In the bylanes of the nearly empty Majnu Ka Tila, Tenzing Dikyi (40) reflected on how he is now cut off from the land of his birth, Tibet, as WeChat, his only link home, is among 59 Chinese apps banned in India.
For decades, Majnu ka Tila has been synonymous with the Tibetan settlement near the gurdwara. Since the early 1960s, it has been home to over 365 Tibetan families who have settled here.
Recalling his emigration in 1992, Dikyi said, “I was originally from Lhasa. It took a month to reach Nepal on foot, from where we took buses to cities in India. I was alone with a group of strangers… My parents and three siblings are still there. For many years, it was difficult to speak to them as it was not safe and the call rates were very high. Then came WeChat, making it a lot simpler.”
WeChat is a messaging, social media and mobile payment app that was released by Tencent Technology in 2011. Dikyi added that his family cannot use WhatsApp and Facebook as it is banned in Tibet.
For a while, he used QQ, an instant messaging software service also developed by Tencent. “We would not talk very often. But every once in a while, it was nice to see their faces. They always called me during festivals and family occasions.”
A Chinese translator by profession, he said, “There is no work under lockdown as it is. In the current climate, it looks like my language skills hold no value.”
Sitting on the banks of the Yamuna, three friends spoke about how the app ban was going to impact local businesses.
Youton (30), who used to send Ayurvedic cosmetic products from Delhi to Tibet and China, said, “I would click photos of products on WeChat and send them to clients. If they liked the product, they would make the payment through the app. Then, we would dispatch the product.”
Youton came to India when she was 13: “My family started using WeChat a few years ago as call rates used to be around Rs 40 per minute.”
Trinley Rigzi (32), who had a client base of 200 Tibetans and Chinese on the app, added, “It’s okay if WeChat is banned but there should be a substitute. I used to export Indian medicines to China and Tibet. And we have been unemployed since the lockdown.”
The fear that export to China and Tibet might be adversely impacted loomed in the air.
Yangkyi Lhamo (26) looked distraught as she began her work day in a courier office in the area. She came to India with her brother when they were children as her parents deemed Tibet unsafe for them to grow up in. “When I was studying, my parents would send me money via WeChat. Now that I am earning, it is the other way round. I do not have a fixed income, rather, my income is dependent on how many items are being exported to China or Tibet,” she said.
“Most of our business comes from China. People order items from here, pay us on WeChat and then the boxes are shipped…,” she said, adding that she doesn’t know of any other payment or video calling app available in both countries.