Lives of Tibetans Are on the Verge of Extinction
121 Tibetans -- 102 men and 19 women -- are known to have doused themselves in kerosene and blazed into ashes since February 27, 2009. Why? Is it because of life depression and psychiatric disorders? Are the self-immolators terrorists, anti-Buddhists and irrational creators of social chaos?
Their indomitable actions are presented as “extreme” and their purposeful action for the cause of their people is alleged as a “pointless manner” by China Daily News. Their selflessness and non-violence are claimed to be “brutal terrorist behavior” and radical actions that “disturb and undermine social harmony” by the Beijing Review Forum. Their spontaneous actions are said to be “manipulated by religious leaders” and “copy-cat suicides” by Xihua, the official state news agency.
Do not accuse people of manipulation or incitation for servicing prayers, lighting butter lamps and gathering to hold ritual ceremonies for immolators. That is the way we Tibetans pay condolences and mourn for death.
Self-immolation in Tibet has not become headline news. Is this because it’s happening in Tibet but not anywhere else? Self-immolation in Tibet has not been sharply discussed in the public sphere. Is this because it is not considered as effective as “Kony 2012” pulling a larger democratic audience? Self-immolation in Tibet has not been hyped in television news shows, chat rooms, and commentaries to bring about revolution. Is this because it is not seen as catalyst to kindle the Arab Spring, as a vendor in Tunisia did? It seems that 121 Tibetan immolators could not even give a nudge to the world to pay some attention. Is this because their burning bodies were not captured in a photograph by Malcolm Browne to become a worldwide sensational trigger, as it was with a Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire to protest the Diem Regime in 1963?
As a young Tibetan woman, I have seen, heard and smelled my people burning and vanishing into ashes every other day. It feels smothering and disastrous when the world seems to be apathetic to what is happening. The air in my home smells of burning flesh and surroundings are cracked by the sobs of people.
I should make it clear that I do not mean self-immolation has not at all been the subject of international discussion in the global media. In fact, The New York Times, The Guardian and the BBC all have reported the immolations. However, so far what I have seen in The New York Times, regarded as an “American newspaper of record;” The Guardian, known as “the world’s leading liberal voice;” and the BBC, described as British “impartial public service broadcasting,” are barely surface reports.
In those reports, the issue is simply presented in repeated synopses a few lines long in international news briefs. Moreover, even the tone of those published reports sounds as reluctant, indifferent and impersonal as a report on regular weather. Most importantly, all the reports lack leading discussion on the bottom-line cause of Tibetans burning themselves. Immolations are mostly framed as “protest against China’s policy in Tibet.” What a vague and ambiguous conclusion.
As a matter of fact, the common slogan that most immolators called for was “the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet,” which could be interpreted as vital issue of religious freedom that could be secured if the Chinese government accepted negotiations.
The columnists seem to have been stuck with some other serious issues to report and are oblivious to the issue of self-immolations in Tibet.
Maybe the issue of self-immolations in Tibet could appear in Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in The New York Times. The issue could even come up at President Obama and Chairman Xi Jinping’s dinner table when having “informal talk,” if Obama was too intimidated to mention it when they are in a serious business discussion or a “relationship-building meeting.”
I have a great deal of respect for the courage, tenacity and indomitable spirit of immolators to sacrifice their precious lives for the cause of their people. I am too deeply saddened with the idea of self-immolation because life is invaluable and cannot be equated to anything else. It is especially sorrowful when hundreds of precious lost lives still do not seem to be serious enough to get the world’s attention.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.