Tibet needs our attention

By Tsering Asha Leba

Since March of this year, Tibet has seen an alarming surge in the practice of self-immolation. Self-immolation is the act of setting oneself on fire with the intention of suicide. They young people burning themselves to death are monks and nuns — buddhists who have taken a sacred vow of non-violence, against others and against themselves. So, why, then are they killing themselves in such a violent and provocative way? Tibet has been occupied by the People’s Republic of China since 1950. Not only do they claim Tibet’s land as their own, but they continue the practice of human rights abuses against the Tibetan people and a slow and subtle cultural genocide which is little known to the outside world. The media in China and Tibet is state-controlled and strictly censored.

However, I’m not here to re-tell the story of Tibet and who is right, the Tibetans or the People’s Republic of China. This is about those monks and nuns, who are 17, 18, 19, 20 years old.They could be us. They could be you, sitting in MacHall right now, eating lunch you just bought with your own money, talking to friends you’ve chosen yourself, about any topic that comes to mind. Sharing opinions and thoughts that are yours alone, without fear that someone is watching or listening and ready to persecute you for what you say, do or think.

That level of control, overlooking freedoms and liberties, is just a snippet of what people in Tibet experience every single day. Torture, beatings, detainments, jail without fair trial or representation, censorship, lack of jobs and restrictions on education, are common occurrences in Tibet. So when we go back to the question of why in the world these young monks and nuns would possibly want to burn themselves to death, all of a sudden it doesn’t seem so farfetched. If they themselves, their parents before them, their friends, family and loved ones all have to live under severe repression every day, for over 50 years it’s easier to see the reasons behind such practices. No outside government has intervened, no leaders with influence have spoken for them or tried to create dialogue between them and China, or even attempted to say to China, “This is 2011 and we don’t treat human beings that way, and we are watching what you do and we don’t agree with it. You have to stop.” Well maybe self-immolation was the only choice left. Perhaps after a short life of desperation those monks and nuns finally thought, “If I do this, maybe someone will finally notice.”

In Tunisia, one single person set himself on fire, igniting the Arab spring, and the world has continued to watch events unfold. We’ve kept a close eye on Egypt, Syria and Libya, believing that if we support their quest for freedom, democracy and basic human rights it will become attainable. One single person created that change. Ten people in Tibet have done the same thing. Who is going to support them, and when? How many more lives will have to be taken before the world stands up to China? How many more brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, will we have to lose their lives before people notice the plight of Tibet?


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