Friday, March 1, 2013


                   Tibetan Self-immolations: How Much Effect?
At a  recent hearing in Canadian parliament, a member of the committee asked Tibet's defactor Prime Minister, Dr. Lobsang Sanggay the views of the majority of Tibetans. While Tibetan people inside Tibet, their thoughts and opinions are difficult to gauage, there are samples of what they are thinking nad look at the Tibetan self-immolations.
At the time of writing this, the death toll of self-immolation protests in Tibet stands at 105.Tibetan netizens debate on the effectiveness of such extreme protests, by weighing in their different interpretations and prospective on the outcomes. An objective assessment of the netizen views suggest the general Tibetan populaces have mixed reactions and stance on the self-immolation protests.  There is one group that makes outright call to end the self-immolations owing to lack of any concrete results. The other group argues that the self-immolation is most effective means of highest form of civil disobedience and it cannot be stopped. The third group which is the neutral sees it none of exiles’ business to interfere in methods of protests chosen by their brethrens in Tibet.
In a BBC interview in 2011, when the Tibetan fiery protests start to gathering stream, the Dalai Lama questions its usefulness. “There is courage -- very strong courage" by the people who set themselves on fire. "But how much effect?   Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilize your wisdom." Said the Dalai Lama. Since then self-immolation protest escalated and reached to monumental numbers crossing the threshold of 100 which  never seen in the history of mankind. While the international response to Tibetans “desperate acts” is inadequate for China to bend under pressure, a raging debate is brewing across the Tibetan language websites and blogospheres. The views and opinions expressed there may not necessarily echo the views of the Tibetans in dispora across the world. But it is indicative of Tibetan people’s dilemma and their helplessness.


“Self-immolation has deeply moved the Tibetan people. Self-immolation has taken the Tibetan struggle to a new height and direction. Tibetan exile political leader Syikong Lobsang Sangay’s administration would be recognized as an era of self-immolation” Stated in the introduction to . a debate on self-immolation in December last year at Khadha, an independent website not affiliated with the CTA, on the topic of self-immolation titled “What is done and what is concealed about self –immolation”. Within a week of posting the debate, it attracted 142 responses.
One comment says the self-immolation is not for Tibet cause, nor for Tibetan Buddhism, and it is out of their ignorance and personal issues. And one comment also says the self-immolation should continue.   The majority urges the exile government to do more.  The following are the select netizen comments, who urge to stop the self-immolations protest.


A netizen under the name of “Pema” posted: “It is not good at all to self-immolate, no matter how we label them as martyrs or patriots. The words rings hollow. If they are that patriotic, hardly any of them are able to write Tibetan and know the Dalai Lama’s autobiography. The self-immolators are definitively not for Tibetan Buddhism, nor are they for Tibetan independence. They are monks and nuns who couldn’t keep their vows and youths who are distressed.  Such acts will not help the Tibetan cause.  The exile political leaders are full of rhetoric, and that has propelled the mass self-immolation…”  (4 December). 
Another netizen “Gepo” posted,  “The self-immolation are desperate acts of protest against the Chinese government as well as the exile Tibetan administration. It is a protest against the exile government because they have failed to pursue an ideal policy and against the Chinese government for its stubbornness.  So if the exile government is to represent the entire Tibetan population, those Tibetans in Tibet should be given a choice.  We should request a stop to self-immolations for the time being and solidify a policy that is more effective”  (4 December).
Another Tibetan writer, a 15 January article  by  Natsang Nyiulue posted to  the Qinghai Tibetan Web was more direct in his appeal to the stop the self-immolation, Previously he worked as a deputy judge of people’s court and as a deputy chairman of Marlag county.
he wrote…
“I want to appeal again that despite all the unbearable suppression, our noble people should not self-immolate. Whatever strategies one explores, please stop self-immolating.  No matter how noble the goal and mission we want to accomplish please stop self-immolating.  I would like to specifically request that His Holiness the Precious bless us and behold the hellish suffering that we are going through and I urge His Holiness to issue a statement to request that the noble people end the self-immolations”.

