BRICS sealed off us, but Jamphel Yeshi made front page in the news

By Tenzin Kalsang

Tenzin Kalsang, Photographer Unknown
Two weeks ago on 26th March, two days before the Chinese President Hu Jintao was to arrive in Delhi, a 27-year-old Tibetan self-immolated at Jantar Mantar in the Indian capital.
 Jamphel Yeshi, the self-immolater had escaped from Tibet to India in 2006 and sought refuge in India.

Following the immolation, pictures of Jamphel Yeshi’s blazing body covered social networking sites, newspapers and the internet. For the first time, a Tibetan self-immolation made front-page in the international media including Indian newspapers even though thirty Tibetan men and women as young as eighteen-year-olds had sacrificed their bodies as burning lamps to carry out the message of their sufferings in Tibet before Jamphel.

Three more have self-immolated after him. Yet, hardly any attention has been paid by the international media to the videos, images and news filtering out of Tibet despite China’s strict censorship on the internet, phone lines and closing off of all ethnic Tibetan areas.

Trucks and trucks full of Chinese army enter Tibet every day.

Thirty-four "self-immolations in little more than a year is more rapid than the suicide-by-fire protests that punctuated the Vietnam War and the pro-democracy movement in South Korea,” writes Gillian Wong.
However, the huge wave of self-immolations in Tibet is going hugely unnoticed mainly due to the Chinese crackdown in the region that prevents access to them.

China claims that Tibetans enjoy full religious freedom but frequent mass uprisings since 2008, and the wave of self-immolations after Tapey’s immolation in 2009, which is one of the biggest in history, speak otherwise. The unrest is actually far removed from the “Tibet Autonomous Region,” the area that China claims is ethnically Tibetan.

Amdo and Kham have been integrated into Han-dominated prefectures of Gansu, Qinghai, Yunan and Sichuan. Tibetans in Kham and Amdo are mostly pastors and nomads. These areas have been forced into mass “development” programmes by the government and the millennia-old source of their happiness and livelihood, the rolling pastures of the east, have been cordoned-off.

‘Development’ is what they have come to resent. In a large Tibetan family, two out of ten children would be monks or nuns. This huge part of the highly Tibetan population is being forced through “Patriotic Re-education Campaigns” to renounce their religion and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the center of Tibetan Buddhist faith since centuries past.

Monasteries that once housed 3000-4000 monks now hold only 600-800 monks, and forced to renounce their vows by the Chinese government.

And yet, Beijing dares to boast of religious and cultural freedom in Tibet, dares to accuse His Holiness the Dalai Lama of instigating the uprisings and self-immolations. Instead of trying to solve the problem of the Tibetan minority and addressing their woes, China responds by tightening security, mobilizing a mass exodus of military into civil areas and intensifying its efforts to crush and snuff out the Tibetan culture, language, religion and the people.

Mr. Thubten Samphel of Tibet Policy Institute wrote, “When you run out of arguments, you resort to name-calling. China is doing just that. It compares His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Hitler... Mighty China, the next superpower, bristling with military hardware and awash in hard 
cash, equating a lone man who started the World War II... called...’a devil with a human face and the heart of a beast’. In terms of name-calling, you can’t rise higher or stoop lower than that... Did the Dalai Lama do long-distance hypnotism on these young, benighted souls? After more than 60 years of China’s ‘liberation’...why are individual Tibetans willing to make fiery sacrifices for the idea of freedom...? Deflection is an art. Reducing a serious problem to flippancy is another. The Chinese Communist Party excels at both. This art is also a sign of weakness. It means you’ve lost control.”

When Jamphel Yeshi self-immolated on the 26th, Tibetans in exile saw with their own eyes what exactly had happened to the thirty others before him who had set fire to their own bodies. Jamphel at least had people to take him to the hospital and try to save him. The martyrs in Tibet were in many cases beaten by the Chinese police even as their bodies burned and people screamed prayers all around them.

