Dismay over hasty secret cremation of Tibetan monk who self-immolated in Nepal

The body of Tibetan monk Drupchen Tsering (Druptse) who set fire to himself in Kathmandu on February 13 has been cremated in Kathmandu late at night without Buddhist or any religious rituals being carried out, despite appeals from the Tibetan community for monks to be in attendance to offer prayers.

The cremation in the middle of the night on Monday (March 25) followed weeks of intense negotiations by Tibetan and Nepalese community leaders, with support from some diplomats in Nepal, to ensure a Buddhist cremation in accordance with tradition. According to one Tibetan source, the decision by the Nepalese authorities was made “at the highest levels” and is likely to reflect ongoing Chinese pressure on the Nepalese authorities targeted at the Tibetan community. There is speculation that it may also indicate concern within Nepal’s interim government that the matter was dealt with before a high-profile visit of former President Jimmy Carter to Nepal later this week (March 29-April 6).

Tsering Jampa, Executive-Director of ICT Europe, said: “It reflects badly on the Nepalese authorities that they chose to dispose of Drongtse’s body in this undignified manner, in conditions of such secrecy. It is also a betrayal of the good faith of those engaged in quiet and constructive dialogue over the past weeks about a more appropriate cremation based on the deeply-held tradition among the Tibetan community shared by so many Nepalese and Himalayan people, of according respect to the dead and offering appropriate prayers.”

While some advance warning was given that enabled prayers by a senior lama to be arranged at the same time on Monday night, this was not allowed at the site of the cremation, which was an area of Kathmandu used to cremate unclaimed or unidentified corpses. A prayer vigil will now be arranged in Nepal for the 49th day after the death, which is of religious and cultural significance for Tibetans, and which falls in Druptse’s case next Wednesday (April 3).

Tibetans in Kathmandu have responded with dismay to the news that Druptse’s body was taken to a cremation ground by several Nepalese youths and police at around midnight on Monday (March 25). The cremation appears to have been so unceremoniously arranged that according to the Tibetan Youth Congress, the police did not pay for the service of the four Nepalese workers in cremating the body, and purchased firewood and butter on credit from the depot across the river, which was also left unpaid (TYC report, March 28).

Twenty-five year old monk Druptse had arrived in Nepal from Tibet soon before he set fire to himself near the Boudha stupa in Kathamandu, which is at the heart of the Tibetan pilgrimage area in the city. His charred body was taken to the Kathmandu Teaching Hospital and despite attempts to save him Druptse died that night. (ICT report, Further self-immolation in Tibet despite harsh legal measures to deter protests; Tibetan who set fire to himself in Nepal dies).

Across the Nepalese border in Tibet, the Chinese authorities have adopted increasingly aggressive measures to prevent Tibetans from carrying out prayer ceremonies after a Tibetan has self-immolated. In Tibetan culture, when a person dies the body should be left undisturbed while special prayers and ceremonies are held for the transference of the person’s consciousness on the path to a beneficial rebirth. This is one of the reasons why in a number of cases, Tibetans at the scene of a self-immolation have risked their lives in attempts to protect the body of the person who has set fire to themselves, and to take them to a place of safety – either a monastery or the person’s home – where traditional rituals can be carried out. It compounds the agony for Tibetans when monks are blocked from praying for Tibetans who have died, as they have been in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) and other areas of Tibet – and now even across the border in Kathmandu, Nepal.

China demands that all governments with whom it has relations commit to a ‘one-China policy,’ and it sees any assertion by Tibetans of their unique identity as a threat to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In Nepal’s case, China has sought to stipulate the form of this commitment. Since 2008, China-Nepal interaction has been characterized by Chinese financial or other support given in return for Nepal’s pledge to condemn, prevent or physically quash ‘anti-China’ activities on Nepali soil. But what constitutes ‘anti-China’ activity has never been defined – by either China or Nepal – leaving the term dangerously open to interpretation.

So-called ‘Free Tibet’ activities – a phrase employed by both Chinese and Nepali officials to refer to protests, gatherings and events that have an overtly political tone – are within the ‘anti-China’ category. But repression of Tibetans in Nepal since 2008 has gone beyond the political to include many aspects of Tibetans’ cultural, religious, social, civil and economic lives, as in the instance of Druptse’s cremation. (ICT report, Dangerous Crossing – 2011 Update).

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