Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why Is Tibet Burning?

95 Tibetans have self-immolated for freedom from over 60 years of oppression. 

The Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet's government in exile, explains... 

Please help Tibet: Solidarity with Tibet

THE BURNING QUESTION: Why are Tibetans Turning to Self-immolation?
Department of Information and International Relations
Central Tibetan Administration
Dharamshala, India

Since China invaded Tibet in 1949,
it has ruled with an iron fist.
The ongoing series of self-immolations
are acts of protest against
China's polices in Tibet.

Today Tibet is under military lockdown.
The trigger is Beijing's paranoia over Tibetans setting their bodies on fire,
turning themselves into human torches for freedom.

From February 2009 to August 2012, the toll was 51 self-immolations, 40 dead and the others' fate largely unknown.

-Map: Self-immolations in Tibet (As of August 27, 2012)-

Monks, nuns, lay men and women, mostly young and robust,
soak themselves in flammable liquids and shout slogans while
the flames consume their flesh.

Their stages are town squares, crowded markets,
government headquarters and military camps,
public places and any locations that symbolize
China's iron-fisted rule over Tibet.

Unlike the self-immolation by monks in the 1960s during the Vietnam war, and Bouazizi's action in Tunisia which ignited the Arab Spring, Tibet's human sacrifices are yet to bring any tangible results.

- The Lede: Glimpses of a Chinese Town Under Lockdown-

The world's response has been mainly muted, with
foreign media and tourists banned from entering Tibet.
Who sees, knows, and can truly understand what is happening there?

-In the latest of a spate of self-immolation protests against Chinese policies, a 19-year-old Tibetan monk set himself on fire on Monday in the rugged western Chinese town of Aba, the advocacy group Free Tibet said in an e-mailed statement. It was the 23rd self-immolation by a Tibetan since last...-
In 2008, the year that led up to these self-immolations,
the scene was different.

The media and visitors were welcomed to marvel at Beijing's Olympic games. But instead of basking in glory, China faced an uprising across Tibet. A rebellion erupted against 59 years of deeply resented colonial rule.

Immediately, paramilitary troops and armored tanks were deployed,
and cameras of foreign correspondents and citizen journalists
recorded the true face of human rights in Tibet.

The uprising in Tibet became headline news,
and so Beijing's lockdown began.

Emboldened by the recession and financial woes in the West,
and facing political uncertainty at home,
China's leadership is in denial over the wave of
self-immolations recurring in Tibet.

Despite the overwhelming military and police presence in protest
hotspots and imposition of de-facto martial law, cries of
"Return the Dalai Lama to Tibet!" "We want  freedom!" and, "No human rights in Tibet!"
keep erupting spontaneously from Tibetan bodies spurting flames.

Does Tibet have a history of self-immolations?

The answer is 'No.'

Buddhism teaches that all sentient life is precious.
During the darkest decades of suffering under Mao's
Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution there were cases of suicide, but never displays of humans publicly torching themselves.

So, this begs the question:

Why is this happening now?

-China lock-down seals off Tibetan unrest-

With Internet and phone lines blocked,
and media and foreign tourists banned,
it has been hard to grasp the reality
of Tibet's current situation.

Reporters Without Borders described media access to Lhasa
as even worse than Pyongyang.

-"Out of sight of the world, a major crisis is unfolding. Even Pyongyang has an
international media presence, which is not the case in Lhasa."-

When a team of journalists from BBC and CNN attempted to reach the regions of most self-immolations in eastern Tibet, claimed by China as Sichuan,
they were detained, questioned and threatened with laws of the [inaudible.]

The police held us for 9 hours. They tried to force us to sign a document promising that we would not attempt to enter Tibetan areas again. When we refused, well, then they threatened us. They said that within two days, our visas could be cancelled, and we could be expelled from the country.


Having cut Tibet off from the watching world,
China then launched into a campaign of disinformation
through state media.

-Map: Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture-

The self-immolators are either described as violent terrorists, mentally unstable, or
ignorant villagers knowing nothing about today's world.