Many say that self-immolation is wrong, that it is a violent act that goes against Buddhism.

For a Buddhist though, burning one’s own body to is also seen as an act of absolutely selfless, powerful and desperate sacrifice and acceptance of the most extreme kind of pain for the good of others.

The young people who will never get back their lives did not want to die. They would have preferred to live but they were driven to such a drastic act because they needed to show the world what lies China had been spinning and they hoped to galvanize international support for

We were all in anguish, shocked and in pain at what we had witnessed. 
Tibetans rushed to the Chinese embassy in the Indian capital right after Jamphel was sent to the hospital, and were consequently arrested, about seven buses full of them taken toTihar jail, one of India’s strictest jails in the country. Restrictions were put against us under the Indian Foreign Act since the Indian government feared that our anger and protests would mar the first BRICS conference that India was to host.

It was understandable but it did not mean that we were going to sit quietly in our rooms with Delhi Police sealing us in while Hu Jintao, the person who had caused our people so much pain since 1989 came so near us. We just had to shame him into realizing that no matter where he went in the world or how long he lived, he had the blood of thousands of innocent Tibetans on his hands and had failed china as a leader.

An Indian man once implied to me in an argument that we Tibetans were ingrates who did not deserve India’s charity and another wrote that the younger Tibetan generation was no longer the “peaceful Tibetan of the few decades past, content to live on the leftovers of India."

Many young Tibetans like me were born in India, as were my parents and most days we tend to forget that we are outsiders and refugees because this is the only home that we have ever known. We forget that we are homeless dependents living borrowed lived on borrowed soil and that a homeless might get shelter but he will never be one of the family.
We got news of Hu’s visit in February and started planning ahead to un-welcome him. We knew that this time, no matter what the consequences, we would protest against him. The whole week that Hu Jintao was here in the Indian capital city, and almost a month before that felt like a nightmare as we planned actions and protests and then as we had to find ways to actually carry out those plans despite heavy being under police surveillance. Every Tibetan who got arrested during Hu’s visit to Delhi knew that they would be arrested, get a few bruises and break a few laws in the actions against him. But we were determined. We felt in our hearts not the fear of imprisonment but the fear that the protests would be left incomplete and that Hu Jintao wouldn’t feel unwelcome enough.

In the face of all that had been happening, we knew that we Tibetans living outside Tibet had to be the voice of the Tibetans inside and show that we were together in this struggle.

No matter how big an action we took, our small problems could never compare to the sacrifices that our brothers and sisters living inside Tibet make every minute of their lives. We at least have a voice which they do not. In the process we might have over-imposed on our benefactors of over half a century but we could only hope that they would understand.

 As we were being taken in the police jeep to the Lajpat Nagar Police Station for protesting in front of the Oberoi Hotel-hosting Hu Jintao, my only regret was that we couldn’t do something big enough that Hu Jintao would see and be ashamed of himself. A fellow protestor later told me that a person was filming our protest from one of the windows, just like they always do when we protest in front of the Chinese embassy.

NOTE—Tenzin Kalsang is a student of English literature at Jesus and Mary College-University of Delhi, and Media and Information Coordinator at Students for a free Tibet, India



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  1. nicely written..hope to see more of it.

  2. hi kelsang... dear can you please circulate your piece to every individual friend of yours...maybe through facebook or something...its a small step to reach people around helps...specially our Indian friends who are unaware of this issue...struggle for freedom of Tibet...

    keep writing and posting...

    freedom for Tibet!

  3. Way to go Kelsang, I really like your post!

  4. nice job Kelsang la, I on behalf of India Tibet Coordination office, appreciate your effort and work towards Tibetan cause.

    Tenzin Norbu

  5. Thank you very much Kalsang la, for writing this sort of news and events which gives us lot of information about current Tibetan situation in different places. I really support to your work and appreciate a lot for your unwavering thoughts and strong support for the Tibet cause through your education and capability.

    Lobsang Norbu from El Cerrito, CA