By Yeshi Dorje
In a little restaurant near Kathmandu, a young Tibetan man approached a Western woman and told her that Tibet is a beautiful country and that he loved his country very much. What sounded like a casual conversation turned out to be a solemn statement.
"He [then] dragged me to behind a door of the café," the unnamed woman told Tibet Center for Human Rights and Democracy. Behind that door, he took out a lighter and asked her to take a picture of him. He posed but no photo was snapped. Little did she know it was his last request to a fellow human being. Within minutes, he set himself on fire just outside that restaurant, which faces the Boudhanath Stupa. Couple of hours later, he died at Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu. It was on February 13, the third day of Tibetan New Years.
Nearly after 6 weeks, on Monday, the Nepali government secretly cremated his body at midnight so that not a single Tibetan monk or a nun could attend to do a prayer. In fact, the Tibetans and Nepali human rights organizations didn't know about it until next day when they were told that the body was no longer in the hospital. Nepali District government gave the body to the police who then cremated it at Pasupati Temple, a Hindu cremation site. Even after two days, one local Tibetan says there is no mention about it in the local news. The secrecy in Nepal has made Duptse's story remain incomplete.
Duptse (also, Dupchen Tsering), 25, was a monk who grew up in Serta County, Ganze Prefecture, which is today under Situation Province of China. He was a son of a Tibetan lama. According to tradition, he was in line to become a lama himself and take over his father's religious position. He was the only son to the lama that heads Gyalchug Monastery, a small but well established monastery near the famous Larung Gar Buddhist institute.
According to Tsultrim Serta, a member of Tibetan parliament in exile who is from the same area, Duptse was well traveled in China and his family owns a house in Chengdu. While many Tibetan refugees walk across the Himalayas on foot to avoid the Chinese border guards, Duptse came with a passport, a privilege that mainly well-connected individuals in Tibet enjoy today.
He was not the first lama (or lama to be in his case) to self-immolate for the cause of Tibetan freedom. And judging from the numbers of Tibetans from all walks of life to self-immolate in Tibetan areas in recent years, perhaps his wealth and social status might not raise valid questions about why he would set himself on fire. But what remains unanswered is why he decided to go outside Tibet to burn himself to death.
Duptse arrived in Kathmandu on January 17. After registering at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Kathmandu three days later, he repeatedly requested the UNHCR authorities to send him to India before the Tibetan New Year, according to several individuals some of whom want to remain anonymous. Tsultrim Selta believes that Duptse had planned to self-immolate in India on the same day. Some of the most recent self-immolations in Tibet occurred before the sunrise, which might be an indication of the lack of possibility to set themselves on fire during the day time.
There is no information about why he chose that day, but many Tibetan groups commemorated the day as the 100th anniversary of the 13th Dalai Lama's official statement to remind the world that Tibet was an independent nation. Last year on that day, a monk in Ngapa Kirti Monastery named Lobsang Gyatso self-immolated. Kirti Monastery, which is about 280 km from Duptse's hometown, was the first place where the self-immolation movement took place and has most steadily maintained. It was also Wednesday which is observed today by many Tibetans as a Tibetan cultural and language preservation day. They call it the "Lhakar" Day.
Mr. Serta and several other observers presume the reason he chose to self-immolate in exile was that he wanted make sure the world can see his self-immolation, but didn't want to put any of his fellow Tibetans at risk.
Duptse had a lot to consider. Not only his family's safety but also welfare of his monastery, which is managed by his father, could have been at stake had he self-immolated in Tibet.
But unfortunately, for the Tibetans, Nepal is not a free place to do political activities against China either, which is perhaps the reason he wanted to go to India so desperately before Losar (Tibetan New Year).
Sudip Pathak, the president of the Nepal Human Rights Organization based in Kathmandu, said last week that after an unsuccessful attempt to have the body returned to Tibetans, his group chose a "middle way" to negotiate with the government. He asked Kathmandu to allow Tibetan monks to conduct prayers at the cremation and that the government can cremate the body instead of returning it to Tibetans. Mr. Pathak believes China is pressuring his government not to let the body incite any further public gathering or media attention.
The dilemma after his death is perhaps what Druptse went through before deciding to sacrifice himself for the cause he believed in. He wanted to get media attention without causing harm to anyone.
Since the beginning of December 2012, the Chinese government has been loudly declaring that it is criminalizing any involvement with self-immolations. Posters spread in the streets of Tibetan towns. Some newspapers carried out the announcement and "work teams" of Chinese authorities continue to spread throughout Tibetan towns and villages to propagate the government policy.
On February 8, China Daily reported 70 people were arrested in connection with self-immolations in Tsolho (Ch: Huangnan) Tibetan prefecture alone. Many who were accused of being connected with self-immolations in different Tibetan areas received lengthy prison sentences. An uncle of a self-immolator in Ngapa Tibetan Prefecture has been given a death sentence with two-year probation. In the midst of such intensification and arrests, Duptse left Tibet. But even in Nepal, he must have felt responsible for the risk he might be putting anyone suspected of involvement with his action.
"Why did he ask a western woman to take his picture?" one observer, who also wants to remain anonymous, questions. "Today everyone has cameras and he could have asked any Tibetan to take a picture of him in Kathmandu." Gathering different information from new sources, it seems Duptse went directly to the bathroom in the cafe after his unsuccessful attempt to have a photo taken and doused himself with gasoline. Then he ran outside and clicked the lighter he was holding.
There is no word of what he called for when he walked in flames at the holy stupa, nor is there any report of notes he left behind. But the simple statement, that Tibet was very beautiful and that he loved it so much, he told the tourist in the restaurant demystifies why Tibetans are self-immolating
In the West, people say, "Life is too beautiful to give up." For Duptse, Tibet was too beautiful to give up and he was willing to sacrifice his own life for her.
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