Since the majority of those who have set fire to themselves,
are young, and monks or former monks,
Beijing propaganda claims that rather than being politically motivated,
they have been brainwashed by religious leaders and their teachers.


The blame is then diverted across the Himalayas
to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his so-called Dalai Clique in India.

They stand accused of offering cash incentives
for any debts or injuries through self-immolation,
and actually engineering and fomenting
this new resistance to China's rule over Tibet.

This documentary addresses the background,
the fundamental causes and events that led to
this fiery outburst of protest across the plateau.

Perhaps more importantly, it will explain how Tibetans themselves
view these unprecedented actions,
and articulate their hopes for an outcome that
will make all the suffering worthwhile.

-A single spark...-

On February 27, 2009, a 20-something monk at Kirti Monastery,
heard that the authorities had cancelled that day's major
religious ceremony.

Within half an hour, Tapi was in the main square of Ngaba town,
soaked in oil, waving the banned Tibetan flag,
shouting slogans as he set himself on fire.

Before the flames were extinguished,
he was shot by the People's Armed Police,
and then his body was dragged away.

This was the first in Tibet's chain of self-immolations.
Whether Tapi is dead or alive is uncertain.

For Mao Zedong, religion was poison,
and for today's leadership in Beijing,
Tibet's monasteries and nunneries are still their prime targets.

The late 1990s saw classic Mao's era methods and campaigns
introduced to control monks and nuns.

First, patriotic education was imposed, and later,
Democratic Management Committees took over the day-to-day running of
Tibet's religious establishments.

Since then, monastic education places love and loyalty for the Great Motherland
on a higher throne than studying and practicing the Buddhadharma.

Monks and nuns spend half their days memorizing party propaganda,
but most painful of all, they are forced to sign pledges
denouncing His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Surveillance and control have spiraled across the plateau since 2008's spontaneous uprisings.

A communist party cell is now embedded in all Democratic Management Committees, and government officials directly rule religious establishments.

Given this targeted control over Buddhist life,
it is no coincidence that out of 51 self-immolations until
August 2012, 30 are from Ngaba,
and 20 are by young monks and former monks.

Two nuns who died are from a nearby nunnery.
With Kirti Monastery and Ngaba town under lockdown,
policed by crack military units of the People's Liberation Army,
it is clear that Kirti monks are being further radicalized.

Their monastery is now a de-facto prison.

And to further enhance patriotism in monks and nuns,
since November 2011,
portraits of four leaders of communist China,
plus the PRC's flag,
must be displayed in all monastic buildings.

-Lhasa 2008-

To achieve Hu Jintao's 'harmonious society,'
Beijing now spends more on domestic security,
including policing and surveillance,
than on its defense budget.

In Eastern Tibet's Ngaba county alone,
spending on public security in 2009,
was five times higher than in the non-Tibetan regions of Sichuan.

The escalating outlay is certainly due to the
spate of self-immolations and related protests,
and in turn, the heavy security presence leads to social confrontation
and the alienation of all Tibetans.

Although the PRC has produced no credible evidence
that Kirti Monastery has
been involved in the self-immolations by its monks and former monks, both the local community and Kirti residents are taking the blame.

The aftermath of every fiery action sees police raids, and arrests,
road blocks, and intimidating parades of military force.

In retaliation for Kirti Monastery's monk, Phuntsok,
setting fire to himself in March 2011,
armed paramilitary troops placed the monastery under siege,
cutting off food and water supplies.

The patriotic education campaign was stepped up and made compulsory.
A month later, ten military trucks drove 300 Kirti monks
away for political indoctrination,
under the guise of 'legal education.'

The fate of those who didn't return is in doubt.

Today, for a monk to get leave from his monastery,
three letters by guarantors are demanded.

In addition to civilian and military police patrols,
a special unit has been deployed to Ngaba
to strike hard against violent terrorist activities.

-Dharamsala, India-

-Kirti Rnpoche
Abbot of Kirti Monastery-

"China's constitution protects the right to believe or not to believe in religion.
A Buddhist may be defined as the one who seeks refuge in the Three Jewels:
the Buddha, his teachings and his community.

Tibetan Buddhists revere their spiritual masters
and His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their Buddha.

