Tibet burning

By Topden Tsering

, by Himal Southasian

A close look at past and present shows the self-immolators and their struggle to be anything but apolitical.

The string of self-immolations inside Tibet – started in 2009 by a Kirti Monastery monk named Tapey and which most recently claimed two monks in Barkham County on 30 March – shows no sign of letting up. On the contrary, despite the Chinese government unleashing one of its harshest crackdown to date, despite state paranoia and military repression even more acute than during the clampdown on the 2008 uprising, and despite the abysmal response from the international community, an incredible wind seems to be fanning across occupied Tibet – a wind at once frightening, and pregnant with hope.

While analysts scramble to offer logical explanations for these horrific protests, many of them regurgitate the obvious and overlook the vital. If anything, the self-immolations suggest three undeniable truths. One: the Tibetan freedom struggle’s patience has snapped. Two: these protests embody the movement’s radicalisation, which was a long time coming. And three: Tibetans inside Tibet, and not the exile leadership or the diaspora, drive the narrative of the struggle. As with the ground on which they fell, the 33 self-immolators (32 of them in the last year alone), embers falling from their bodies like rosary beads, have left the landscape of the Tibetan freedom movement irreparably scorched and irredeemably altered.

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