Yet another life has been tragically lost in the name of the Tibetan cause. This latest casualty came in the wake of the Swiss government’s recent rejection of 300 Tibetan asylum seekers and dictum for them to leave the country.
In a grisly act of protest, 32-year-old Tashi Namgyal lay down on the railway track between Lucerne’s Emmenbrücke and Olten stations in the early hours of 7th September 2017, willing himself to be fatally run over by an oncoming train. He reportedly left behind two letters, one addressed to the United Nations and the other to the Swiss government. Not only did both letters specifically carry his appeals for the plight of Tibetans in exile, but they also conveyed his overwhelming sense of helplessness, disappointment and frustration for his fellow countrymen.
The scene of Tashi Namgyal’s unfortunate suicide
Some might single out the Swiss government as the culprit, claiming that this tragedy could have been averted if they had been more compassionate and more accommodating to Tibetan asylum seekers. However, blaming the Swiss government is oversimplifying the problem and overlooking its root cause.
First of all, the Swiss government does not owe anything to the Tibetans refugees in exile. It has every right to decide whom to allow into its borders and whom to reject. It has acted within its own laws and to condemn them for rejecting Tibetan asylum seekers is to allow the real culprit, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), to yet again, cop out of its responsibilities.
In truth, this drastic form of protest is the result of the mounting frustration and desperation of Tibetans refugees caused by the broken promises of the CTA. From the ultimate promise of a return to their homeland to the interim assurances of improving the welfare of Tibetans in exile, CTA has clearly delivered none.
Negotiations with China have been at a stalemate for quite a while, with minimum traction to date. Instead of working hard to bring China back to the negotiation table, the CTA is more interested in explaining the lack of progress by conveniently blaming it all on China’s policies. This approach not only reflects the CTA’s typical irresponsible nature, but is also an insult to the people’s intelligence as there are many more avenues which the CTA can explore.
For instance, the CTA has done nothing to address China’s lack of trust in their sincerity in relations to the negotiations. This is obviously a major stumbling block, yet the CTA has illogically been making the situation worse by antagonising China, constantly painting it to the world at large as a sinister government abusing its power and using its money unscrupulously to get what it wants.
There has also been no proper post mortem to explore more effective ways to engage China nor any proper re-evaluation of the CTA’s strategy in dealing with the Chinese government. In other words, the Tibetan leadership is more preoccupied with justifying its ineffective policies and dealings with Chinese leaders rather than addressing them.
The sad truth is that, as long as there are Tibetans who keep sacrificing their lives for the Tibetan cause, the CTA will continue to have a convenient excuse to deflect attention away from their incompetence.
Another crucial factor prompting great frustration for the Tibetans in exile is their economic hardship. In this regard, saying that the CTA fail to pass muster is clearly an understatement. After all these years, not only has the Tibetan leadership failed to steer the Tibetan refugee community into self-sustainability, they have also failed to create tangible improvements in their social and economic welfare to date. Exile Tibetans living in Dharamsala are pretty much no better off now than how they were when they first fled Tibet, despite decades of generous donations and monetary aid channelled to the CTA for the Tibetan people.
Tashi Namgyal (front, center) during happier days
Thus, for many exile Tibetans, applying for asylum overseas becomes their only shot at building a better life and escaping the mire that is the Tibetan refugee community. As such, it is not difficult to see why even Tibetan youths such as the late Tashi Namgyal and the late Tenzin Choeying would feel dejected and disheartened to the point of employing extreme measures as a last resort to draw attention to the plight of Tibetans in exile.
Perhaps they were hoping to emulate the success of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose self-immolation culminated in the end of dictatorship in Tunisia. Or perhaps they were trying to follow in the footsteps of Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk whose self-immolation eventually stopped the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government and toppled their rule.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that these self-inflicted Tibetan deaths have failed to effectuate any geopolitical changes. In fact, the ineffectiveness of the self-immolations as a means to advance the Tibetan cause is painfully obvious yet, for some reason, the CTA has elected not to condemn or speak against these sacrificial acts to prevent future incidents.
If the CTA truly cared for its people, why would they allow these rising suicides to be left unchecked? Clearly, the Tibetan leadership is in a position to curtail them, given their ability to browbeat Dorje Shugden practitioners into giving up their religious beliefs, turning those who refuse into social pariahs, turning the tables on Rangzen supporters and causing the violent ostracization of Lukar Jam. Given their influence and sway on their people, the CTA is more than able to bring an end to future suicides, if they wanted to.
Driven by an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and frustration, the late Tashi Namgyal undertook the most drastic form of individual protest to draw attention to the plight of his fellow Tibetans.
The hard truth is that the Tibetan leadership’s non-action has resulted in yet another loss of a young Tibetan life, and this time not under the so-called “oppression” of China but in the peaceful and democratic environs of Switzerland. Blame for the anguish and loss suffered by Tashi Namgyal’s family lies directly at the CTA’s doorstep.
Furthermore, the CTA’s on-going refusal to curb the rising spate of suicides in the name of the Tibetan cause will not only affect the reputation of Tibetans refugees around the world, but possibly spur even more countries to think twice before letting another Tibetan asylum seeker into their borders.
Given these circumstances, it logically goes to say that there must be truth in the allegations that the CTA actually condones these sacrifices. After all, since they are financially benefitting from increased foreign aid after every case of self-immolation, it is not a stretch to conclude that the Tibetan leaders are incentivised to remain quiet.
At the end of the day, the shock and outrage which ensues with each loss of Tibetan life conveniently allows the CTA to keep the Tibetan dream alive with very little effort on their part. From this perspective, it is no wonder that the Tibetan leadership is more interested in glorifying Tibetans who self-immolate by holding memorial services, lighting candles, calling them martyrs of the Tibetan cause and erecting statues to commemorate past self-immolations than to call for a cessation of such grisly suicides. Why? Because it would mean that they would actually have to put time and effort into doing what they were elected to do – to give the Tibetan people a better life.
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