Although China claims to protect religious freedom,
the so-called 'patriotic education campaign,' 
forces Tibetan monks and nuns to denounce their spiritual masters.

They are not allowed to maintain any relation with their spiritual masters.
They are not allowed to follow the teachings of their spiritual masters.

This is causing unbearable pain in the hearts and minds of Tibetan people.
They will, however, not forsake their objects of refuge,
even at the cost of their lives.

Since 1959, the Tibetan monasteries have been
the main target of crackdown.

They are viewed as the hotbed of reactionaries,
the main target of the hostility of the Chinese officials.

-Lhasa 1989-

Since campaigns after campaigns were waged inside the monasteries,
the situation today has reached a breaking point.

Tibetan monasteries are the centers of learning and scholarship.
They are the preservers of Tibetan cultural heritage.
They are not a tourist spot or a museum.

The Chinese policies have turned Tibetan monasteries into sightseeing objects,
and money-making entities, a place where they entertain tourists
by hosting elaborate masked dance shows.

-Kirti Rinpoche, Abbot of Kirti Monastery-

Let alone the restriction on the Tibetan monasteries,
the Chinese authorities have gone so far as to modify
Tibetan Buddhism to suit their political ends.

This is absolutely impossible.
You can't stop flames from leaping up
or waters flowing down.

Tibetan Buddhism is based on scientific principles.
You can't make arbitrary changes in Buddhism
and conform it to the polices of the Chinese Communist Party."

Prison sentences of 10 to 13 years were given to three Kirti monks
in September 2011, for allegedly helping 20 year old Phuntsok set fire to himself,
and sheltering him inside the monastery until he died.

China condemns self-immolation as an extreme act of violence by terrorists,
and a gross violation of the fundamental principles of Buddhism.

-Jiang Yu, Spokesman, Chinese Foreign Ministry-

"This behavior, which ignores life and violates moral standards,
should be condemned.
We note that, after these incidents,
the overseas Tibet independence force,
the Dalai Clique,
has not denounced this extreme behavior,
but publicly glorified it."

Tibetan religious scholars are educated to know better.
The explanation of Sopa Rinpoche carries added authenticity.

-Tulku Sonam Wangyal-

"This learned lama, in his early 40s, died on January 8, 2012,
in Amdo Golok.

Before drinking kerosene and lighting his robes,
he recorded the following message:

...I am giving away my body as an
offering of light to chase away the
darkness, to free all beings
from suffering...

I am sacrificing my body with a 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]."

-Forced settlement of Tibetan nomads...-

While a majority of the self-immolators are monks and nuns,
nearly half of those who have burned themselves
have their roots in traditionally nomad regions of Tibet.

Out of a population of 6 million,
it is the 2 million hardy and independent nomads whose lifestyles and livelihoods have suffered the most under the communist yoke.

Today, 1.5 million of them are corralled into state-controlled villages. This was the background of Rinchen, a mother of four,
who set herself alight on March 4, 2012,
near the military camp close to Ngaba town.

Since her husband died, she had been raising her children,
ranging from a few months to early teens, alone.

"We need freedom!" she shouted as the flames engulfed her body.

-Zamthang, Tibet-

This dying cry for freedom, by a single parent,
exemplifies the crisis building up inside Tibet.

The mood of resistance to the Chinese Communist Party is strong,

The nomads of Tibet have been free to graze their yaks and sheep
across the lush grasslands of the high plateau for over four thousand years.

But when Beijing introduced compulsory settlement in 1998,
the official reason was that overgrazing is leading to environmental
degradation and soil erosion.

Until then, nomads and the complex habitat,
had co-existed in productive harmony for millennia.

These resettlement villages in remote locations,
offer no chance of employment,
and without livestock, the inherited skills of nomads have no value.

With unemployment the accepted norm,
many females have been forced into the sex trade,
while they watch their men-folk turn to alcohol.

Knowing that the lands they are surrounded with are rich in minerals, rare earths, ores and other natural resources that the PRC is hungry for, the nomads of Tibet only see their future as bleak.

