Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Another One

Tsering Dhondup

Tsering Dhondup, 34, set himself on fire, protesting against the Chinese government’s failed policies in Tibet around 8:30 am (local time) yesterday (20 Nov) at Amchok, Labrang in north-eastern Tibet’s Amdo region.  He burned himself in front of a local mine field and died on the spot.

 Tsering Dhondup is the 78th Tibetan to set himself on fire. [1]

He joins:

Name                                         Age         Cause of Death                       Date

Wangchen Norbu, male,     25,         self-immolation            November 19, 2012
Sangdhak Tsering, male,     24,         self-immolation            November 17, 2012
Chagmo Kyi, female,                            self-immolation            November 17, 2012.

 Tenzin Dolma, female        23,           self-immolation            November 15, 2012.
 Khabum Gyal, male            18,           self-immolation           November 15, 2012.
 Nyinchak Bum, male          18,           self-immolation           November 11, 2012.
 Nyingkar Tashi, male         24,           self-immolation           November 11, 2012.
 Gonpo Tserin, male            19,           self-immolation           October 1, 2012

That's just since last month.

Total number of self-immolations in the last three years: 78
Total death toll: 64
See complete list here.
Details and photos here
Since occupying Tibet, the Chinese government has deliberately and continuously suppressed Tibetan  language, religious identity and civil liberties.  In monasteries pictures of the Dalai Lama have been removed and replaced with images of Chinese leaders.  The Tibetan culture is systematically being erased and replaced. The world watches in alarm as monks and young Tibetans self-immolate out of desperation and despair.

Disturbed by "continuing allegations of violence against Tibetans seeking to exercise their fundamental human rights of freedom of expression, association and religion", U.N. high commissioner for human rights  Navi Pillay urged Chinese authorities last Friday " to better address grievances expressed by the Tibetan people." (How the Chinese rulers of Tibet address Tibetan grievances has been to use excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, as well as detain and disappear them.    The Chinese refuse to allow independent human rights monitors to visit the region.

 And don't even think about associating with these self-immolators or reporting to the outside world about these continuing self-immolations, if you're Tibetan:

 Courts in Sichuan Province sentenced 19-year-old Lobsang Tsultrim and 17-year-old Lobsang Jangchub, to 11 and eight years in prison respectively for associating with a self-immolating monk. Another court in Sichuan, meanwhile, sentenced two Tibetans in their twenties, Lobsang Tashi and Bu Thupdor, to over seven years in prison just for sending information about the burning protests to foreign contacts. {Source] 

[Read Human Rights Watch World Report 2012 on China here.]
There have been 64 deaths by suicides of this particular type (self-immolation) in Tibet in three years.  As of early June last summer there've been 146 suicides from active-duty U.S. soldiers, "averaging a suicide a day in 2012." [Source].

The reasons may vary but what these 'deaths-by-one's-own-hand' have in common is a loss of hope that one's situation could change. Whether it's a broken body/shattered mind as a result of war experiences, or extreme repression and having to witness the slow, eventual extinction of one's own culture, such tragic responses are always shocking but shouldn't be surprising.  That they're increasing, however, should make us take note.

The media's all abuzz this week about the Gaza/Israel rocket/missile skirmishes.  Few mention Tibet or those U.S. soldier suicides.   Reporters and readers of news can absorb only so much.

 One or thousands, a life is a life.  Each was somebody who mattered to somebody.

These two current news stories (the latest in a series of Tibetan self-immolations, the Gaza/Israel conflict) made me think of Identity.  How one defines oneself according to one's culture/beliefs/what constitutes "home", etc. , and the circumstances one encounters in life that change one's perception about identity. 

The world is increasingly becoming a "melting pot", several countries now flooded with refugees of displacement, where various cultures coexist (or fail to) after chosen (or forced) change places them in a situation where they must suddenly adjust or assimilate.  What is retained, and what is sometimes lost.  (While for centuries individuals have emigrated "to be free" or for economic or personal reasons, I'm thinking more here of large masses of people whose country is no longer a viable or safe place to live.)
The spiritual sense of the "We are all One" mantra is obliterated when heard not as an invitation to togetherness or enlightenment, but as a threatened mandate to submit or be marginalized/disenfranchised/punished or annihilated. 

Humans who die by their own hands, because life becomes intolerable.
Humans who end the lives of others, by choice, or accidental overkill.
In both cases, toleration has limits.
It's when those limits have been reached that resistance turns deadly.

Remembering that song by John Lennon:  "Imagine ...."
Imagine living in a world without murder and suicide.  Without wars.
Where our children get to grow up, not be made casualties of our inability to end the madness.
Given the history of the human race, though   ...   probably not in my lifetime.

and yet ....  one wants to DO something.

when hoping isn't enough
when praying doesn't work
when talking/protesting/writing about it's just a mini squeak-blip in the deafening fog of ROAR ...

A friend of mine tried to commit suicide last week.
Because life has become intolerable.
You can help an individual person. ('Attempteds' that don't succeed are  sometimes a cry for help.  Mostly they want you to just listen.)  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.  I tried to think how devastating it would've been had she succeeded.

And so yes, a news story about another Tibetan suicide (and the remembered suicided soldiers of war) struck a chord with me today.  Another (hospitalized 94-year-old) friend would love nothing better than to have 30 more years (judging by his eagerness to get back to work and his favorite pastimes); a grieving father in Gaza whose son didn't even make it to age one.    Life.

Life is a gift. (Some would say a curse.).  I look at the world.  I think of patterns.  And how much has changed.  And how much            really  hasn't.