Surprisely, Natsang Nyilue’s opinion piece is a rare publication on official website, and that too attracted many comments, and majority all agreed his views and appeal for end to self-immolations. Their rationales are
Netizen “Gonpo dhondup” commented: “I agree on those points the author raised. Self-immolation is not the only option for our freedom struggle, particularly for those who are educated. 
There are many legal avenues, and many legal methods to pursue freedom and justice. I have carefully pondered over the author’s points and could not agree more: Despite the unbearable suffering and suppression, do not resort to self-immolation. Whatever strategy we put forth for the freedom struggle, do not let self-immolation be one.  No matter how noble the goal and how grand the mission; do not resort to self-immolation. The repeated appeal of the author to restrain from self-immolation is very meaningful. Nurturing a vibrant population of future generation should be the united goal of our three regions”  (19 January).

Netizen “Satha Kushu” commented: “The author Nagtsang has addressed the issue well. For anyone who can listen there is much to it. I also support his views.”   (19 January).

Netizen “Anonymous” commented: “I agree with what Yugyal said, a proverb that I have read ‘Education is the path to light and a bright future, work for education like a thirsty man wanting water.  This is my heartfelt advice to all Tibetan brothers and sisters. If each of us are self-reliant and able to stand up on our own feet in a variety of specialized educations and livelihoods, then we will be able to fulfill our aspirations. Please honor our precious lives, we should spend our lives meaningfully”  (19 January) .

Netizen “Yugyal” commented: “I support the author’s views that what is crystal clear is that apparantly all the self-immolators are very loyal to the Tibetan race and cause. They are very courageous and brave souls. But if all these brave and courageous souls end up in such way, we will be left with nothing. Our struggle is a struggle of survival, and if our struggle is turned to a religious issue, then it is meaningless. I, for one, deeply respect the selfless sacrifices by these noble, courageous and compassionate souls. But this is not helping us in any way. There are many people who speak of the advantages and disadvantages of these actions. The most important thing I believe is that we need to calculate what is beneficial for us.  For myself, I am usually a very open-minded person. I am well informed on the welfare of the native people and also equally educated on the external affairs. I reiterate to our brethren not to resort to self-immolation.  It is contrary to that we need to be self-reliant for our livelihood on our own native soil.  Get an education that will arm us with the tools to excel in economic fields, health issues and good living. In that way we need to keep our identity alive. Let us move toward that direction.

Giving the wishes of His Holiness the Precious  and for the benefit of individual livelihoods, as well as the current international standing and China’s affair, we need to stick to our Middle Way as the ultimate goal. This path is very broad, and visionary, and will cost no lives. I urge our brothers to broaden this understanding by creating a conducive and acceptable environment in a broader society. Please put an end to self-immolation. I wish that we soon see the sun of happiness”  (19 January).

Netizen “Gedar” commented: “I support the author Nagtsang’s views. There are many methods for struggle, and self-immolation is not only the way.  Self immolation has not shaken China at all. I, too, urge not to self-immolate. If we learn to remain humble, the oppressor will find it hard to oppress, and this has some truth in it. If the three chukka (regions)  of Tibet are genuinely united, then that is a good fight. Nurturing a new generation of well educated Tibetans will prove to be more significant than self-immolation”  (17 January).

Netizen “Gondrak” commented:  “I agree with the views of the author because self-immolation is a despicable and futile act. It will not be of any helpful. If Tibetans are really sympathetic to our Tibetan race, then first learn the language and become educated.  Only then we can change the fate of our backwardness.  Otherwise if we continue to remain with the sign of stupidity, even after a generation, nothing will be changed”  (17 January).

But one netizen posted: “Netizen “Ngarong” posted:  “This old man still doesn’t get the rules of the authoritarian regime. Where is there room for peaceful appeal?  Don’t you know that even expressing a few words we could end up in court”  (19 January).

