Two high-profile resignations and an increasing number of self-immolations within the Tibetan community highlight a desperate effort to attract attention to the Chinese government's crackdown in Tibet.
They held Tibetan flags, portraits of the Dalai Lama, and flickering candles in the deepening darkness just after sunset. Hundreds of exiled Tibetans – students in blue checked shirts, mothers in traditional dresses guiding toddlers, elderly men and women fingering prayer beads – marched and chanted prayers in the narrow, winding roads of Dharamsala.
In this northern Indian hill town that is home to the Dalai Lama and about 16,000 Tibetan exiles, a series of candlelight vigils last week commemorated three more Tibetans who set themselves on fire to protest repression in Tibet. The latest in a series of unprecedented self-immolators included two young men and a 36-year-old mother of three. “Tibet is burning,” read one banner near the temple. “How many more lives?”
In a further reflection of the deepening despair in Tibet and among exiles, the Dalai Lama’s special envoys to China for the past decade both resigned early this week. Still, the resignations were largely symbolic and have not changed the exile administration’s call for autonomy for Tibet.
The envoys cited concern over stalled talks with Chinese government officials and the “the deteriorating situation inside Tibet since 2008” that have led to self-immolations of 38 Tibetans, 37 of them since March 2011.
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Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen cited their “utter frustration” with the lack of response from China’s representatives. “At this particular time, it is difficult to have substantive dialogue,” stated the envoys in a press release from the Tibetan exile administration, which is based in Dharamsala.
India is home to the world’s largest community of Tibetan refugees. Since 2002, Mr. Gyari and Mr. Gyaltsen have led nine rounds of talks with Chinese counterparts in a largely failed effort to promote civil liberties and religious freedom in Tibet. The last time China’s representatives agreed to meet them was in January 2010. As Tibetans express increasing dismay at the stalemate, the self-immolations and resignations highlight a sense of desperation to attract attention to their cause.
“This is no environment for dialogue. A hard-line policy is pursued in Tibet. Under these conditions, there is no point engaging China in a dialogue process,” says Thupten Samphel, director of the Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala.
Since a wave of demonstrations swept across Tibet in 2008, Chinese authorities have severely tightened security and stepped up surveillance and arrests of Tibetan protesters and supporters.
Chinese authorities have “resorted to heavyhanded tactics that can only deepen and further fuel resentments,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general in a statement last year. “They must respect the right of Tibetans to practice their religion and to enjoy their culture.”