Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Excerpt: The mother who burned herself to death for Tibet

On the chilly afternoon of March 24, Kalkyi - who like some Tibetans went by just one name - stood outside the monastery gates with about 200 to 300 other worshippers. She doused herself with gasoline and lit a match. Flames instantly engulfed her, and as they did, she shouted words that no one could make out.
Witnesses say it took less than 15 minutes for the blaze to kill Kalkyi. She was 30 years old.
It was the ninth time in just over a year that a Tibetan mother had set herself on fire, an especially startling statistic to emerge from a grisly campaign of suicidal political defiance that shows no sign of ending.
Since 2009, at least 117 Tibetans have died by self-immolation in China, in protest against Beijing's policies in Tibet and nearby regions with large Tibetan populations.

More than 90 have perished as a result, with the latest fatality coming on May 29 in Qinghai province. Kalkyi's death was the 39th immolation in Ngaba prefecture, the corner of Sichuan Province where Barma township sits. This majority-Tibetan prefecture is the geographic focal point of the immolation wave, which increased dramatically in 2012.
Kalkyi didn't belong to a religious order, long a source of dissent against Chinese rule; nor did she appear to have suffered specific acts of abuse. She was not, in other words, anyone the authorities would have expected trouble from.
An examination of her life provides possible clues to why she set herself on fire. Among them: an emerging fervor among some lay Buddhists for imitating the monks who began the series of self-immolations.
Violence has flared in Tibet since 1950, when Beijing claims it "peacefully liberated" the region. Many Tibetans say Chinese rule has eroded their culture and religion. They are agitating for the Dalai Lama's return from exile in India, and genuine autonomy for their homeland. The Chinese government denies trampling Tibetan rights and boasts of having brought development and prosperity to the region.
In 2008, months before the Olympic Games in Beijing, demonstrations about the perceived lack of freedoms for Tibetans broke out across the region, eliciting a brutal crackdown.
The first series of self-immolations began three years later, in 2011. They started with monks, nuns or former clergy and continued for about a year.
In the immediate aftermath of Kalkyi's death on March 24th, monks from the Dzamthang Jonang monastery carried her body into the main hall, as Chinese security forces and military locked down the area.
Less than a month after Kalkyi killed herself, a 20-year-old woman named Chugtso trekked from her home to the Dzamthang Jonang monastery. On April 16, at around 3 p.m., she set herself ablaze, dying in almost the same spot as Kalkyi.
Chugtso was the mother of a three-year-old boy.
exerpt from REUTERS

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