Meanwhile in Khadhar website , some of the netizens believes that some Ripoches and Lama could make a difference through their appeal. But the fact is Karmapa has publicly appealed to end the self-immolations.
Netizen “Nyima” posted: “The most important thing is for the Dalai Lama to issue a statement.  But it appears that is not going to happen”  (3 December).
Netizen “Gansel” posted: “I think that the Tibetans in Tibet should respect their precious lives, I appeal to Tibetan lamas and rinpoches in exile to issue a statement urging them not to self-immolate”  (3 December).
However, another netizen responded to this saying Netizen “Popa Thayen” posted: “…  Self-immolation is a political issue, so there is no religious answer to this.  It is better for the lamas and rinpoches to keep quiet on this issue”  (3 December).
Netizen “Penam” posted:  “…[this debate] creates a better understanding of the issue from various prospective, it is not a way to encourage the act to continue. Some people say that we don’t have the right to stop self-immolation, but we should have the right to understand the self-immolation with the help of experts”  (3 December).

The majority of the netizens are in solidarity with the protest, and hence hence tacitly approve their actions. Many attempt to interpret the self-immolation in it in a more positive light.
Another Netizen debator  “Ngolog” posted: “Self-immolation is a cry for help from the unbearable suffering under the repressive Chinese policy. Self-immolation is the Tibetan people’s inherited yearning for freedom. Self--immolation is a sacrifice for the Tibetan people’s environment, culture, religion and language. The wills of those self-immolators as per their aspiration, should be a part of the Tibetan people’s struggle and demand for freedom. The exile Tibetan administration should also bring over the children of those self-immolators and take proper care of them (3 December).
Netizen “Ngolo” posted: “What we need to understand and learn is a precious lesson from the self-immolations, which is that we Tibetan people have a courageous spirit to sacrifice everything for freedom. And those sacrifices are an important gift and impetus for the Tibetan people’s struggle for freedom” (3 December).
Netizen “Lhashen” posted:  “We cannot conceive of the suffering that the Tibetans in Tibet are undergoing, it is silly to discuss the preciousness of lives. Who doesn’t know that life is precious? They are sacrificing their precious life for our own good, we should realize that”   (3 December).
Netizen “Ngari” posted: “If the Tibetans in Tibet could sacrifice their lives, how is it that those of us living in exile cannot spend our money and brain power on this issue?  I see little is done by the exile government other than the Kirti monks who compile and distribute the news to wider readership”  (4 December).
Netizen “Nyimi Sangay” posted:  “These days I could not resist reading the Tibetan news, when I do, it aches my heart. The news of self-immolations flashed on the front pages. It is unprecedented in world history, and if it doesn’t bring any result, I am filled with remorse and sorrow”  (4 December).
Netizen “Lhontok” posted:  “The reason why self-immolations do not get on the front pages of the world news is that even before it is picked up by news media,  it is already on the Facebook.  So, by the time it gets to the mainstream news media, the news has become old”  (4 December).
Netizen “Lhonto” posted: “What we must realize is that the self-immolation is a last ditch to save Tibetan culture and identity.  So it is not that easy to stop because it was not easy to start from the beginning. Small sacrifices might not necessarily bring a huge result. So we need to have the courage and not to wail about easily and nor turn back the pointed spear at [ourselves]”  (4 December).


Some netizen comments adovocate that the self immolation is an effective strategy to fight Tibetan struggle. As one netize in Khadhar posted
Netizen “Samdon” posted: “Nobody in Tibetan society dares to say that the self-immolation should be stopped. And there are two reasons for that:
1.      If this self-immolation protest stops, there is no other viable action that would be more effective.

2.      The self-immolation protest is a demand for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Since that goal is not easy to attain by anyone else, the self-immolations will continue”  (4 December).

Netizen “Jamphel Tsultrim” posted: “A Tibetan person in the documentary film ‘Leaving Fear Behind’ says I don’t know what to do.  I want to protest, but don’t know how to do it effectively.  If it is for the Tibetan race, I am willing to give my life. In whatever way I have to sacrifice, I am willingly to do it. But I am not sure how to do it.’ This gives me an impression that the Tibetan in Tibet remains unaware of effective ways to protest until 2009 when martyr Tabi initiated the self-immolation protest.  Hence nearly 100 Tibetans have chooses that path.  If that is the case, now the exile government has to lead and show an effective method of peaceful protest.  It is time that exile Tibetans show the path of peaceful protest”  (4 December).

