Two teenagers self-immolate on same day; one in Tibet, one in exile; both call for independence

[3 March 2016] Two Tibetans have died after self-immolating on 29 February, the first such protests in six months. Kalsang Wangdu, a young monk, died shortly after setting fire to himself in Kardze county in eastern Tibet. On the same day, Dorjee Tsering, a teenage boy living in northern India, also self-immolated. Dorjee died on 3 March. Both Tibetans had called for independence for Tibet during their protests. It is not believed the two incidents were connected.

Kalsang Wangdu
 (Tibet) | Dorjee Tsering (India) | Take Action | Background 

Kalsang Wangdu
Kalsang WangduEighteen year-old monk Kalsang Wangdu self-immolated at around 4pm on 29 February in his home village of Shiwa (Chinese: Xiayi), Nyagrong (Ch: Xinlong) county, Kardze (Ch: Ganzi) prefecture, Kham (now incorporated in China’s Sichuan province). According to a Radio Free Asia source, during his protest he called for “Tibet’s complete independence” and “May His Holiness live for 10,000 years”. Local Tibetans were reported to have intervened, by putting out the fire and taking him to Chengdu, the provincial capital, for medical treatment. However, Kalsang died before he reached hospital. 

Kalsang WangduKalsang was a monk at Retsokha Aryaling monastery in Nyagrong county. He joined the monastery in 2014 and was studying meditation. He had returned to his home village to conduct funeral rites for a deceased man. 

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), following the self-immolation local Chinese police placed Kalsang’s family under surveillance. Initially the police ordered family members not to speak to anyone, but have since been told to say his death was due to a random fire at the monk’s home. It is reported that Kalsang’s body has been returned to his family home.

This is the first self-immolation inside Tibet since 27 August 2015, when Tashi Kyi, a mother of five, died after setting herself on fire in an apparent protest against China’s forced resettlement of Tibetan nomads. A total of 143 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet since 2009. A further Tibetan self-immolated in Beijing in 2012, and seven others in exile. The majority of self-immolators are known to have used their protest to call for freedom for Tibet and/or the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Further reading: TCHRD | RFA (1 Mar) | RFA (3 Mar) | Tibet Post | CTA

Dorjee Tsering
Dorjee TseringDorjee Tsering, a 16 year-old Tibetan schoolboy, self-immolated in Dehra Dun, northern India on 29 February. Whilst being treated in hospital, Dorjee said he wanted to take action for his country and hoped it would bring international attention. He died on 3 March.

Dorjee undertook his protest at around 8.30am local time, near a housing complex for elderly Tibetans. He repeatedly called the slogan “Tibet is a free country”. His mother was present during his self-immolation, and tried to save him by dragging him under a tap to extinguish the fire. Dorjee was taken to Safdurjung Hospital where he was treated for burns covering 95% of his body.

Dorjee TseringBefore he succumbed to his injuries, Dorjee spoke from his hospital bed. He said, “I have always felt like I needed to do something for the Tibetan cause. Yesterday, I felt as if burning myself up was the only resort left for me… I want His Holiness the Dalai Lama to live long and Tibet to achieve its independence.” He added that he believed his protest will “evoke shock” from those who hear of his protest, and that “countries like England… will know of Tibet and support for us will strengthen”.

Dorjee was a student at Tibetan Homes School in Mussoorie in northern India. He is survived by his parents and four siblings.

Dorjee is the seventh exiled Tibetan to self-immolate in protest against China’s occupation of Tibet.  The last self-immolation in exile was undertaken by Karma Ngedon Gyatso on 6 August 2013 in Kathmandu, Nepal. Four of the exiled self-immolations have taken place in India and three in Nepal.

Further reading: Phayul | RFA | TCHRD | CTA (4 Mar) 

Take Action  |  Background to self-immolations 

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