Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beyond the Numbers: A Human Perspective on Tibet's Self-Immolations



WARNING: contains graphic content that may be disturbing to some viewers

We called all the Tibetans and also supporters to come here to do this candlelight vigil.
With these two self-immolations who are already dead now -
the count has gone to 51.
It is really really sad for us that we are -
we seem to be counting the numbers
but this is how the situation has come to and it's too difficult to say
where it is leading to

A Human Perspective on Tibet's Self-Immolations

On February 27, 2009, a young monk named Tapey set himself on fire outside of Kirti Monastery, located in Tibet.

After prayers at the monastery were cancelled, Tapey doused himself in fuel and set himself alight.

He was shot by the People's Armed Police and the fire was extinguished. He is alive and was seen recovering in a hospital in May of this year.

Since then, Tibetans across the region have been protesting repression by the Chinese government through the same means.

The self-immolators have come to include nuns, monks, laymen, nomads, mothers, fathers.

And some are just children.

They have names and they had lives.

1 Tapey
2 Phutsok Jarutsang
3 Tsewang Norbu
4 Lobsang Kelsang
5 Lobsang Kunchok
6 Kelsang Wangchuk
7 Khaying
8 Choepel
9 Norbu Damdul
10 Tenzin Wangmo
11 Dawa Tsering
12 Palden Choetso
13 Tenzin Phuntsok
14 Tsultrim
15 Tennyi
16 Sonam Wangyal
17 Lobsang Jamyang

My name is Gyaltsen and I'm 24.

I'm doing my Commerce Class 12.

On January 14, 2012, 20 year old Lobsang Jamyang set himself on fire in Ngaba County, Tibet.

He was taken away from the scene by Chinese authorities and reportedly died two days later.

Gyaltsen is his cousin.

My cousin, Lobsang Jamyang, was comparatively small when I was in Tibet.
It was actually eight years back.

I was really really fond of him and he was really really passionate about Tibetan issues and very much nationalistic.

Just two years ago, he told one of my brothers that he was going to do something different, just wait and watch.
It was winter, winter in January.
One of my friends appeared and said, "Your cousin got self-immolated."
I was shocked.
No, no, no, no, it's not possible.
Just before the self-immolation, he actually -
actually he came into the main city where he self-immolated, on a motorbike.
When they reached the main city they went to a restaurant, and then he went to the toilet but he never came back.
When the friend saw him, he was actually on fire on the street, just back down there.

After just a few minutes, Chinese personnel came and beat him.
He was actually took away and then died or maybe killed.
And my cousin left only ash.

-Come to learn. Go to serve.-

He had the same aims and dreams like us.
He definitely wanted to live happily, live long,
serve the parents and enjoy the life.
Yeah, we're going to do prayer.
Prayer cannot replace every activity, and he did not die for prayer.
I think he didn't expect the world and all Tibetans and the Dalai Lama were going to pray him, that's why he's going to die.
No, he didn't expect for that.
All people are saying the self-immolations of Tibetans so good
but when they sleep, they sleep very happily.
No worrying about it.
But when I go to sleep, I think of him.

-Don't pray when it rains, if you don't pray when the sun shines.-

The feeling of a relative and the common people are really different.
It's totally different.
I came to realize that.

18 Rinzin Dorjee
19 Sonam Rabyang
20 Tenzin Choedon

Now, to tell you about my relationship with Tenzin Choedon...
We are from the same family.
Tenzin Choedon's father is my brother.

On February 11, 2012, 18 year old Tenzin Choedon set herself on fire in Ngaba County, Tibet.

She self-immolated below a bridge near Mamae Nunnery, where she was a nun. Tenzin died on the way to hospital.

Choepel* and Sonam* are her uncles.

*name has been changed

When she was a baby, she used to sit on her mother's lap.
One day she fell sick and was brought to our monastery where we held prayers and she stayed with us for two days.
After that, I did not meet her again.

She was closest to me in the family.
When she was a baby she would stay with us, and at night when I had to leave,
she would cry a lot and would not let me go.

Later, she joined the same nunnery where her aunt and my sister are nuns.
I remember contacting them by phone.
She was small at the time and a bit shy when she talked to me.
I used to tell her to study hard at the nunnery.
I was in Chauntra town spending time with a relative during our holidays from the monastery.
Perhaps it was February 11 when I received a call from my nephew who lives in another town, and he told me about Tenzin Choedon.
There was an elderly woman who first saw it -
she said a nun came down from the nunnery drinking some oil-like liquid,
at the same time she was shouting for the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet,
and for freedom for Tibet.
Then, all of a sudden, she set herself on fire while still shouting slogans.
For a little while she leaned against a boulder and then she fell down.

