Tenzin Choeying in the hospital where he remains in critical condition. When will Sikyong Lobsang Sangay realize that such self-immolations are not the fault of the Chinese, but the responsibility of the Tibetan leadership to stop? How many more injuries and deaths are necessary before they wake up to this truth?
Sad news reached us today of yet another attempted self-immolation. This time, the victim was a 20-year-old man, Tenzin Choeying, who set himself on fire to draw attention to the so-called Tibetan cause. The protest was carried out in Varanasi, during a visit by the Prime Minister of the Tibetan people Sikyong Lobsang Sangay.
Most significant in the reports were remarks that the young man made before he self-immolated. Remarkably, Choeying thanked the Sikyong for the supposedly good job that he is doing. Choeying even had the presence of mind to state that Lobsang Sangay had nothing to do with the protest.
This last statement must surely be something that the Sikyong now takes comfort in, although he knows the failure for a so-called free Tibet and to initiate dialogue with China actually lies with him and his ineffective governance and leadership.
Instead of taking comfort from a 20-year-old’s words however, we request that for once, Lobsang Sangay shows concern for his people. We request that he does not think about assuaging his guilt, and instead focuses on why Tibetans to this day try and kill themselves. In light of this, we ask that the Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and all readers to contemplate this: if Lobsang Sangay was doing such a good job, why would a young man find that it is necessary to attempt to kill himself?Surely people only resort to such extreme measures when they feel they have no hope and this is their last resort to make themselves heard.
While 20-year-old Tenzin Choeying lay in the hospital fighting for his life, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay gave a speech to the students and faculty of the university. What right does Lobsang Sangay have to address to anyone on the topic of Tibetan cultural preservation and the so-called Tibetan cause, when his own people are killing themselves, and him and his loved ones have never been forced to make such a sacrifice themselves? How can he ask his citizens to take such drastic acts when he spends more time on photo opportunities, than he does in engaging with China?
Choeying himself said he attempted a self-immolation “only for Tibet” and that it had nothing to do with the Sikyong. But why even attempt to absolve the Sikyong of any responsibility, and why even bring up his name in connection to the incident if Lobsang Sangay was not already in some way a trigger for it? If people are not related to something, they are not related, fullstop. There would not be any need to even mention their names because it would be clear for everyone to see that there is no connection. Yet, before Choeying attempted to take his life, it was Lobsang Sangay’s name which came to his mind, and not the names of his parents or his family. Choeying bore more concern for Lobsang Sangay over and above his parents, an indication of how much Lobsang Sangay’s influence is involved in someone’s decision to self-immolate.
The fact remains that if Lobsang Sangay was doing such a good job, if his work was producing measurable results for a so-called free Tibet, then the young man would not have had cause to try and kill himself.
Lobsang Sangay needs to reevaluate the decisions he is making. A young man who is probably no older than his own children has attempted to kill himself, because the dream that was sold to him turned out to be an unfulfilled lie. As the head of the Tibetan leadership, the Sikyong Lobsang Sangay is hence singularly responsible for his potentially fatal injuries because it is he who, as the leader, is responsible for the failure of the Tibetan dream that he built and perpetuates. It is he who authorizes all marketing, promotion and encouragement of the “Free Tibet” cause. It is he who glorifies a young man’s death, by giving silent approval for the self-immolators’ actions and building memorials to glamorize and commemorate the victims of this violent form of suicide.
Meanwhile, the Tibetan leadership’s website did not even mention news of Tenzin Choeying’s self-immolation attempt. The government was more concerned about the death of a dissident from another country, rather than the attempted death of their own citizen.
What did poor Choeying’s act result in other than grieving parents, and the potential for another mark on the memorial walls dedicated to self-immolators? How many more people will need to fall in harm’s way like this before the Tibetan leadership realizes that their methods do not work, and they cannot and should not keep it up any longer? Their stubbornness and refusal to come up with a more effective solution for initiating dialogue with China will be the death of their people. It is the Tibetan leadership’s silence over self-immolations, their ineffective leadership and their declining international reputation that is killing their people. The double whammy of this combined with the rampant nepotism, corruption, embezzlement and general self-serving behaviour is being felt across their community who are seeing no other option than to burn themselves to the death.
It is stunning that poor Choeying actually thought that the Sikyong is doing a good job with his works. In fact, the news of his act barely touched the international media, such is the lack of public interest and the media’s desensitized state towards these self-immolations. If Lobsang Sangay were indeed doing a good job, the whole world would have picked up on it hours later. And so if he is to survive (which we hope he will), what will his parents tell him, that 60% burns on his body was in vain?
In this alone we can see that Lobsang Sangay’s masquerade as a leader of his people is complete. He fools people into thinking that he’s a good leader, and yet leads them to burn themselves. In any other circumstance, such behavior would be labelled cultish. A prominent example from recent history that readers may be familiar with, that mirrors this whole affair, is the example of Jim Jones and his followers. Jim Jones’ followers adoringly thought of him as a good leader, only to be compelled to commit suicide under his instruction. The only difference between Jim Jones and Sikyong Lobsang Sangay is the number of people that the Sikyong is leading to their deaths if he does not engage with China and change the situation about Tibet any time soon.
