By Tsewang Rigzin
How many more lives should be sacrificed? This is the painful question in the mind of all Tibetans. Millions of Tibetans have died for freedom. Every Tibetan family has been affected and in many ways suffered as a direct consequence of China’s continued occupation of Tibet.
My grandfather, for instance, served 27 years in Chinese gulag in Tibet. When I was with him in Tibet, he never told me anything about the torture and miseries of prison years, fearing the political consequences that I might suffer leaking it from my young and untamed mouth.
While there is increasing awareness and respect for human right and individual freedom in the world, repression, on the other hand has amplified in Tibet. The recent wave of self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet and diaspora are but a reflection of the oppressors’ brutality and Tibetans’ passion and determination to be free.
Although the self-immolations might not result in immediate political solutions, nevertheless these acts of heroism and selfless sacrifices are highly honourable and should never be forgotten. It is important to mention here that if they wanted, those Tibetans who immolated themselves could have chosen to sacrifice themselves through an act of suicide bombing or in other similar ways.
Being a Buddhist, I consider these acts as acts of Bodhisattva. The legend tells us how, in a previous life, the Buddha took compassion on a starving tigress and sacrificed himself in order to prevent the tigress from eating her new-born cubs. Another story tells us how Buddha in his previous life killed a merchant who had planned to kill 499 of his fellow merchants on a boat to acquire their riches during their voyage. These legends clearly show that ultimately it is the motivation behind the act which determines whether it is noble or not.
The noble intentions of those immolators were clearly evident from the statements of Sopa Rinpoche and Jamphel Yeshi, before they burned themselves. Lama Sopa Rinpoche in his voice recording states: “I am giving away my body as an offering of light to chase away the darkness. I am taking this action neither for myself nor to fulfil a personal desire nor to earn an honour. I am sacrificing my body with the firm conviction and a pure heart just as the Buddha bravely gave his body to a hungry tigress (to stop her from eating her cubs)1.”
Jamphel Yeshi in his last written statement mentioned: “Freedom is the basis of happiness for all living beings. Without freedom, six million Tibetans are like a butter lamp in the wind, without direction. My fellow Tibetans from Three Provinces, it is clear to us all that if we unitedly put our strength together, there will be result. So, don't be disheartened2.”
These acts of selflessness and heroism clearly expose the brutality of Chinese rule and more importantly it reflects the Tibetan peoples’ passion for freedom.
A closer analysis of the 38 self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet and exile shows a painful yet an inspiring picture. Out of the 55 political self-immolations globally from the beginning of this decade3, 35 were carried out by Tibetans in Tibet and exile. This constitutes a mind boggling 64% of the total political self-immolations in the world and thus makes it one of the biggest waves of political self-immolations in recent history.
Of the 38 cases of self-immolations, 37 i.e. 97% of the self-immolators are below the age of 45, which means that they were all born after the initial occupation of Tibet by China. Furthermore 66% of the self-immolator fall under the age of 25. This clearly disproves the Chinese hardline leaders’ assumption that the issue of Tibet will weaken and finally disappear when His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama passes away. On the contrary, the determination and willingness of Tibetans to endure punishment4 and suffering for greater freedom is ever increasing especially among the younger generation.
Of the 33 cases of self-immolations inside Tibet, 32 i.e. 97% of immolations occurred outside the so called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This clearly shows that the political will of the Tibetan people for freedom stretches beyond China’s demarcation of Tibet and into the entire three traditional province of Tibet i.e. U-tsang, Do-toe and Do-mey.
While Tibet continues to burn and cry for peace and freedom, the United Nations remains shamefully silent. I find it awfully shocking and disgusting to see that three Tibetans had to starve themselves for 30 days in-front of the United Nations’ Headquarter5 to break the silence of an organization whose main purpose6 as mentioned in their Charter is, prevention of threat to peace and defend against act of aggression. In line with United Nations, most of the countries also remained silent on recent self-immolations in Tibet because of their own economic and political interests.
While reliance on external powers like United Nations and others is not yielding positive results, I believe it is of utmost importance that the strength and resistance skills of Tibetans themselves has to be increased and strengthened to create strong and united self-reliant forces. There are ample of evidences to show that such strong and united self-reliant force is the real power which is responsible for the fall of most of the dictatorships around the world. As Gene Sharp puts it “Against a strong self-reliant force, given wise strategy, disciplined and courageous action, and genuine strength, the dictatorship will eventually crumble7”
Unless and until the Chinese leadership decides to genuinely address the real issues and reasons for the self-immolations, it is clear that the wave of self-immolations is likely to continue. So, instead of exacerbating the situation by unproductive counteractions like increased security operations and renewed repression and, even worse, pointing fingers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the exile Tibetan leadership for instigating self-immolations, it is in the greater interest of China to find the real cause of unrest in Tibet and work for a lasting solution for putting an end to these acts of political defiance and to bring about a harmonious society in the real sense. Tsewang Rigzin is a developmental professional based in Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgThe 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.
1. As translated by Bhuchung D Sonam. The full transcript of voice recording of Lama Sopa Rinpoche is available at http://tibetanpoliticalreview/articles/tibetanlamaurgesunitynationhoodbeforeself-immolating
2. A point from 5 points last statement of Pawo Jamphel as translated by Shiwapa K. Pasang
3. Political self-immolation in the world (Jan 2010-30th March 2012) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_political_self-immolations
4. Gene Sharp, Sharps’ dictionary of power and struggle. Essay on Power and Realism, Sharp cites six main sources of political power i.e. authority, human resources, skills and knowledge of those people, intangible factors, material resources and sanctions or punishment.
5. Tibetan Youth Congress launches “Indefinite Fast for Tibet” on 28th Feb 2012 in front of the United Nations with three hunger strikers and appeals for sending fact finding delegation to assess the critical situation in Tibet among others.
6. Charter of United Nation , Article 1, Purposes of United Nation,
7. Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A conceptual framework for liberalization. Facing dictatorship realistically.