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MEDIA-INDIA: Bulletin Boards Keep Tibetan Exiles Updated

Lynette Lee Corporal - Asia Media Forum

DHARAMSALA, Mar 29 2008 (IPS) - While the mid-March anti-Chinese protests in Tibet sent campaigners and sympathisers running to the Internet for news, or to post blog entries, Tibetan exiles in this northern Indian town turned to the lowly community bulletin board.

Tibetan exiles checking out the bulletin boards in Dharamsala for news from their homeland. Credit: Lynette Lee Corporal/IPS

Tibetan exiles checking out the bulletin boards in Dharamsala for news from their homeland. Credit: Lynette Lee Corporal/IPS

Posters, newspaper cuttings and banners filled up just about every available space in this scenic town nestling in the Himalayan foothills that some 20,000 Tibetan exiles, starting with the Dalai Lama, call their second home.

As news filtered in about riots and deaths in Lhasa, and the spread of anti-Chinese protests Mar.14 onwards to places such as Gansu and Sichuan, the walls and fences around McLeod Ganj, nine km from Dharamsala proper, in Himachal Pradesh state, drew crowds of people hungry for news about the troubles at home.

'Tibetan Refugees Resume Protest March', screamed the headline of 'The Sunday Tribune', posted on the wall. 'The Times of India', meanwhile, gave both China and Tibet space as it proclaimed 'China Wages 'People's War' as Riots Spread' on one side, and 'Dalai Lama Says 100 Killed in Genocide: Demands Probe' on the other. Other newpapers published from the cities of New Delhi or Chandigarh, such as the 'Hindustan Times' and 'The Tribune', shared equal billing on the walls.

"It's easier and more effective this way as more people will be able to get updates and from different sources yet," says resident Lhamo Tseten, who along with a small crowd of young monks and nuns, peered eagerly at the 'writing on the wall’.

The Tibetan government-in-exile’s prime minister Samdhong Rinpoche was quoted by the Sunday Express admitting that the community was having difficulty getting accurate information from inside Tibet. ‘We are dependent upon individuals who are providing information at great personal risk,’ the paper quoted him as saying.


Rinpoche added that China's blocking of information channels "has prevented message of the Dalai Lama to reach the protesters". The Tibetan government-in-exile here has been functional from 1960 – a year after the spiritual leader fled Tibet following the failed March 1959 uprising against Chinese rule – and serves the spiritual and temporal needs of about 120,000 Tibetan refugees living in India alone.

Newspaper cuttings were not the only ones that hogged the spotlight. Posters, some of them of a very graphic and gory nature, also got their share of attention. A colour poster by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy showed photos of monasteries in Tibet that were reportedly under siege by Chinese troops.

A set of grisly photographs, shocking not a few passersby, showed close-up pictures of Tibetans believed to have been killed by soldiers in the wake of protests commemorating the 49th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising on Mar. 10.

In a display of community interaction, letters of encouragement and support in various languages, including English, Tibetan, Hebrew and Korean, to name a few, soon appeared on the walls as well.

Fluttering in the cool mountain air, alongside the multi-hued Tibetan prayer flags, were banners and streamers with political messages. ‘Stop Killing in Tibet, Give Peace a Chance', a crimson streamer cried out, stretched across the wall leading to the main temple here. ‘Countries of the World, Help Us!’ appealed another, while a mocking ‘Shame on you, China!’ streamer hovered above the metal gate of the temple.

The area where monks were staging a hunger strike was filled with banners calling for a change in China’s policies such as encouraging in-migration of Han and other Chinese ethnic groups into the high plateau. Some protested against threats to Tibetan culture, religion and identity and called for an independent Tibet – although the Dalai Lama has only been seeking autonomy within China. ‘Withdraw army from monasteries, schools, hospitals and homes in Tibet’, ‘Release! Release! Release! Panchen Lama!’, and ‘Justice Has Been Raped in Tibet’ were some of the more emotional entreaties.

If these were not enough, the latest news of events back home in Tibet were also disseminated via flyers and announced during the nightly vigils held in the temple compound.

The old, reliable bullhorn was also maximised to the fullest, as a roving van moved around town to announce upcoming events, such as candlelight vigils and protest marches.

Not surprisingly, Internet-savvy foreign visitors and sympathisers of the Tibetan cause were busy spreading information about events unfolding in this quiet resort town to the rest of the world.

At any time of the day, foreigners were busy uploading pictures and updating their blogs in Internet cafes. Examples of these blog sites, which dedicated lots of space to the protests, include www.jayerhodes.com, http://tibetblogs.com/modules/feeds/, http://realtravel.com/mcleod_ganj_upper_dharamsala-journals-j6739330.html, and http://wordpress.com/tag/tibetan.

"I’m optimistic about the way the information seems to be spreading throughout the world. There are many news reporters around and I hope that the coverage of events here will remain strong," Jaye, a recent visitor to McLeod Ganj, wrote in her blog at www.jayerhodes.com.

While the older generation of Tibetan exiles depended on the community billboards for fresh information, the younger ones turned to the popular Tibetan websites on the Internet for news. Among these are www.friendsoftibet.org, , www.phayul.com, www.tibetanuprising.org, www.tibet.net, and www.tchrd.org, among others.

The online human rights advocacy site, Avaaz.org, has started a signature campaign calling on Beijing to "show restraint and respect for human rights" in its response to the protests in Tibet, and encouraged the Chinese government to "open a meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama".

An estimated one million people have already signed the petition.

 
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