A comment on the background of self-immolations from inside Tibet.
by Snow Prince (pseudonym)
Every year, a great number of traditional Tibetan festivals are celebrated in Lhasa: Sagadawa, the month of Buddha, in June; Shoton, the yoghurt festival with its operas in summer, or our great scholar Tshongkhapa's commemoration day with thousands of lit butter lamps in winter. The festivals start with thousands of believers pouring into town, doing prostrations and circumambulations in a spirit of faith and devotion, and end amidst their prayers full of joy, inspiration and reverence. However, this year's festivals started with the terror of the guns of innumerable policemen and soldiers who checked every single Tibetan, and they ended with terrified cries and trampling.
Usually, these festivals show our grandfathers’ compassion and our grandmothers’ blessings, our fathers’ laughs and mothers’ smiles. One can see young men dancing and young women singing, one can smell the incense burning and see flickering butter lamps, which makes for a heavenly atmosphere. This year, though, there was nothing but fear and worries. Nothing but mistrust and investigations, brutality and oppression, restrictions and detentions. Especially during last year's Sagadawa, many of my fellow Tibetans were arrested and interrogated through no fault of their own and then thrown out of Lhasa. Some believers from all parts of Tibet were not allowed to enter Lhasa for pilgrimage at all. Do I have to mention that these kinds of actions, which are neither rooted in law nor tradition, spark a blaze of pain and create a feeling of anger like a swelling tumor in the mind of every Tibetan?
Why do we have to go to prison, having committed no crime at all? Why do we have to be interrogated? Why do we have to leave our businesses, our studies or our jobs and be deported to another region, without any power to resist? Why are all our people considered suspects and criminals? Does the government also consider our eighty and ninety-year-old grandfathers and grandmothers, our children who attend elementary school, suspicious criminals? They call us “separatists,” but isn’t that exactly what they are doing with their policies? Isn't that discrimination? Isn't that dictatorship? Isn't that slavery? (These terms are used by the Communist Party to criticize Tibet’s political system prior to the Chinese invasion, and to villainize those who request more autonomy for Tibetans.)
If the 21st century is the century of liberation everywhere in the world – who will notice our suffering? Last year, the most important international event was Syria and the most important national one was the island struggle between China and Japan. Syria now has the unique opportunity to liberate itself from the tyranny of dictatorship through the ongoing inevitable uprising. There are very sad news coming from there. But there, at least, the masses have the freedom to shout. Concerning the island dispute between China and Japan, it is just about the respective profits. In both cases, the UN and the presidents of various countries show a lot of concern and pay a lot of attention. But to us, who do not even have the most basic human rights at all, nobody shows concern or helps us.
Recently, South Sudan obtained independence through a vote, democracy was increased in Libya through military power, the freedom of Burma was established through peaceful means. But for us, in stark contrast, dark times have arrived. What is more, we have lost hope in the UN, the International Human Rights Commission, the International Court of Justice, the leaders of any nation, or any other relevant organizations. We have reluctantly become mistrustful towards them. We have grown a strong feeling that they do not think about anything else but economic benefit as we could not see/experience any other value in them.
When I wanted to return to Lhasa last fall – having been expelled from there three months earlier – I could only do so after obtaining a permit from my hometown. Without such a permit, Tibetans from regions outside the T.A.R. can no longer travel to Lhasa. I could only see Chinese people on the train. Every day many trains full of people from different places in mainland China arrive in Lhasa. Most of the passengers come to Lhasa in search of profit; it’s all they are interested in. Among them there are thieves, robbers, scammers, swindlers, prostitutes, and even murderers, people who have killed somebody in mainland China and now flee to Tibet. Together we travelled to Lhasa, and when we arrived at the station, some of us Tibetans were singled out and checked right away by armed police who led us at gunpoint into their courtyard. Those who did not have the right documents were deported back at once. Even those in possession of the permit had to spend two or three days getting properly registered before finally being allowed to stay in Lhasa like submissive little mice. On the contrary, the ”great” Chinese people do not have to face anything like that upon their arrival in Lhasa – instead, they attain unprecedented freedom and experience previously unknown opportunities. They keep their heads up and can carry out any kind of work without restriction because for them, Tibet is a land of freedom.
Usually, if one sees a policeman or soldier, a feeling of security, even joy, arises; a perception of being supported and safe, and feelings of respect, because they are the guardians of law and order in a nation. But in Tibet, as soon as one sees a policeman or soldier, only feelings of fear and panic well up, feelings of worry and mistrust, the reason being that they abuse their power by randomly interrogating and checking people indiscriminately, even imprisoning people without any reason.
Once when I was on my way through the old town of Lhasa, they stopped me and asked me where I lived and what I was doing, whether I had a residence permit and where I was going. They even wanted to know which tea house I was going to and whom I would be meeting. I did not have the option to say: This is my private business. They might even have asked which toilet I use and how often I pee! Once a friend was walking to Ramoche monastery, the second most-important monastery in the old town, and was interrogated at seven such "stops" on the way. Let's not even talk about our main temple, the Jokhang, or the Potala, the former home of the Dalai Lama! So, where is our freedom of movement? Where is our freedom of speech? Of thought? Of possessions?
Under these circumstances flames of anger have pervaded all Tibetan regions, Utsang, Amdo and Kham, and they are burning in the mind of each and every Tibetan. A considerable number of our great Tibetan brothers and sisters have set their own bodies on fire, and some even did it abroad. Setting one’s own body on fire is not a naturally occurring matter. It is a path chosen by those who did not have a choice. These fellow Tibetans come from different places and families, have different backgrounds, are of different sex and age. They all are heroes. They have sacrificed their own precious lives and youth for the sake of our homeland. It is definitely not the case that they have done it because they cannot cope with their own lives. They have given everything, entirely for our homeland. When will their great aspirations come true?
There are no words to describe the dimension of their sacrifice. By offering their own blood they have made a contribution that will be passed on from generation to generation; our people and our people's history will forever be deeply indebted to them. They have touched us profoundly and also caused suffering, the reason being that they have, for our sake and with their own blood, started a new blazing chapter of our history. This must not be forgotten by our homeland, it must not be forgotten by anyone who belongs here. Our generation is burdened with the duty of such sacrifice.
Others can shout and demonstrate to express their disagreement and protest; we have to protest by giving our cherished lives. Why is that? The foundation for the path of our progress and for a bright future for our homeland has been laid through sacrifice of blood and years of youth. Don’t we have to step on this founding stone to strive for the peak of the mountain?
In the end, I would like to say to the Chinese leaders: You obviously do not want to see the truth, but instead of throwing us into prison, instead of checking us and imposing restrictions, the best approach would be to talk to us. If you do not want to change anything, then you have lost your right to govern us. In that case, the value of what you call a “fraternal nationalities relationship” has also been lost. That is not only your loss, but also a tragedy for the entire world.
The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
The author is a Tibetan living in Lhasa, Tibet. The above has been translated from the Tibetan original.