Netizen “Thukwa Gyaltso” posted:  “Many people are of the opinion that the self-immolation protest is bearing no fruit. In order to have its impact felt, the Tibetans living in exile have responsibilities.  Our conventional method of peaceful protests in exile are not working”  (4 December).


The following is a full-text translation a 15 January article  that is similar to the above article but attributed to Natsang Nyiulue posted to  the Qinghai Tibetan Web titled "Response to Questions from  Tehor Lobsang Choephel and Others”:
In the past few years, more Tibetans have self-immolated in peaceful protest. If you have not witnessed personally this gut-wrenching incident then you must have heard, if you are not a deaf. What initially began by monks and nuns was followed by laity, and students. Up to this day, inside Tibet 97 Tibetans have offered their bodies as a lamp.  What is this?  It is for what?  It is for what purpose?  Is it a good thing?  Or is it a bad thing?  Is it something helpful or unhelpful?  Is it something that should be continued?  Or is it something that should be stopped?
These issues and these questions invariably pop up among Tibetans of all ages and statuses.  A Tibetan with a consciousness and feelings cannot escape these questions.  We have to carefully ponder over these issues and it is the time that we generate an honest and truthful response to these questions.
I agree that being a Tibetan, when such an issue of importance pops up, we all must have different views and opinions. But the question is, can we articulate our own views and opinions as we wish, are we allowed to express it or not, do we dare to spell it out?  Since each individual has different conditions for life and livelihood, it will be difficult to have a unanimous voice.  For example, as for me, my livelihood is dependent on my salary.  For someone whose freedom of the body and even the choice of life and death is under the control of others, and their existence is so intertwined with the patron, then how do I have the freedom to respond on such a important issue as I wish and I do not have the audacity to offend the patron.
Honestly speaking, I understand that it is a crime to speak out on this since last year. But it is not my nature to lie and appease others by fooling myself.  Besides, I need not hand measure the golden statue.  However, no matter what we say, self-immolation is clearly a peaceful protest that ends one’s own life without the intention of harming anyone else.
What is so evident is that it was started by monks and then followed by lay persons of all ages. They all have noble wishes and aspirations in their minds with a clear goal with which they give up their lives without regret.
Amidst the violent flame of fire, I could not but secretly swallow my tears of sadness and sympathy, and at the least, I do not have a company to share my pain and sorrow.  With my full concentration, I cry out to appeal to you that despite the unbearable violent suppression please do not resort to self-immolation.
No matter which strategies we explore for our struggle and no matter how noble and grand our aspirations and goals, I repeatedly urge you not to self-immolate. 
However, when I hear someone say that those self-immolators are spoiled and that they acted that way because they are too happy, it really saddened me beyond belief.  What a strange thing to say.  Even people like me who are shorted sighted and hearing impaired, have never heard until today that people on this planet killed themselves because they are too happy.  On the contrary they killed themselves because their suffering is unbearable.
Some nonsensical people have also said that those self-immolators are a bunch of fools and are uninformed who do not realize the futility of their acts, so their self-immolations are meaningless.
Maybe I am too engrossed in my position for the county chairman or for my salary, or my senile age lost its consciousness from suppression.
What I tend to see in front of my eyes is that the well informed people are busy daily with their position and salary. So, as some rinpoches and scholars deserted their own turf and wandered off to their Chinese employer to seek wealthy didn’t realize until now that around 100 uninformed fools out of six million Tibetans have self immolated? So those who are well informed stays happily informed and those who are uninformed self-immolate. That is really strange.
It is mind boggling to know that on this planet even though we are the same human beings, the difference of the good and bad are so startling.  Some disgraceful people have also said that the self-immolators are fooled, and instigated by others, and lost their lives through other’s maneuvering.
Those harboring evil thoughts are shameless in their contorted views. For them there is no sense of truth and honesty.  Maybe I am too naïve, but I believe that the mass majority of the self-immolators, including the grandfather of Gungthang Ripoche, have noble aspirations and purpose for their acts. I can’t believe and it never occurred to me that they can be instigated and fooled by others.  No matter what I say, for a coward like me, I learn that it is all about my own welfare and livelihood.
Wherever you are and wherever you go, the unanimous call by all self-immolators is the return of His Holiness the Precious to Tibet. There is nothing wrong with this, it is not only the hope of the self-immolators, it is the conviction and unwavering hope of all Tibetans, which is clearly understood by the world.
There are many avenues to fight against the ruling government for freedom and our aspirations, such as one can peacefully petition to the Central Chinese government. Self-immolation is not only the last and only method to struggle and fight it is not necessary to self-immolate in order to underscore political points.
These days, we have a good communist party leadership, with good friendly laws, and we also live during a time when it is said that people’s livelihoods have improved so much.  So based on one’s own will and the wishes of a race, we can petition legally to the local, prefectural or provincial and even the central authorities.  So there is no need to resort only to self-immolation.