And while it is convenient to blame China for these deaths due to the lack of a so-called free Tibet, the Tibetan leadership are equally responsible for these self-immolations through their lack of effective political action for Tibet, and through their silence and failing to tell their people to stop. So although Choeying attempted to absolve Lobsang Sangay of any responsibility, if he dies, it will be yet another death on the conscience of the Sikyong Lobsang Sangay who has to bear the karma of each killing.
It is not as though the Tibetan leadership has no capacity to be more vocal. On many other issues, they have been resolute, even draconian, when it comes to implementing measures that they perceive will benefit them and silence their opponents. For example, when it comes to demonizing Lukar Jam, the Tibetan leadership has seen success in turning Tibetan public opinion against this once-popular candidate for Sikyong, to the point of his car being violently vandalized and his family feeling physically threatened.
With Dorje Shugden practitioners, they have violently imposed the ban on his practice since 1996, leading to the expulsion of thousands of monks and the split of the monasteries, along with the targeted ostracization of Shugden practitioners. And when it comes to adherents of the rangzen (full independence) movement, the Tibetan leadership have demonstrated they are very capable of branding these people as anti-Dalai Lama traitors to the so-called Tibetan cause, only because they choose rangzen over the Dalai Lama’s umaylam (meaningful autonomy).
So people who hold views that differ from the Tibetan leadership’s often find themselves demonized, marginalized and have their freedom of speech taken away from them. The leadership is not beyond harassing a newspaper to shut down its operations! So it is not as though the Tibetan leadership is a shy, docile and retiring one. Their actions in exile over the last 60 years to silence their opponents, is proof positive that they can be very vocal if they wish. So they should step up and tell their people to stop killing themselves, and be much more vocal, resolute and firm in this. If they really care about the preservation of Tibetan culture, then they should care about the preservation of Tibetan life and stop sacrificing people on their perverse altar of self-gain. Staying silent while their people kill themselves is a convenient and easy way of keeping the Tibetan dream alive, with very little effort on the leadership’s part since there will always be someone somewhere in the world who will be shocked and outraged by the loss of Tibetan life.
Thus we close the week with yet more unfortunate news and another young life wasted. Tibetans should stop taking their own lives in vain, and realize that their actions are wasted on a leadership who will not be able to engage with China effectively. And the Tibetan leadership should already make this clear to their people to stop them from committing suicide. We hope that the Sikyong will keep this in mind as more and more Tibetans find it necessary to do what is most taboo in a supposedly Buddhist society, the taking of one’s own life, and actually do something to stop all of these needless deaths before it is too late.
Update July 22, 2017
It has just been reported that Tenzin Choeying succumbed to the burn injuries sustained as a result of his self-immolation attempt on July 14. At the time of his passing, Choeying had 90% burns throughout his body. We offer our condolences to his loved ones and hope no more lives will be lost in this manner. Yet another young Tibetan life has been wasted in such a tragedy. How many more will have to lose their lives in this way before the Tibetan leaders wake up to the fact they are ineffective at accomplishing their goals?
Tibetan Student in India Self-Immolates in Protest For Tibetan Freedom
A young Tibetan studying in India set himself ablaze on Friday at the Central University for Tibetan Studies in Varanasi in a protest calling for freedom for his homeland, Tibetan sources said.
Tenzin Choeying, aged about 20, self-immolated at around 9:00 a.m. in the entrance of a residence hall after dousing himself with kerosene, witnesses told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“He ran [a short distance] and shouted “Victory to Tibet,” said Chime Namgyal, president of the Varanasi chapter of the Tibetan Youth Congress activist group, who later visited the burned student in a nearby hospital.
Several students and Indian staff quickly ran to Choeying to put out the fire, another source said.
Choeying, who is now in critical condition with burns over 60 percent of his body, is being treated in a hospital in Varanasi, Namgyal told RFA.
“The doctor cannot guarantee his chances for survival, but he is able to speak,” Namgyal said, adding that Choeying said he had burned himself because “there are no rights for Tibetans in Tibet.”
Choeying was especially concerned that Tibetans under Chinese rule should be allowed learn their own language, Namgyal said.
Choeying launched his protest while Lobsang Sangay, president of Tibet’s India-based exile government the Central Tibetan Administration, was giving a speech to university students, but the protest was not linked to Sangay’s presence on campus, Choeying said from his hospital bed.
“The Sikyong is doing a great job, and I fully appreciate him,” Choeying said, using the Tibetan title for Sangay’s political role in exile. “I burned myself only for Tibet.”
Choeying’s parents, residents of the Kollegal Tibetan Settlement in South India, were informed of their son’s protest and condition and are expected to arrive soon to see him at the hospital in Varanasi, Namgyal said.
In a statement released July 14, the London-based advocacy group Free Tibet called Choeying’s protest further evidence of the ”deep and whole-hearted opposition that Tibetans have to China’s continued occupation of their country and to the human rights abuses that prop this occupation up.”
Both inside and outside Tibet, young Tibetans “feel a sense of injustice that drives them to act and make sacrifices that many of us can barely comprehend,” Free Tibet said.
Self-immolation protests by Tibetans living outside Tibetan-populated areas of China are rare, while a total of 150 have now set themselves ablaze in Tibet and Tibetan-populated counties in western China.
Most protests feature demands for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from India, where he has lived since escaping Tibet during a failed national uprising in 1959.
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