Self-immolation of ‘generous Buddhist devoted to her family’ in Tibet

New information has reached ICT about the self-immolation of Tashi Kyi, a Tibetan mother of four in her mid-fifties who set herself on fire on August 27 and died, apparently as a protest against China’s policies of relocation and demolition of housing. Tashi Kyi, described as a “generous Buddhist” who was “devoted to her family”, was a relative of a prominent monk who escaped into exile after a bold protest in 2008.

Although local Tibetans attempted to save her life by extinguishing the blaze, Tashi Kyi died hours after setting herself on fire in her housing compound, a nomad settlement site in Sangkok township, Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. Her body was taken away by the authorities. It is the 143rd self-immolation in Tibet since 2009.[1]

Tashi Kyi was from a nomadic area, Ngulra Village in Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) County, and a trigger for her self-immolation may have been the demolition of Tibetan housing in her home area and the distress caused to fellow Tibetans. Tashi Kyi herself was living in a housing compound described by Tibetan sources as ‘new socialist housing’ allocated by the government as part of their policies of settling nomads,[2] and the family had another home elsewhere, a three-floor building near Labrang Tashikyil monastery.

But just prior to her self-immolation, more than 100 officials and police arrived in her home village of Ngulra to demolish property with bulldozers. According to Tibetan sources, when local people protested the demolition, one Tibetan man was severely beaten and detained.

The Tibetan service of Voice of America reported: “As a sign that Tashi Kyi’s actions are being seen by area Tibetans as a protest against ongoing state oppression, people in the region are said to be lighting lamps at their home altars as a show of solidarity.”[3]

The context of Tashi Kyi’s self-immolation was also the suffering of other family members. One of Tashi Kyi’s relatives, her nephew, Jayang Jinpa, is a former Labrang monk who was one of 15 Tibetan monks to stage a bold protest in front of a group of journalists on April 9, 2008. Jayang Jinpa went into hiding and managed to escape into exile in India, but his family in Tibet may have been under some political pressure ever since.

One of Jayang Jinpa’s relatives, 18-year old Sangay Tashi, set fire to himself and died on November 12, 2012, in the same town as Tashi Kyi’s self-immolation, Sangkok. Sangay Tashi shouted slogans calling for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the release of all Tibetan political prisoners, including the 11th Panchen Lama, while he was engulfed in flames.

Jayang Jinpa was one of around 15 monks from Labrang Monastery (Chinese: Xiahe) in Gansu province to speak about Tibetans having no human rights, and for the need for the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, in front of a state-organized media tour for foreign and Chinese journalists in 2008. Several of the monks carried large paper Tibetan flags. One of the journalists who spoke to the monks told ICT: “The monks were very emotional, and one of them was crying. They said that they were not asking for Tibetan independence, but for human rights, and that they had no human rights now. When some of them saw the photographers they threw their robes over their heads so we couldn’t see their faces, but kept talking.”[4]

Two of the monks in the group have subsequently died; Jamyang Jinpa, 37, died on April 3, 2011, after suffering severe torture in Chinese detention, just weeks after the death of 42-year old Sangey Gyatso, who became severely ill while in hiding.[5]

Jayang Jinpa, who escaped to India, spoke about his aunt Tashi Kyi following her self-immolation. He said that she was kind-hearted and religious, performing daily Buddhist rituals such as going for circumambulations, doing prostrations and avoiding eating meat. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, based in Dharamsala, India, reported: “She practiced these virtuous deeds for the long life and for the successful accomplishment of all the wishes of her revered lamas and spiritual teachers such as Dalai Lama and Kunkhyen Jamyang Shepa, the abbot of Labrang Tashikyil Monastery. Because of her love for Tibetan language, she studied it on her own. The locals generally know her as a courageous woman. She had also visited India twice in order to receive teachings and blessings from the Dalai Lama. Her last visit to India was during the Kalachakra Empowerment given by the Dalai Lama in 2012.”[6]


Footnotes
[1] Details at: http://www.savetibet.org/resources/fact-sheets/self-immolations-by-tibetans/

[2] Across Tibet, policies of nomad settlement require pastoralists and herders to slaughter their livestock and move into newly built housing colonies in or near towns, abandoning their traditional way of life. These policies give the authorities greater administrative control over people’s movements and lifestyles. ICT report: https://www.savetibet.org/tibetan-nomads-hold-vigil-in-chengdu-to-protect-the-grasslands/

[3] VOA blog in English, http://www.voatibetanenglish.com/content/article/2936064.html

[4] ICT report, April 9, 2008, http://www.savetibet.org/labrang-monks-stage-protest-during-official-media-tour/ Also see TCHRD: http://www.tchrd.org/feature-labrang-monk-jayang-jinpa-reflects-on-his-daring-2008-protest/

[5] ICT report, http://www.savetibet.org/torture-blamed-for-death-of-tibetan-monk-second-death-following-protest-during-foreign-reporters-visit-to-labrang-monastery/

[6] TCHRD report, http://www.tchrd.org/tibetan-woman-burns-self-in-protest-in-chinas-new-socialist-village/

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