-Tibetan language and freedom...-

Like many nomad children, Tseringkyi started school when she was ten. But her zeal made up for lost time.
According to her cousin, she always had a book in her hand
while tending the family's livestock.

Passion for learning turned to despair on the day she heard
that the authorities were switching the language of instruction
in schools in her native Amdo from Tibetan to Chinese.

On March 3, 2012, just before the start of the spring semester,
Tseringkyi emerged from a public toilet in the market of a local town. Gasoline soaked blankets wrapped around her body
were bound tight with wire.

As the flames leapt over her head, she raised a defiant fist,
before slumping to the ground.
She died on the spot. Tseringkyi was twenty.

Language has become an explosive issue across Tibet.
As Chinese has taken over from Tibetan as the only official channel of official communication and dominates the entire education system,
monolingual rural Tibetans feel like foreigners in their own land.

By devaluing their language, Tibetans are being deliberately marginalized.
This policy denies them employment.

In 2006, Lhasa University students, protested when 98 out of 100
government jobs went to Chinese stream graduates.

That left two posts for Tibetan language applicants.

And in September 2010, hundreds of angry graduates from Lhasa's
institute of Tibetan traditional medicine
demonstrated in front of T.A.R. government offices.

Their banners demanded an increase in work opportunities.

A year later, student demonstrations erupted in the northeast,
when the teaching of Tibetan in highly literate Amdo
was to be fully downgraded.

The massive gatherings were widespread and the banners read:
"Equality of nationalities," "Freedom of languages.

These protests soon spread from Amdo to Beijing,
with 400 students demanding freedom of language at the Minorities Nationalities University in the capitol.

Tibetan, both written and spoken,
is the very bedrock of the nation's identity, religion and culture.

Being one of Asia's seminal languages and one of its four oldest,
Tibetan also has unique historical value.

As a Tibetan blogger best put it,
"Taking away a person's language
is not the same as taking the bread out of someone's pouch.
It is like having your tongue pulled out of your mouth."

-China's colonial policies...-

Until May 27, 2012, there had been no self-immolations in Tibet's historical capital, Lhasa.
Undaunted by the pervasive military and police patrols that day,
Thargey and Dorje Tsedan protested against China's rule over Tibet
by torching themselves in front of the sacred 7th century Jokhang Temple.

Thargey was 25 and Dorje, 19.
Both had moved to Lhasa from eastern Tibet and were working in a restaurant.

The twin immolations in May led to several hundred Tibetans from eastern provinces currently living in Lhasa, being arbitrarily expelled.
This was part of a drastic security clampdown to
avert Tibetan protest, a militarization that is still very visible on the streets of Lhasa.

A Chinese net citizen reports,
"Lhasa is crawling with riot police.
In gas stations, temples, power stations, intersections - everywhere there are riot police carrying guns. There are even armored cars patrolling the pedestrian walkways."

Another observer comments,
"When taking pictures in front of the Potala Palace, you can't sit or lay down on the ground. Otherwise, Uncle Riot Police will come and get you."
Kalsang Gyaltsen Bawa, China Analyst:
"China's current Tibet policy is based on two fundamental principles, economic development and social stability.

Under their policy of maintaining social stability,
the entire blame for the current lack of stability in Tibet is heaped on the so-called Dalai Clique, which is His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan administration in exile.

Everything that happens in the Tibet, including activities related with the preservation of Tibetan religion, culture and language,
all these are labelled as inciting separatism and endangering state security, and under this pretext, the Chinese authorities have
adopted a policy of unrestrained use of force and an extreme policy of arbitrary detention, torture and killings.

This is one of the main reasons behind the current crisis in Tibet.

Secondly, under the slogan of economic development, the Chinese authorities have initiated campaigns like the Rail Tibet project, and promotion of tourism and development of infrastructure.

However, the real policy behind these campaigns is to facilitate Chinese population transfer into Tibet.

After flooding Tibet with Chinese people, their aim is to dilute Tibetan religion, culture, and linguistic identity.

The people inside Tibet therefore fear that the ultimate aim behind China's current Tibet policy is to wipe out the very identity of Tibetan people.

