red Tibetan prayer wheels surround a square in the center of town.
Indians, Tibetans and a few foreigners circumnavigate the prayer wheels,
intensely focused and repeating the mantra "Om Mani Padme Hum" under
their breath, always keeping the wheels on their right and spinning
them in a clockwise direction. Spinning the prayer wheels releases
the magical powers of the mantra to the heavens. It is believed
that the more times this mantra is recited, the greater the protection
it affords against evil. They must be praying for the future
of Tibet, and for the hunger strikers from the Tibetan Youth Congress,
who are on an unto-death fast in New Delhi to protest the Chinese
occupation of Tibet.
compelled to find out more about the situation in Tibet, and learn
that in 1949, one-hundred thousand Chinese troops invaded Tibet, a
remote country that had existed for centuries with a theocratic government
and the Dalai Lama as its spiritual and political leader. An
uprising by the Tibetans against the Chinese in the Spring of 1959
was brutally crushed. The Dalai Lama fled to India along with
80,000 Tibetans, where he established a Tibetan Government in Exile
here in McCleod Ganj and nearby Dharamsala. The twenty years
following the 1959 uprising were filled with brutal oppression against
the Tibetans remaining in Tibet by the Chinese army. In that
time, more than 1.2 million Tibetans, one-fifth of the country's population,
died as a direct result of the Chinese government's policies.
Over 6,000 monasteries, temples and other cultural and historical
buildings were destroyed. The oppression continues to this day.
Population transfers by the Chinese government have led to a situation
where Chinese now outnumber Tibetans in Tibet.
10th of this year, 1998, six members of the Tibetan Youth Congress,
representing the 6 million Tibetans now living in Tibet, began an
unto-death fast in a tent near Jantar Mantar, an ancient astronomical
observatory in New Delhi. They are demanding that the United
Nations resume its debate on the question of Tibet based on its resolutions
of 1959, 1961 and 1965. They are also demanding that the United
Nations appoint a special rapporteur to investigate the human rights
situation in Chinese-occupied Tibet, and that a special envoy be appointed
to promote a peaceful settlement of the question of Tibet and initiate
a UN-supervised plebiscite to determine the wishes of the Tibetan
weeks into the hunger strike and obviously coinciding with the imminent
first official visit to India by the head of the Chinese Army, Indian
police came, ripped through the hunger strikers' tent with a knife
and forcibly dragged three of the hunger strikers to a hospital, where
they are intravenously force-feeding them glucose.
in the morning of the 27th of April, the police returned in greater
numbers and removed the three remaining hunger strikers. In
response, Thupten Ngodup, a 60-year-old veteran of the Bangladeshi
liberation war, a man who had volunteered to be part of a second group
of hunger strikers, dodged the police and ducked into a nearby bathroom.
There, he doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.
In an August, 1998 article entitled "The Life and Sacrifice of Thupten
Ngodup", Jamyang Norbu describes what followed ("The DIIR video" is
a video shot by Choyang Tharchin of the Department of Information
and International Relations):
he came out he was, quite literally, an inferno. The DIIR video
makes that horrifyingly clear. We see him charging out to the
area before the hunger-strikers tent, causing chaos in the ranks of
the police as well as the Tibetans there. A very English female
voice -- off camera -- screams "Oh my God" Oh My God" again and again.
With that and other screams and shouts, it is impossible to hear what
the burning man is saying. According to someone there he shouted
"Bod Gyal lo" or "Victory to Tibet". Others heard him crying
"Bod Rangzen", or "Independence for Tibet." He also shouted
"Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama". How on earth he managed
to shout anything, much less run about as he did is a mystery to me.
Every breath he took must have caused live flames to rush into his
lungs and sear the air sacs and lining.
burning man then appears to pause and hold up both hands together
in the position of prayer. At this point the fire seems terribly
intense and the cameraman later remarked that he could distinctly
hear popping sounds as bits of flesh burst from Thupten Ngodup's body.
The cameraman was so shaken he found it difficult to hold his camera
steady. Then policemen and Tibetans beat at the flames with
rugs and sacks, and finally pushing Thupten Ngodup to the ground,
stifled the blaze."
Norbu's article, "The Life and Sacrifice of Thupten Ngodup" can be
read in its entirety on the internet at http://www.savetibet.org/news/aug98/080698.html.
The International Campaign for Tibet, which maintains the site http://www.savetibet.org,
is an excellent source of information on the culture and history of
Tibet as well as the current Chinese occupation of Tibet and the very
real danger of the loss of Tibetan culture. Their e-mail address
is firstname.lastname@example.org, and they can also be reached at:
Campaign for Tibet
1825 K St. NW, Suite 520
Washington, DC 20006
Tel. (202) 785-1515
Fax (202) 785-4343
Lama visited Thupten Ngodup in Ram Manohar Lohia hospital the following
evening and told the conscious man that he should not hold any feelings
of hatred towards the Chinese, that his act had greatly increased
awareness of the Tibetan cause, and that he had to live to see the
free Tibet of his dreams. But with burns covering 90% of his
body, Thupten Ngodup died at 15 minutes after midnight on April 29th.
Lama is in a difficult position; he is against violence in all its
forms, including violence to oneself. But frustration in the
Tibetan population that has lived for decades in exile from their
own country is growing. Many were born outside of Tibet and
have never seen their homeland. Thupten Ngodup is the first
Tibetan living outside of Tibet to die for his beliefs, and that act
has energized the entire Tibetan population.