The Chinese authorities took away her body.
If they had returned the body, we would have held the necessary prayers and cremation rituals, but they just returned her ashes to her family.
For quite some time, I couldn't focus on my studies.
All kinds of thoughts came into my mind and I felt an acute sense of loss for such a young life.

It made me very sad that a woman and a nun did such a thing to make the world aware of the Tibetan struggle. Among the Tibetans, such a young life was lost.

21Lobsang Gyatso
22 Damchoe Sangpo
23 Nangdrol
24 Tsering Kyi
25 Rinchen
26 Dorjee
27 Gepey
28 Jamyang Palden
29 Losang Tsultrim
30 Sonam Dhargye
31 Lobsang Sherab
32 Tenpa Dhargyal
33 Chime Palden
34 Sonam
35 Choepak Kyap
36 Dorjee Tseten
37 Dhargye
38 Rikyo
39 Tamding Thar
40 Tenzin Khedup
41 Ngawang Norphel

-Dharamshala to Dal Lake...
Main Square
You Are Here...-

I live in Mcleod Ganj and I work at a small restaurant.
I have three brothers and Ngawang Norphel's father is the eldest of the three.

On June 20, 2012, 22 year old Ngawang Norphel and his friend, Tenzin Khedup, 24, self-immolated in Kyegudo, Tibet.

Ngawang was taken to hospital by Chinese authorities. Tenzin died at the scene.
Tseten* is Ngawang's uncle.

*name has been changed

He is from Trindu Village in Nyelam Township and he was born on December 2, 1989.
He was the first grandchild in our family, so he had always been the favorite and was very obedient. Even as a six year old, he used to herd about 300 sheep on his own.
People used to tease him, telling him they couldn't figure out who the lamb was and who the shepherd was because he was so small and used to get lost among the sheep.
While attending school in Nyelam Township, he also worked part-time, as money was scarce for villagers.
He did all sorts of different jobs. Since he was good in both Tibetan and Chinese, he also worked as a translator for traders, including Chinese tradesmen.
I heard about the self-immolation of Ngawang and his friend Tenzin Khedup, but I didn't know one of them was my nephew, because they first reported that Ngawang was from Amdo.
Later, when I got more information, I knew it was him.
That's why I didn't know. I saw some videos and pictures which confirmed it was him and I felt reassured. But it doesn't mean that I feel no compassion or sadness for his loss.
I believe he did a great deed.
[-Save Tibet-]
When my brother saw his son Norphel in the hospital, at first he could not recognize his son, who was badly burnt.
Then my brother heard Norphel crying and calling him, "Father! Father!"
That's how he recognized his son.
He would have made a good life for himself.

Following his self-immolation, Ngawang Norphel was taken to a nearby hospital, where he remained for over a month.
The following footage was obtained by a group of monks while he was in hospital.

He still did not know the status of his friend Tenzin Khedup.

Ngawang Norphel:
What happened to Tenzin Khedup?
Where is he?
Is he dead?
I don't wish to recover.
My only wish is that by doing this I've raised awareness about what is happening in Tibet.
As a human being you need freedom, language, culture, scripture, you need these things -
If you don't have them, what kind of human are you?

Ngawang Norphel succumbed to his injuries on July 30, 2012, exactly 40 days after his self-immolation.

42 Dickyi Choezom
43 Tsewang Dorjee
44 Losang Lozin
45 Lobsang Tsultrim Ryiwa
46 Dolkar Tso
47 Choepa
48 Tashi
49 Lungtok
50 Lobsang Kelsang
51 Damchoe

Damchoe is my nephew and also the younger brother of Tenzin Choedon.

On August 27, 2012, former monk Damchoe, 17, and
his cousin, Lobsang Kelsang, 18, self-immolated outside of
Kirti Monastery in Ngaba County, Tibet.

Kirti Monastery is at the heart of the self-immolations and
has also been the site of intense political protests over
the past three years.

Both Damchoe and Lobsang died later that evening.

After Tenzin Choedon's self-immolation, I used to talk with Damchoe on the phone, and for quite some time. Our phone conversations were never conducted in a normal way, since all of us knew the phone was tapped.
On his sister's self-immolation, he said she self-immolated for the welfare of Tibetans and for the right to practice Buddhism. And since she did this with wide-reaching concern, he said he felt proud of what she did.

His name is Damchoe.

So Lobsang Damchoe, as it was reported, was wrong?

