In Tibet, defiant self-immolations spread beyond monks, nuns
Yesterday, a Tibetan mother died after her self-immolation in protest of the Dalai Lama's exile and the lack of freedom in Tibet. The number of self-immolators has risen to 45 in the past 1-1/2 years.
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Tibetan Buddhist leaders have described the mood inside Tibet as a life and death struggle for the future of their faith and identity, and say that time is running out.Skip to next paragraph
“They are calling for Dalai Lama’s return because they are in this very serious moment, very serious, in which the Tibetan nation, identity, culture, the spiritual tradition, are all being closed down by Chinese aggression,” says Kate Saunders, the spokeswoman for International Campaign for Tibet in London. “There is a very powerful feeling that time is running out, and that the connection between the people and what the Dalai Lama represents is being broken. These young people are sacrificing out of desperation that this spiritual connection not be broken. What they are calling out as they burn is for the return of the Dalai Lama, and for freedom in Tibet.”
A year ago today, the Dalai Lama stepped down as official head of the government in exile after decades, but retains preeminence as the spiritual leader of Tibetans. In Tibetan monasteries, China continues to oversee aspects of religious instruction, control the appointment of teachers, give patriotic loyalty tests -- actions that many Tibetans protest as serious infringements by Beijing on the faith.
Photos of the Dalai Lama in Tibet are forbidden.
“All monasteries must display pictures of Mao Zedong and Chinese President Hu Jintao and fly the Chinese flag. In numerous monasteries, forced patriotic reeducation campaigns are under way,” states Lobsang Sangay, who now heads a newly democratic government in exile in Dharamsala, India, in a statement this week. “Monks or nuns refusing to cooperate with Chinese policies are evicted from monasteries or arrested,” and in some cases nuns have been asked to stomp on the images of the Dalai Lama.
Some Tibetan experts say the past year of self-immolations represent a “tipping point” in the deepening clashes between locals and Chinese authorities. But a consensus is also developing that Tibetan anger and discontent is near full boil. Tibetan nationalism is on the rise, seen partly through videos capturing enormous crowds attending the funeral services of the immolators.
“We are past a tipping point … the situation has already tipped,” argues Mr. Marshall. “If lay Tibetans are now more prone to express less hope for the future, that is a problem for the [Chinese Communist] Party.”
Beijing authorities often equate support for the Dalai Lama as synonymous with “succession.” In recent months, they have vastly ramped up security forces in Tibet armed with fire extinguishers and “hooks” used to collar those who are trying to self-immolate. There is also a new and sophisticated Chinese media campaign. A multilingual, state-run CCTV series of broadcasts this summer on “The Dalai Clique and the Self-Immolation Events” essentially accuses the leader and other Buddhists of promoting the self-burnings, and includes on-the-ground graphic video footage and interviews with local Chinese police chiefs.
The region, meanwhile, is shut off from most foreign and Western journalists, NGOs, and human rights groups.