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Self-immolation and the Impact on Tibetan Youths

posted Apr 8, 2012, 6:01 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
By Tenzing Jigme

I reflect on this subject given the increased focus that Tibetan youths are getting from the self-sacrifice made by fellow Tibetan man and women in the name of Freedom. They are getting up-to-date reminders every hour with links on their Facebook page and other social media avenues whether they want it or not. We are all sad and mentally shaken in some form by the graphic images and videos. I would guess it has a deeper impact on the young minds and shape how Tibetan youths think and act, negatively or positively.

I also write this because being new father and I wonder how my daughter might make sense of her fellow kinsman and women taking their life through such extreme and painful act for a cause. Will she have the power to reason and think deeper into the causes and her action? How will she reason and motivate her future action in a way that furthers the Tibetan cause, without resorting to extreme measures? Like many parents, I would never make her think that such extreme method should be the way to achieve freedom. We should be worried over how our youths will take the message behind the act. For the moments, we are protected in our movement with Buddhist principles but a thin line exists before someone self-sacrifices in front of people, leading to a terrorist tag to the non-violent movement.

Way Forward

Simple explanation and emotion only will not do justice to the acts of the 32 self-immolators. We might have to think more deeply of the acts and actions thereafter. The lives sacrificed might go to waste if the youths and every Tibetan do not practice the message behind what they sacrificed and struggled against. A small justice or repayment one can make towards the lives lost would be to pay attention and study Tibet’s history, the land and its people, its culture, its Buddhist religion and principles, the politics, the environment and so on. More importantly, the knowledge gained has to be practiced in daily lives. In this way the Lhakar movement is significant and teaches us something.

Providing platform for Tibetan youths to reflect and express their opinions on self-immolation and the broader movement for Free Tibet would be one way to have reasoned and open/frank conversation. This could also take place within friends and family to express any suppressed and angry sentiments. Folks might already be having this conversation and must be encouraged further. Ideas and strategies take place in these small gathering. Also one thing we don’t want to see happen in being deaf to the voices of the Chinese people who might be trying to reach out to us in their own different and complex ways. Therefore constructive dialogue should always be encouraged between youths and communities.

Lastly, careful reflection and caution must be given by Tibetan leaders when they speak of self-immolation. While showing great respect and thoughts to the martyrs, leader must be careful not to encourage self-sacrifice, consciously or unconsciously. Karmapa’s messages would be welcome here. "These desperate acts … are a cry against the injustice and repression under which they live," [but] "I request the people of Tibet to preserve their lives and find other, constructive ways to work for the cause of Tibet."[1] Tibetan struggle will be long and hard and we cannot effort to lose valuable souls and energy. In terms of international sympathy, it would also be disheartening if people get turned away from the Tibet issues because of the extreme forms of protest as speculated by the Economist on their recent article. [2]

Personally, no one should take such extreme acts of self-sacrifice, even as a last resort. Tibetan minds and energy can be utilized constructively to rejuvenate the movement and create a strong sense of belonging and identity. Immortalization can take multiple ways and it must have a long lasting impact on the minds of youths. Youths have the imaginations and potentialities to use their one life (not factoring Karma and re-birth here) in their widest possible manner for the good of humanity, society, and definitely for the freedom of Tibet.



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