There was, as a result, a series of protest movements inside Tibet.
The main cause behind the current crisis of self-immolations by Tibetans is therefore China's defective policies in Tibet."

In Lhasa today, there are reportedly more Chinese than Tibetans,
more soldiers than monks, and more surveillance cameras than windows.
Thubten Samphel, Director of Tibet Policy Institute:
"It is no coincidence that the increasing number of self-immolations in Tibet
took place when His Holiness was in the process of devolving all
his political authority to an elected Tibetan leader.

In this way that the Tibetans in Tibet regret the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is no longer Tibet's political leader.

And this comes as a cause of deep remorse.
All of them, without exception, want His Holiness to return to Tibet, and they feel that His Holiness, leading the Tibetan people in his political role, is no longer an option.

On the other hand, I feel there's a sense of alienation amongst young Tibetans in Tibet, that in exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has devolved his political authority to an elected leader. So, when Tibetans see this event, they feel that, given a chance,
Tibetans have the capacity to elect a leader whose authority has been inherited from the traditional institution of the Dalai Lama.
So, this.. when there were developments from Tibet, in the exile community, there's a sense of alienation; at the same time, there's a sense of deep regret, that this ability of Tibetans to elect their political authority is denied to them by a reluctant, very stubborn leadership in Beijing.

So, I feel, these two factors might have played a role in the number of self-immolations we see in Tibet."

In spite of Beijing's punitive colonial policies in Tibet,
alienating every section of the population, the PRC's propaganda
machinery insists that self-immolations are being instigated and choreographed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his associates in exile.

-Hong Lei, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman-

So what is the Central Tibetan Administration's position on this burning issue?

Since the Dalai Lama devolved his political and administrative role to a fully elected leadership in 2011, we now turn to the new elected leadership under the administration of Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay with Dicki Chhoyang, as a Kalon of Tibetan Department of Information and International Relations. 
Kalon Dicki Chhoyang, Department of Information and International Relations:
"The position of the Central Tibetan Administration with regards to self-immolation is very clear.
As early as [2009] when the wave of self-immolations began,
we made an appeal to Tibetans inside Tibet,
not to resort to drastic actions.
Now, despite our appeals, the self-immolations have persisted,
and, given the situation, we feel a moral obligation to speak on their behalf,
to the international community, to explain the reasons behind these
political acts of protest.

Looking at the profile and the background of the self-immolators,
we can see that their distress was related to different policies, namely policies related to religious freedom, language, environment, and also the forced settlement of Tibetan nomads.

If one asks, "What is the way forward?" - it is dialogue.
As we expressed, the Kashag, on behalf of the Central Tibetan Administration,
in the statement that we issued in June 2012,
when the two special envoys tendered their resignation for the Sino-Tibetan dialogue, we remain firmly committed, not only to non-violence, but also to the Middle Way approach, which seeks to resolve the issue of Tibet through genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution.

The international community, despite the fact that the Chinese government has returned a deaf ear to requests to send fact finding delegations and also to give access to the international media to Tibetan areas where the self-immolations took place, the international community must not remain an idle bystander.

The way that the international community handles the issue of Tibet sends a very clear message, a very important message to other political movements, that may not be as firmly committed as we are to non-violence.

Does it pay to stick to non-violence to find a solution to a conflict?

So, the message is sent, not only to other political movements, but also to
future generations.

World leaders love to speak about peace, about non-violence,
about finding resolutions to conflict without armed confrontation.

Tibet is an opportunity to live up to these principles.

Talking about these principles is devoid of any meaning,
if we cannot embody them through actions when we're dealing with real life situations such as the crisis we're facing inside Tibet.

Tibetans inside Tibet have the courage to stand up for their rights,
even  if it's at the cost of their life.

All we ask for, is for the international community to have the courage to use their freedom to help the Tibetan people secure theirs.

-As this documentary went to air in
September 2012, 51 Tibetans have been confirmed
to have self-immolated inside Tibet.-

-41 of the 51 are known to have died
following their protest.-

~ ~ ~
December 2012: 95 self-immolations in Tibet

Please help Tibet: Solidarity with Tibet