Early one morning in April 1998, a middle-aged Tibetan named Thupten Ngodup poured gasoline over himself in a public toilet in downtown New Delhi and struck a match. Outside, the Indian police were breaking up a hunger strike organized by the Tibetan Youth Congress, the largest pro-independence organization among the approximately 140,000 Tibetans who have lived in exile since the Dalai Lama fled Chinese-ruled Tibet in 1959. The Tibetans had been protesting for more than six weeks against U.N. inaction on Tibet, which China invaded and occupied in 1950, subsequently killing – through execution, torture and starvation – as many as 1.2 million people, according to Tibetans, and destroying tens of thousands of Buddhist monasteries and temples.
Ngodup, too, had intended to go on hunger strike; he was scheduled to replace those Tibetans then nearing death. He had told a radio interviewer five days earlier that the Dalai Lama’s peaceful approaches to the Chinese regime had “achieved no results” and that the situation was “desperate.” He went on to say, “I am giving up my life to bring about peace and fulfillment to my unhappy people.”