Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Blazing Protests

Setting yourself on fire is one of the worst ways to commit suicide.

It doesn't guarantee death, and it's a very painful way to go. Those who survive self-immolations are physically and emotionally scarred for life.

However there are some Tibetans who are choosing this method of suicide to voice their protest against the Chinese government.

Tomorrow will mark the fourth anniversary of the Tibet uprising where there were peaceful protests but also violent ones that descended to looting, rioting, burning and killing.

Racial tensions erupted between Chinese and non-Chinese and it created stark divisions.

That palpable tension was even felt in Beijing when I was there, as it was clear foreigners believed one side of the Tibet story, while Han Chinese had their own version.

Most memorable was that on our MSN chat lists, everyone's name had a red heart next to it as a symbol of their love for China. My entire list was red, burning red; it was a frightening time.

After quelling the riots, the Communist Party of China came down even harder on Tibetans, particularly monks, making it more difficult for them to worship proper Buddhist texts without having "reeducation sessions".

The repression for these people has become unbearable, leading some to choose the desperate act of self-immolations as shocking statement of their plight.

There have been 14 self-immolations this year, and more than 20 in the past year.

Before setting themselves ablaze, they have been reported calling for Tibet's freedom and the Dalai Lama's name.

While His Holiness is sympathetic to these people, the Dalai Lama does not agree with self-immolations, saying it is not a Buddhist thing to do.

Meanwhile Chinese officials are trying to discredit these Tibetans by calling them outcasts, criminals and mentally ill people who are manipulated by the Dalai lama.

"Some of the suicides are committed by clerics returning to lay life, and they all have criminal records or suspicious activities. They have a very bad reputation in society," said Wu Zegang, an ethnic Tibetan who is the government's top administrator in Aba prefecture.

He added that the self immolations were "orchestrated and supported" by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independent forces. He said that before they set themselves on fire, the immolators shouted "independence for Tibet and other slogans that aim to divide the nation."

Officials have tried to explain that some committed this kind of suicide because of other reasons other than Tibet's political situation, such as pressures at school or previous head injuries. These hardly seem like credible explanations because setting oneself on fire is not an easy way to die.

However the Chinese will never be able to control these self-immolators -- they are random and not organized.

As a result they may continue.

When will the Chinese realize they need to realize that force will not bring peace -- but mutual respect, understanding and communication?

I can only hope it will happen in my lifetime, otherwise all is lost and desperation remains.

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