Tibetan Exiles Discuss Suicide Protest Amid Mourning

Jamphel Yeshi, a Tibetan exile, runs after setting himself on fire during a protest against the upcoming visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India in New Delhi, March 26, 2012.
Jamphel Yeshi, a Tibetan exile, runs after setting himself on fire during a protest against the upcoming visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India in New Delhi, March 26, 2012.
Kurt Achin

A year of self-immolation protests by Tibetans reached exiles in India, when one of their own set himself on fire last month. A new generation is preparing to take up the Tibetan cause in northern India.

Young Tibetans play at school recess on a bright April day. They wear the traditional clothing of a homeland they have never seen. This is Dharamsala, India. Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama came here in 1959 with tens of thousands of followers, and set up a de-facto exile capital.

The clothes, and a stepped up effort to speak Tibetan, are part of the so-called “White Wednesday” that mirrors a parallel movement of passive resistance in Tibetan areas under Chinese control.

Lately, the children also have been learning about another kind of resistance, by Tibetans who have chosen to set themselves on fire.

Furthering the Tibetan cause

In the past year, there have been 34 fatal self-immolations to protest Chinese policies. Teacher Dolma Nyima faces the challenge of teaching the kids why someone would take such a drastic step.

“During our assembly, we show them the picture - how the people have self-immolated. And when they see the picture, they are emotional.  It changes all of their expressions. Some children are asking, 'Oh teacher, will we have to do like this?”

Twenty-seven-year-old Jamphel Yeshi became the first of this year’s self-immolations to take his life on Indian soil. He ran through the streets of New Delhi ablaze on March 26, just days before the scheduled arrival of Chinese President Hu Jintao. Activist posters plastered around Dharamsala celebrate him as a “martyr.”

Tibetan Youth Congress General Secretary Tenzin Chokey helps print the posters.

“I am sure in the Western context these images are not allowed to be shown to kids at all. But here we are, you know, this is the reality," said Tenzin.

Children flock to funeral

School children were among the thousands who lined the recent funeral procession route of Yeshi through the streets of Dharamsala.

“There were people lined up, we expected that. And I knew school kids would also be lining up. But to see them, you know, with the flags, that was a very, very emotional moment for me,” said Tenzin.

The United States government funds a reception center in Dharamsala for Tibetans who flee persecution at home.

A 27-year-old who arrived about a month-and-a-half ago says what motivated him to leave was cultural repression.

He said he had a tiny picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama around his neck. The Chinese soldiers ripped it off. They beat him first, he said, and asked questions later.

Tibetan exiles see themselves as the inevitable winner of a historical contest of endurance against the Chinese Communist Party.

But if the 76-year-old Dalai Lama dies without returning home to Tibet, it is an open question whether young Tibetans, in exile or at home, will be able to contain their anger.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Xing
April 17, 2012 9:03 AM
The exiles said Chinese do not allow them to study Tibetan Language. However, these guys's English are very good and fluent.

by: Kyakpa So
April 11, 2012 10:02 AM
I am surprised at sensational headline and the story. Teaching children ABOUT current events of self immolations is quite different than teaching them "about Suicide Protests". I do notice that VOA has changed the headline from the original which read "Tibetan Exiles Teach Young About Suicide Protest Amid Mourning".

Use of footages of fire in the ritual incense burning with junipers is misleading.

Shameful of VOA to sensationalize this story.

by: Rebecca Novick
April 11, 2012 4:04 AM
These kids look, what, about 7 or 8? They get emotional? Er, yeah, it's a guy burning to death. And what is the subliminal message? This could be you some day if you want to be a real hero? There is a difference between learning about your history and propagandizing. This, I am afraid, looks a lot like the latter, and to such a vulnerable and innocent audience. I truly hope that those involved think about what they're doing a little more deeply and the message they are sending to the future.

by: Kevin
April 10, 2012 7:17 PM
The Dalai Lama says that he is the incarnation of justice,but the fact is he doesn't care the benefit of his followers,the only thing that in his mind is fight! I don't think it is good news for Tibetans and Chinese!

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