The Tibetan tragedy continues. On October 4, 2012, a 41-year-old Tibetan burnt himself to death at Driru [in Chinese, Biru] county in the Nagchu prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This is the second self-immolation attempt reported within a week. The earlier attempt was reported from Sichuan on September 29, 2012. In the earlier incident, the fire was put out by the police and the man taken away by them. It is not yet known whether he survived the burns.
Since the wave of self-immolations demanding freedom for the Tibetan areas of China and for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet started in March last year in the Kirti monastery of the Sichuan province, the incident of October 4, 2012, is the 53rd self-immolation. Of these, 48 have taken place in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai and five in the TAR.
According to a report disseminated by the US Congress funded Radio Free Asia, Gudrub, who died on October 4,2012, had returned to Tibet from Dharamshala in India in 2005.He left a statement, titled “Brotherly Love,” on China’s online network qq.com calling on Tibetans to maintain their unity and courage in the face of China’s rule in Tibetan regions. The statement said: “If we reflect on the past, we can see nothing but signs of defeat, anger, anguish, and tears. I pray that you all have good health and success in the coming new year of the Water Dragon. At the same time, I appeal to you to foster unity and solidarity, and to not lose courage in spite of the defeat and loss that we face.”
The two incidents were reported immediately after an appeal to the Tibetans in China issued from Dharamshala on September 27, 2012, by a group of 400 Tibetan exiles from all over the world not to resort to the extreme step of self-immolation to express their unhappiness over the continued occupation of Tibet by the Chinese. The Tibetan exiles had met for four days from September 24,2012, to discuss the situation inside Tibet in the light of the continuing self-immolations, to analyse the likely policies of the new Chinese leadership headed by Mr Xi Jinping which would be taking over from the outgoing leadership headed by Mr Hu Jintao at the 18th Party Congress starting in Beijing on November 8,2012, and to discuss the future options available to the Tibetan people.
The appeal expressed the “grave concern” of the exiles over the burnings and urged Tibetans inside Tibet not to take “drastic actions.” It said: “Tibet is a thinly populated country, and in the present situation losing even one life is a great loss for the Tibetan people. Please preserve your lives in the future.”
The Tibetan, who attempted self-immolation on September 29,2012, might not have been aware of the appeal, but the person who burnt himself to death in the TAR on October 4 would have been aware. The fact that despite the appeal from Dharamshala he burnt himself to death shows that the appeal has had no impact inside Tibet and that the “Self-immolation For Freedom” movement has acquired a self-sustaining momentum of its own due to the desperate human rights situation inside Tibet.
The desperation is growing due to the increasingly muted expressions of concern by the international community over the human rights situation in the Tibetan areas in general and over the spontaneous self-immolation movement in particular.
During the current Presidential campaign in the US, Mr Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, has been raising off and on the adverse impact of the Chinese economy on the US economy, but references to the violations of the human rights of the Tibetans and the self-immolations have been absent.
During the Presidential debate on October 4,2012, Mr Romney twice referred in passing to the adverse impact of the Chinese economy on the US economy, but Mr Obama chose to remain silent. The next debate will be on foreign policy, but it is doubtful whether Tibet would figure in the debate unless Mr Romney raises the issue on the advice of his aides.
The mood of desperation due to the silence of the international community in general and the US in particular seems to be driving more Tibetans to the extreme step of self-immolation disregarding the appeal from Dharamshala not to burn themselves to death.
The Dharamshala meeting of the representatives of the exiles was also reported to have done a brain-storming on the likely policies of the new Chinese leadership towards Tibet. The only straw of hope for the Tibetans is that unlike Mr Hu, who spent the early part of his party career suppressing the Tibetans in the TAR, Mr Xi, who reportedly comes from a family which had suffered the harsh repressive policies under Mao Zedong and during the Cultural Revolution might be a little more nuanced in his attitude to the Tibetans.
Even though Mr Xi will take over the party leadership on November 8, he will take over the State leadership as the President of China only during the meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March next. It is not yet known when Mr Hu will hand over to him the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission of the Party which controls the PLA. It is premature to expect any initiatives on Tibet from Mr Xi till he feels himself firmly in the saddle in respect of the party, the State and the Central Military Commission. The desperation of the Tibetans will continue to rise.
How to address this desperation, how to keep the Tibetan issue alive and active and how to re-energise the conscience of the international community on the Tibetan issue? These were the questions discussed at the Dharamshala meeting by the exiles and a set of recommendations was made to the Tibetan Government-in-exile.
A statement issued at the end of the Dharamshala meeting said: “The meeting resolved to pursue the Middle Way (autonomy and not independence) policy to find a meaningful solution through dialogue with the Chinese Government.” It also called on the government-in-exile to raise awareness of the Middle Way policy and its proposals among the Chinese people themselves. It added that consistent appeals for support should also be made to the United Nations, the European Union, and other world bodies. The meeting appealed to the new Chinese leadership to end Beijing’s hardline policies towards Tibet.
Thus, a three-pronged policy is proposed to be followed: firstly, keep the peaceful satyagraha for preserving the Tibetan identity in the Tibetan areas alive while trying to persuade the desperate elements not to resort to self-immolation, secondly, re-energise international support for the Tibetan cause and , thirdly, appeal to the new Chinese leadership to jettison the hardline policies of the outgoing leadership headed by Mr Hu.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
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