There has been international concern expressed regarding the recent spate of self-immolation by Tibetans in the vicinity of Ngaba in Eastern Tibet. A coordinated campaign has been launched to demand the intervention of governments and the United Nations to call upon the Chinese Regime to lift the repressive constraints applied to Tibetan monasteries, and for international delegations to be granted a visit to determine the situation.
The reports of young Tibetans setting themselves ablaze has shocked and saddened many with a very understandable call for action, in what has been described as a desperate situation that prompted such incidents. On December 1 2011 Tenzin Phuntsog. a monk reportedly from Karma monastery in Chamdo, which is within the U-Tsang Region of occupied Tibet, was one Tibetan who self-immolated. Little wonder that social sites such as Facebook and Twitter have seen streams of posts on various campaigns, and events, to both express solidarity with the protests, and demand an end to China’s oppressive policies. Such actions are of course of immense value in terms of focusing attention on the issue of Tibet, and on a personal level enabling people to demonstrate their concern and sympathies for these sacrifices.
The horrifying nature of these acts of sacrifice naturally produces a response of profound sadness and grief, leading to the very reasonable conclusion that such loss-of-life was a tragic waste, born from sense of despair at the relentless tyranny endured by Tibet’s people. Such a view is eminently understandable, yet if we look a little more closely at these disturbing events, instead of witnessing the despairing actions of individuals unable to to tolerate China’s vicious repression we can observe something entirely different. To realize such an understanding we must first ask ourselves what was the political nature of the action itself? In all the incidents of self-immolation, in and around Kirti Monastery at Ngaba, Tibet’s freedom and complete independence was demanded, along with calls for a return of the Dalai Lama.
The protests were not about human rights as so atrociously suggested by one English free-Tibet group nor were they demanding improved religious freedoms, the objective and action itself was entirely about Tibetan national freedom. In that sense we can begin to see that far from acting on an impulse of harrowing desperation, these individuals had chosen to make the ultimate sacrifice, not from a selfish interest, but as an action in support of their nation and rightful cause. While these self-immolations have understandably elicited huge sympathy and sadness we should ask ourselves in deciding to take their lives were these Tibetans seeking our sympathy, or were they seeking our support for their cause?
There is indeed misery stalking the lands of Tibet, a sense of sadness and frustration at China’s colonization and exploitation, yet there is also resistance, courage and a willingness to rise against China’s occupation, as evidenced by countless demonstrations, and these latest events. It is of course deeply troubling that these young Tibetans have offered up their lives in such a violent and shocking manner, yet while our sympathy goes to their grieving families, perhaps we honor more appropriately their sacrifice if we recognize the motivation and objective of their actions which was expressed, not through despair, but determination, spirit and inspiring dedication to Tibet’s independence.