Here I maybe appear to be too foolish.  But I want to appeal again that despite all the unbearable suppression, our noble people should not self-immolate. Whatever strategies one explores, please stop self-immolating.  No matter how noble the goal and mission we want to accomplish, please stop self-immolating.  I would like to specifically request that His Holiness the Precious bless us and behold the hellish suffering that we are going through and I urge His Holiness to issue a statement to request that the noble people end the self-immolations.
My dear friend Shehu Lobsang Choephel is a person very concerned for the welfare of Tibetan people, and for ethnic unity, and social security. This should be the voluntary responsibilities of all people.  Whatever questions you have on the website I would like to honestly respond to it.  So here I have written my own opinions and if there are errors and omissions, the faults are mine only and I apologize for this.
Translations of select netizen comments:

Netizen “Anonymous” posted:  “It is really well-written. I appreciate this”  (19 January).
From Khadhar Debate:

Netizen “Meshul Jigme” posted:  “Why is it that the international community and world leaders are not standing firmly behind us?  They are just looking at the tragedy unfold in Tibet from far away.  Tibet is not gaining the required international support for its cause.  It is a very distressful thing”  (4 December).
Netizen “Gewa” posted: “Why is it that the our political leader and parliament chairman have not sent condolence letters to the families of the self-immolators? It is a tradition that the leader of the nation console the families of martyrs”  (4 December).


The following is a  full-text translation of 4 June blog by Sonam Tsering posted to Tibet Express   titled “Legacy of Tibetan Martyrs in Golden Age”:
By raising up your head of loyalty, you have emerged as a martyr, with the conscience of truth you have cried out for freedom, with an unflinching courage you have set yourself on fire, you have left an undeletable footprint on the peak of the Land of Snow.
Your sacrifice is huge, you have confronted the enemy, you have raised the issue of our welfare without any doubt.  You laid down your life under the merciless guns of the Chinese oppressor. Your feat spread far and wide on the Land of Snow.
You stood up for the Tibetan cause.  Your commitment and loyalty to the Tibetan race is unquestionable.
Such sacrifices for a cause are unheard of in the history of the world.  Your dedication for the same is unsurpassed.  Even the well-known Gandhi  hadn’t bore such suffering in his peaceful struggle.  Who in the world and which freedom activist dares to face a bullet to the head?But your bravery to face the clutch of death is stunning.  Rarely has anyone who enters into this world left with such a grand exit.  There are many martyrs and heroes in the world, but none of them are as majestic as you are.  With the birth of you martyrs, now the red-faced Tibetans can hold their heads high.  Therefore, your legacy will live in the golden age and in script.
Written by Sonam Tsering after reading news of martyr Tenzin Khendup’s cremation on 4 June 2012.  In remembrance of the Tibetan martyrs. for their sacrifices to the Tibetan race and to Buddhism.

