ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Aflame in Anger

The self-immolations by Tibetans are a desperate protest against Chinese rule.

There has been a spurt in cases of self-immolation by individuals in Tibet. Given the Chinese state’s tight control over the press and even over new media, it is not possible to fix the veracity of each incident and there is also the possibility that some cases of self-immolation are not even “discovered”. Nonetheless, it is known that close to 100 people have set themselves on fire since March 2011 to protest Chinese rule in Tibet. This series of ghastly protests started about three years after the last of the public non-violent agitations protesting Chinese rule were put down in March 2008. The immediate reason for the upsurge in cases of self-immolation seems to be the manner in which the Chinese state has closed all avenues for peaceful expression of dissent and protest. All expressions of dissent, however minor or symbolic, are put down with a heavy hand, which include imprisonment, loss of employment and even torture.

Much of the western press views these self-immolations as part of a seamless trajectory, stretching back to the 1950s, of Tibetan aspirations for freedom from Chinese “occupation”. Western governments have only encouraged such reporting, often using these protests to score points in their political and economic battles with Beijing. The reason it is easy to build a history of a seamless Tibetan struggle against the Chinese is that, unlike other countries like Russia, there has not been a formal shift in political ideology. The Chinese state still formally claims allegiance to Marxism-Leninism and the revolution led by Mao Zedong. It still flies the red flag and is ruled by an organisation calling itself the Communist Party. It is true that the Communist Party of China took a decision to formally integrate Tibet as a full part of the People’s Republic and sent cadre to this region to organise its peasantry. However, it will be a mistake to view this in terms of a Han (majority ethnic Chinese) invasion of Tibet, as is currently fashionable.

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