Is Self-immolation An Effective Tool For Political Protest?

Posted on April 2, 2013 in Politics

By Anand Sinha:

On March 16 2013, another Tibetan monk Lobsang Thokmey self-immolated protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He did it specifically to protest the March 16, 2008 killing of 13 protesters in Ngaba. There have been more than 100 cases of self-immolation in China, Tibet, India and Nepal by the Tibetans to protest Chinese occupation as of today. During this event, Thokmey became a role model for the Tibetan protesters but lost his life in the process.

Tibetan exile Janphel Yeshi, 27, runs as

The demand of Tibetan protesters has been a free Tibet and return of His Holiness Dalai Lama there. Dalai Lama said that he does not encourage this form of protest but he saluted the courage of these protesters. He has blamed the genocide by the Chinese regime for such unfortunate events of self-immolation. On the other hand, China has blamed Dalai Lama for encouraging the acts of self-immolation among the population of Tibet. However, it has affirmed that Tibet is an integral part of China.

Among these events, it is worth to be noted why self-immolation has been gaining more popular support than other acts like writing, rallies, debates etc. as a form of protest. Self-immolation has been used as a form of protest by the oppressed against the oppressor since ages all over the world. Whether it was self-immolation by five monks against the Emperor Wu or it was Thich Dug self-immolating as a protest against Ngo Dinh Diem’s religiously prejudiced regime or self-immolation by an entire village of Old Believers in faith-concerned protest, this act of self-immolation has been there and has been popular.

In the context of self-immolation by Tibetan monks protesting against the Chinese regime occupation of Tibet, its popularity or rather the heroism following it can be attributed to the fact that it has brought the issue openly and concretely in the front of the world. The act signifies the grief and anger of the Tibetan population who are fighting for the freedom of their country and their faith.

It is not that there has not been any loss of life of Tibetans in protests. They have been shot in the protest rallies and they have been shot in their gatherings. But such events had been covered up by the regime of China and did not recieve much international attention. On the other hand, the act of self-immolation has always garnered worldwide attention.

The literal fire surrounding the protester has ignited another kind of fire around the world which has garnered large support for their cause. Such acts are easily transmitted through videos and pictures all over the internet and then into newspapers and portals worldwide. The videos and pictures of self-immolation have been the most instrumental in spreading the Free Tibet movement all over the world, specifically around the Tibetan territory. The notion that a person can burn himself or herself for a cause makes the cause much prominent and urgent in the eyes of the people who would otherwise have ignored the killing of protesters or the cause itself. But self-immolation as a form of protest has been responsible for this shift in attention to the Free Tibet cause.

Nobody, perhaps, likes a ‘suicide’ but surely they appreciate the self-immolation act as a form of protest. Not being carried away, we must also look at the matter form the other point of view. Is the young population of Tibet being psychologically manipulated by the prominent people of the movement to indulge in these activities, as China suspects, Is self-immolation as useful for the cause as it is ‘popular’?

These questions are not to point fingers at one party or the other. These questions must be considered with an open mind so that we can have rational results. These questions must be answered so that young lives are not lost.