Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Contemporary South Asia

Student Spotlight: Sachin Pendse '17

Name: Sachin Pendse '17

Concentration/degree program: International Relations (Security and Society track) and Computer Science

Hometown: Wichita, Kansas

What are your plans for the summer?

On October 7th 1950, the People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet with the goal of asserting Chinese rule of Tibet. Within the span of one year, Tibetan leaders reluctantly agreed to Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. With the promise of industrialization, Tibetans were subject to massive famines, re-education programs, propaganda campaigns, and cultural persecution. By 1959, Tibetans began fleeing to India via a dangerous trek across mountain peaks before finding refuge in Dharamsala and Bangalore. To advocate for Tibetan independence and preserve Tibetan culture, the Tibetan community in Dharamsala began to mobilize politically by establishing the Central Tibetan Administration (often called the Tibetan government-in-exile).

As a result of increased Internet access in contemporary Dharamsala and the loosening of some restrictions of mobile Internet use in Tibet, Tibetans in India and Tibet are connecting over the Internet. However, those connections do not arise without significant risk --- many Tibetans within Tibet have been arrested for keeping pictures of the Dalai Lama on their cell phones or discussing the Dalai Lama via WeChat, and almost every single organization based out of Dharamsala has been battered by intense cyberattacks.

This summer, I will be studying how connections within the Tibetan community over social media and mobile applications are changing how the Tibetan community in Dharamsala views its overall cultural identity, and how the community leverages that shared cultural identity and social media for political activism. I will also be studying how cybersecurity and censorship plays into communication between members of the community in Dharamsala. To do this, I will be using a mix of quantitative methods (including social media network analysis) and qualitative methods (including first-hand interviews with members of the community in Dharamsala) to create a big-picture analysis of the impact technology has had on the political organization and identity of the community.

It has been a really enriching experience getting to combine learning and resources from the Brown-India Initiative and classes taken on cybersecurity to tailor my International Relations degree around how the Internet is having an effect on global contemporary political participation.