The wave of self-immolation continues in Tibet amid the Chinese government’s reluctance to address the grievances of Tibetans. According to reports, more than 90 citizens from Tibet went ahead with the act of self-immolation, drenching their bodies in gasoline, sometimes even drinking kerosene, and then setting themselves on fire.
Lobsang Gedun, 29, a Buddhist monk burned himself to death on Monday in the western Chinese province of Qinghai. Protesting against Beijing’s oppressive rule, he set his body on fire, walked about 300 steps with hands folded in prayer posture and raised slogans before he collapsed dead on the ground.
The slogans of the self-immolators before dying manifest in praise of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader, and in condemnations of Beijing’s harsh, militarized rule in Tibet and the Tibetan areas of western China.
Taking note of the self-immolations, the Chinese authorities have barred observers from the United Nations, and international relief groups from entering Tibet. There are also reports that the Chinese authorities increased security and clamped down on the Internet and other communications in most of the areas where self-immolations have occurred.
As the death toll due to self-immolation in Tibet surpassed 90, officials from the Tibetan government-in-exile urged the international community, including the UN, EU and US, to approach the Chinese leadership and address the long-standing grievances of the Tibetan people through dialogue.
The Dalai Lama, on the other hand, displayed a muted response to the news of self-immolations, except to express sadness. In an interview with The Hindu, he referred to the immolations as a “very very delicate political issue.”
Apparently, the Dalai Lama does not want to endorse the self-immolations, and at the same time, he is reluctant to express anything negative about Buddhists setting themselves of fire.
Referring to the self-immolations, he mentions, “If I say something negative, then the family members of those people feel very sad. They sacrificed their… life. It is not easy. So I do not want to create some kind of impression that this is wrong.”
According to reports, the self-immolations by Tibetans are aimed at garnering the support of the international community with regard to opposition to Chinese rule and seeking the return of the Dalai Lama.
The spiritual leader of Tibet fled to India from Tibet after a failed national revolt against Chinese occupation in 1959 and set up the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamshala in India. The office of the Dalai Lama declared that the self-immolations underscore "political repression, economic marginalization, environmental destruction, and cultural assimilation" in Tibet.
Compared to the wave of protests and bloody violence that has swept the Middle East, starting from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, the scene in the Tibetan region of China presents another picture of protest against oppression. It is heartening to see desperate Tibetans setting themselves on fire and ending their lives in protest instead of resorting to violence.
The Influence of Dalai Lama and his philosophy of non-violence rule the heart and mind of his followers. However, there are speculations that the self-immolations may take a different form altogether and the thin line between violence and non-violence may be broken soon.
The younger breeds of Tibetans are increasingly inclined to aggressive protests over Chinese rule, and the Dalai Lama’s pursuit of non-violence may not find endorsement with the younger generation of Tibetans.
The world cannot ignore this delicate issue and keep pushing the Tibetan’s aspirations for freedom under the carpet for long. It’s time for world leaders to take up the issue of self-immolations seriously before more lives are lost to self-immolation.
Radio Free Asia