Tibetan Exile in India Dies after Self-Immolating

On Monday, two days before President Hu Jintao was scheduled to arrive in New Delhi, a Tibetan refugee there set himself on fire. The scene was captured dramatically by photographer Manish Swarup. The New York Times reports that Tibetans in Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan government-in-exile, have rallied behind the self-immolator, who died in hospital on Wednesday:

Mr. Yeshi burned himself in front of hundreds of people, during a protest largely by Tibetans before a visit by President Hu Jintao of China, who was scheduled to fly to New Delhi to attend an economic summit meeting. Mr. Yeshi was taken to a hospital with burns over 98 percent of his body, and word of the self-immolation spread quickly through Dharamsala, a hill station in northern India that is the home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, and the government-in-exile.

On Tuesday, images of Mr. Yeshi proliferated on walls here. One gruesome poster showed his ravaged body in the hospital. A cousin, Sonam Wangyal, visited him and mourned his terrible injuries, The Associated Press reported. But he also said: “We are fighting for freedom. The world should know this.”

Details about Mr. Yeshi’s life emerged. Many initial reports that were largely based on Indian police accounts said his first name was Jampa and gave his age as 26, but Tibetan organizations here said with certainty that he was Jamphel Yeshi, 27. Fellow exiles said he was from the Ganzi area in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham, which now lies in China’s Sichuan Province. He left in 2006 and made his way to Dharamsala, where he attended a school that educates refugees in Tibetan history, culture and language. Mr. Yeshi then settled in New Delhi, where he was unemployed and lived with his cousin.

“He self-immolated for the cause of Tibet,” said Tenzing Namdak, 36, a man in jeans and a tan jacket walking at the back of the march on Tuesday. “All the Tibetans have tried so many ways to get attention, and somebody had to take the lead.”

The Chinese government, in turn, has blamed the Dalai Lama for Yeshi’s act, AP reports:

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei offered no evidence linking the Tibetan spiritual leader to the exile who lit himself on fire and ran shouting through a demonstration in New Delhi on Monday.

He said the Dalai Lama and his associates have been instigating Tibetan independence and creating “disturbances” and that showed the Dalai Lama and his associates “single-handedly” planned the man’s self-immolation.

“These acts aimed at achieving Tibetan independence and separatism through taking people’s lives will never possibly be successful and will be severely condemned by the international community,” Hong told reporters at a regular news briefing.

See also an article in China Daily: “Tibetan separatist efforts will fail: official.”

On her blog, popular Tibetan writer Woeser posted writing by her husband, Han Chinese writer Wang Lixiong, about the self-immolations in Tibetan areas, which have been increasing in recent months. Close to 30 Tibetans have lit themselves on fire in protest against Beijing’s policies toward Tibet. (Woeser’s post was translated by High Peaks Pure Earth):

Using violence against oneself, apart from being an attempt of desperate protest and a defence of one’s dignity at the risk of losing everything all at once, if one entertains real expectations, it will also be as Gandhi once said: “Through our pain we can make them see their injustice” or as Martin Luther King said: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering (…) we will drain your hatred (…) we shall so appeal to your heart and conscience”.

The only premise upon which this expectation can be fulfilled is the existence of a conscience. The machinery of an authoritarian regime only has its iron structure, its cold logic, and own bureaucratic interests. When back then, several thousand young people were on the verge of death during hunger-strikes on Tiananmen Square, could anyone see any conscience?

The limitations of non-violent protests precisely lay in this circumstance – the end result does not depend on the resistance but on the political regime. Resistance can only create some pressure, but if the regime does not give in, there will be no progress; this is why the predicament Tibet is currently in is inevitable.

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.