Yes, that was the wrong name.
His name was just Damchoe.
When I heard about Damchoe's self-immolation, I instantly thought of his sister Tenzin Choedon who had already died, and Damchoe did it the same way, and I felt unbelievably strong emotions. To think of a brother and sister from the same family, the same parents, dying one after another.. We felt terrible and shocked. I don't think this will happen again in my family, but in Tibet, it will happen again...
-Sacrifice of Life for Tibet-
...because the Chinese government is heightening restrictions and repression, and arresting many Tibetans whenever self-immolations happen, like they did after Damchoe and Lobsang self-immolated. A human being cannot live forever under constant repression.

Now my hope is...
both of them burned themselves and they are gone from this world.
The reason and objective for which they burned their bodies is,
in Tibet and around the world, to establish truth, to solve a problem, and realize a necessary goal.

53 Gudrub
54 Sangyay Gyatso
55 Tamdin Dorje
56 Lhamo Kyap
57 Dhondup
58 Dorjee Rinchen
59 Tenzin
60 Tsepo
61 Lhamo Tseten
62 Tsewang Kyap
63 Dorjee Lhundup
64 Tsegyal
65 Tamding Tso
66 Dorjee Kyap
67 Samdrup
68 Dorjee
69 Jinpa Gyatso
70 Gonpo Tsering
71 Nyingkar Tashi
72 Nyangchak Bum
73 Tenzin Dolma
74 Khabum Gyal

-Thubten Choling-

My name is Kalzang.
So, I do teaching here at this center in Cowichan Valley.
I'm from Rebkong -
Gyawo, Rebkong, Amdo, Tibet.

On November 15, 2012, 18 year old Khabum Gyal self-immolated in Rebkong, Tibet.
His was the seventh self-immolation to take place in the region that month. He reportedly died the same day. Kalzang is a family friend.

Khabum Gyal -
he's a neighbor of one of my relatives back in that area.
That's how I know his father.
We're all from the same tribe.
We have 12 villages.
So, we have only one nomad village, so he's from the nomad village.
There's the town that we call Luchu Village.
There's a town...
There's one road to go to Rebkong City, in the main city that we call Rongwo...
So, when he came, the crossroads, then he did the self-immolation.
Soon after I heard that was happened - a self-immolation happened,
I called his neighbor and said, can I talk with him?
He said, he's very like - sad, and he couldn't talk this moment and he said, "Call another time."
Now, after that, I try, the phone is cut off.
The only picture, I got it from last night, far away from there, like four hours away from there by car. Somebody from there took all the way.
When he went there, they sent me these pictures .
One thing that makes me surprised, the surprise is such young person, like him,
to see the big view about Tibet.
-Free Tibet-
He's third generation after Chinese occupied Tibet.
So third generation is more awake on what's happening in Tibet,
what government is doing in Tibet.
They can see that.
They can reach each other very easily, from different parts of Tibet - through phone, through Internet, they can reach very easily.
So, they see this danger, and therefore, they want to speak out.
It's really hard to express my feeling, really.
I don't want any Tibetan lose their life in this way.
But other hand, no matter you do self-immolation or not,
if you really bring up any word or action about Tibet,
you will go to jail.
You can lose your life that way as well.
So the younger generation says it's the same.
Are you waiting to die or you do something.
How many Tibetans need to take a life 'til the world speaks?

In the protest for freedom, countless other Tibetans have lost loved ones through self-immolation.

As of December 10, also International Human Rights Day, the count has reached 95 and continues to climb at an alarming rate.

To date, more than 80 self-immolations have occurred in 2012.

November saw 28 of them alone.

And there are fears that more self-immolations will take place unless the Chinese government listens to and addresses the grievances of the Tibetan people.

75 Chakmo Kyi
76 Sangdag Tsering
77 Wangchen Norbu
78 Tsering Dundup
79 Lubum Tsering
80 Tamdin Dorjee
81 Tamdin Kyap
82 Sangay Dolma
83 Wangyal
84 Kunchok Tsering
85 Gonpo Tsering
86 Kelsang Kyap
87 Sangay Tashi
88 Bhendey Khar
89 Tsering Namgyal
90 Kunchok Kyap
91 Sungdue Kyap
92 Lobsang Gendun
93 Kunchok Phegye
94 Pema Dorjee
95 Bhenchen Kyi

Every Tibetan can have the potential to do something different.
They do not have to do it collectively.
For example, personally, what I am going to do, one thing, is that -
in every day, in every year, on the very day of my cousin's self-immolation,
I am going to plant a tree.
And I think, after forty years, fifty years, when I am getting old,
I can see around forty or fifty trees.
I can sense that I have bring my cousin back.

Produced and directed by Katie Lin
Production Assistant Tendar Tsering

With special thanks to
The friends and relatives of Lobsang Jamyang, Tenzin Choedon and Damchoe, Ngawang Norpheland Khabum Gyal
Kirti Monastery (Dharamsala)
Tibetan Children's Village

The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy

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