Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tibetan Self-immolations and the Ongoing Discourses

After reading and commenting on social medias on the recent spate of self immolations in Tibet, a flicker of pain starts to tighten my chest - a pain that many Tibetans (including myself) tend to shy away from. This pain of anger as well as helplessness is shared by Tibetans in general - both inside and outside Tibet. In recent years, this pain is getting more alive and intense with each passing news of another self-immolation of a Tibetan in Tibet. Unfortunately, the pain shows no sign of subsiding in the near future.

For many Tibetans in exile, to lessen or address this pain, they took to streets to abuse, shout, and demonize visiting Chinese leaders or Chinese Consulate. Among many, several benefits of these street protests may be to patronize or re-patronize second- and third-generation Tibetans and to bring some awareness on the present situations inside Tibet. As with any general medications, the side effects of this pain relieving protest may be several. However, in this article, an attempt is made to narrow the analysis on the ongoing discourses about Tibetan self-immolations.

The unending discourses on "who to blame" for these increasing number of self-immolations tend to stretch along the same old narratives. The Chinese government blames exile Tibetan community for instigating these self-immolations while Tibetans in exile blame the Chinese government for failure to listen the voices of Tibetans in Tibet. As a result, these high level discourses flow downstream to a sea of ordinary citizens where they generally supports (knowingly or unknowingly) their side of political story.

For instance, every time there is a discourse on self-immolations in the Tibetan community, the blame is easily and solely put on the Chinese government and its policies. This blame is undeniably true but it is also a hard fact that the Chinese government will not help stop these increasing number of self immolations. For China, Tibetans are not the only one who self-immolates. There are common Chinese people burning themselves to show their frustration towards the local government or Chinese government policies (click here to read about one such case).

Most disturbingly, the Chinese as well as International Media and Press in general are not free as it should be - reported that the self-immolation of Tibetan monks was one of the most underreported stories of 2011. There is no doubt that the report will remain same for this year too. With China's rising economic power and its flexing muscles, Tibet may continue to see less media and press coverage, both international and domestic.

If not the Chinese government, press and media, or/and the United Nations, then who should stop these ongoing self-immolations?

Out of many stakeholders, I see it as failure on the part of exile Tibetan community to convince Tibetans inside Tibet that it is of minimal use to burn themselves. At this critical juncture of leadership transition in China, change in Tibet is not in the air. It is critical to call on brave Tibetans not to give up their lives. Tibet need them to be remain alive, to help preserve, defend and develop culture and nation for long.

Further, a discourse on self immolations among Chinese common people seems to be disturbing for Tibet. Recently, the Chinese official media used "planned self-immolations" to disapprove the voices of Tibetan self-immolators. Whether this accusation is true or not, for a common Chinese, they see a pattern in these self-immolations which seems to support the Chinese government narratives i.e., these self-immolations were planned by exile Tibetans to create instability in these regions.

Thus, the most worrying part of self immolations may be - if Tibetans could not convey or reach to common Chinese people, the purpose of self-immolations may not achieve its desired outcomes such as freedom of religion, human rights, and return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Rather the issue of Tibet may see an uncertain death in the international community. This death may turn the pain of Tibetan people into violence - a desperate act to seek international attention.

However, if the Tibetan freedom movement turns violent, Tibetans may achieve some success (largely negative) in gaining international attention such as the United Nations, governments, and international press and media. But the global support for its freedom struggle may gradually fade away which will undoubtedly be self-defeating as well as self-inflicting wounds that may never heal. For China, these self-immolations could be a sign of warning - a warning that shows the potential of violence if China continues to disrespect the feelings of Tibetan people.

Now looking at the increasing number of self-immolations in Tibet, it seems to support the rumor that was first published six months ago - inside Tibet, a rumor is reported to have spread that if 200 people set themselves alight, this will trigger a response from the United Nations (Source: Channel 4 News). The sad reality is that this rumor is like a cup that holds no water at all. Yet, more than 30 Tibetans have self-immolated since then.

Lets assume this worst case scenario - If the number of self-immolators reach 200 and nothing happens, how Tibetans (inside and outside) will address the never ending yet disturbing questions about the future course of Tibetan freedom movements? The questions that would raise eyebrows at unsuccessful attempts to negotiate with China, failed efforts to seek international supports, ineffective protests and strikes, and growing frustration of Tibetan people.

Therefore, it may not be too late for exile Tibetan community to act (to convince Tibetans not to self-immolate) before it gets beyond repair. Its time to walk the path that may help save lives of Tibetan people as well as Tibetan freedom movement. This path may be difficult but essential at this make or break point.

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