The following is a summary of a 10 February article by Pagyal posted to Khadha titled “Should Self-Immolation be Stopped?”:

Self-immolation is a form of resistance or protest by the oppressed against the oppressor. Those who are so oppressed would better end it than bear it, so it is little difficult to understand.  It is similar to how Indian freedom activists laid down on railway tracks to resist.
This resistance and protest is the last resort to challenge the repressive policies. This resistance catches individual leaders or the government off-guard, and  they come under heavy pressure. The power of self-immolation is when it makes the officials desperately search for an answer. 

 Why the Chinese are making such a big effort to curb self-immolation is because they are embarrassed by the act itself.  People self-immolate when the suffering is unbearable, nobody will kill themselves when they are happy, and that is why the international community is obliged to call on China to review its policy on Tibet and respect Tibetan’s human rights; that is strength of the self-immolation.  Change will not come overnight.  It will be an accumulation of many factors coming together to impact a greater change.  If we stop a movement because there is no result, then shouldn’t we also stop the Middle Path that has brought no result?
We also need to carefully consider that no country has ever won  freedom without losing lives. In Gandhi’s peaceful freedom struggle and civil disobedience movement, how many people lost their lives?  How many people’s lives were lost during the civil rights movement unleashed in America lead by Dr. Martin Luther King.
According to my belief, the effect of self-immolation is limitless. Self-immolation is like a wind that blows from all directions, and there is no way to stop it.  Self-immolations keep the well-equipped military and army off-guard.  Self-immolation is a noble act  that is aimed to alleviate the sufferings of the majority.  Self-immolation is something that the authorities have no control over.  It is a highest form of civil disobedience.  It will triumph over oppression and cruelty.  It is right to say that self-immolation is like waging a peaceful guerrilla war.
Translation of select netizen comments:
There are nine netizen comments, majority support the ideas of why self-immolation cannot be stopped. Some are doubtful of its effectiveness, including one who out-right calls for an end to self-immolations. The following are select comments:
Netizen “Lhuntok” posted: “The article makes sense.  Those who say that the self-immolations have no result might have an ulterior motive or simply don’t understand it. The effect of self immolation is that it will continue as long as the Tibetan race remains.  As the effect of this act will be felt for generations to come” (11 February).
Netizen “Methok Karpo” posted: “The result is not something like hitting a drum and getting an echo sound.  The result is a ripple effect of  these self-immolations on generations to come” (11 February).
Netizen “Nam” posted: “Those who say  that self-immolations have no result are brainless people.  People who are opportunists.  It is hard to imagine that even if you feel that way that you can say it out loud…”(11 Feburary).
Netizen “Popa Tharye” posted: “Whether self-immolations should be stopped or not is up to the individuals themselves. Neither the Chinese nor we have the right to tell people to immolate or to stop.  Effect is like giving an anesthesia.  For some it works, and for others it does not.  However, it hurts the Chinese Government.  It hurts them more than any other protest.  If that is not a result/effect, then what is it?” (11 February).
Netizen “Ngawang Phuntsok” posted: “To those who question the result of self-immolations, I urge every one of them to carefully analyze and study it.  Do we, who live in a free country, have the right to say what can be done and what cannot be done [by those living in an oppressed society))?” (11 February).
Netizen “Ribkyi Tso” posted: “As someone earlier said, the effect of self-immolation will be felt in the generations to come.  But, at present the self-immolation toll has reached 100 and I don’t see any logic in continuing this way.  Those who are completely against just the mention of stopping self-immolation are tantamount to encouraging its continuity.  For example, if someone in exile says to their relatives in Tibet how much the impact of self-immolation has on Tibetans, then those people with feelings who naturally tend to get emboldened will want to do certain things for their country.  We cannot say that it is not an encouragement.  I am not saying that it is instigation.  But it is preferable that individuals avoid talking about self-immolation to their relatives privately because given the enormity of our loss and its effect, just talking about whatever comes through our mind cannot be shared lightly and conveniently.  No matter  the result of self-immolations so far, now is the time to nurture our future generations in a most proper way because one or two move lives going up in smoke will not affect anything at all” (11 February).
Netizen “Rigpe Bu” posted: “Self-immolation is a disrespectful word, and I am against all those who self-immolate” (11 February). (“Why Self-immolate.pdf”)

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