Dalai Lama is all for making friends with the Chinese. “Since we are refugees, the Internet is the biggest gift for us to reach out to people,” said Thupten Samphel, spokesman, Tibetan government in exile.