By Lobsang Wangyal
MCLEOD GANJ, India, 15 March 2012
Tibetans in Tibet have reacted to China’s repression and the severe restrictions on religious and cultural freedom in an extreme way, by self-immolation. Twenty-eight people have set themselves on fire since 2009, 16 of them in 2012 alone. All of them, before and during the act, called for freedom in Tibet and for China to let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet. At least 17 have died, and the whereabouts and current status of the others remain unknown.
The Kalon Tripa (Tibetan political leader-in-exile), Lobsang Sangay, has said that the self-immolations signify an emphatic rejection of the empty promises made by Chinese hard-liners. He said that the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration have always discouraged drastic actions such as self-immolation, but due to China’s treatment of Tibetans as second-class citizens, Tibetans are left with no choice and are driven to such extreme action.
Tibetan Parliament-in-exile says that the situation in Tibet is urgent, and that it is not fit to comment on whether the act of self-immolation is right or wrong, violent or non-violent.
China blames the exile Tibetan leadership for instigating the self-immolations in a bid to split Tibet from China. The Chinese authorities have described the self-immolations as “terrorism in disguise”.
The international community — the governments, the United Nations, and other rights groups — have chosen to turn away from the continued tragedy in Tibet. The question Tibetans ask is, how many more lives need to be lost for the world to pay attention to the Tibetan issue.
Why are Tibetans setting themselves on fire? Secondly, how long can the world look away while Tibet is burning? And thirdly, who will have the responsiblity for the loss of these lives, and those that may occur in future?