Bitcoin in India is showing plenty of promise at the grassroots level, as demonstrated by 250 undergraduate students who attended a seminar at the HR College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai last Thursday.
Those present already demonstrated a basic knowledge of bitcoin and some of its technical aspects such as block chain transparency and mining, according to Vishal Gupta of the Bitcoin Alliance of India, who headed the presentation.
Gupta told CoinDesk he was impressed at the level of interest, saying:
“College faculty informed me that it was the highest attendance recorded for any visiting guest [to] date as it was an optional class and there was no compulsion on any student to attend the class.”
Topics and questions of interest
The seminar covered both the history and future of money in an almost two-hour session, of which one hour was devoted to questions and answers.
“We ourselves were surprised with the kind of questions students asked,” said Gupta, explaining that most of the students must have read about bitcoin on the Internet, since there is still not much information on bitcoin publicly available in India. The Bitcoin Alliance of India’s website, he said, typically receives about 150 visitors per day.
They also questioned the speaker about the reasons for Mt Gox’s failure, the transparency of transactions on the block chain and predictions for a future when the bitcoin system reduced or stopped payouts to miners.
Gupta said that, after this initial success, he plans to take the student seminar initiative to other colleges in Mumbai. One of India’s premier educational institutions, St Xavier’s College, has already requested a bitcoin lecture of its own.
Student attendees’ views
Helping to organize the event was Raunaq Vaisoha, a finance student who told CoinDesk he had been monitoring bitcoin’s progress since 2012, after coming across it on YouTube. He originally saw it as a volatile investment option but, he said, “I later discovered the multitude of opportunities that it enables otherwise and have been hooked ever since”.
He is currently involved with at least five bitcoin-related startups.
“As is evident from our recent conference in HR College which saw the likes of over 250 people, I am not alone in my interest towards bitcoin. I believe that if well publicised, bitcoin could reach unprecedented heights in India.”
Another participant, student Pulkit Bornani, reported that although he had never used bitcoin previously and had been unsure about it, he now couldn’t wait to get started.
Bitcoin’s properties gave it some unique advantages in his home country, he wrote.
“I really see a future for bitcoins in India where people in villages cannot get to a bank easily and microfinance is somewhat of a taboo. Bitcoin might just be the answer.”
Hurdles facing bitcoin acceptance
The Bitcoin Alliance of India, like similar advocacy groups around the world, is committed to the task of spreading bitcoin awareness – though it still faces some hurdles in its home country with both communication and regulation.
Gupta said privately arranged bitcoin trades remained more popular than exchange-based trades, while many of the popular online options are still limited in their ability to process deposits and withdrawals via banks.
All bitcoin exchanges need to be registered with the government and deposits cleared through the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), the same as commodity and stock exchanges.
Future plans for digital currencies
The country’s various bitcoin groups and businesses have previously held discussions over the possible formation of a chapter of the Bitcoin Foundation in India, and have also worked on a formal white paper to present to the Indian government.
Gupta said he and Vaisoha were also working to open a ‘bitcoin cafe’ in India, to demonstrate digital currency use in an everyday retail setting. Furthermore, Gupta is also involved with more advanced projects to develop the digital ecosystem in the future.
Images courtesy Bitcoin Alliance of India