Tibet’s self-immolation protests reached a new level on Saturday as the grandfather of a prominent religious leader burned himself to death to defy China’s rule of Tibet. The drastic protest by someone in such a high position adds an entirely new dimension to the pattern of past self-immolations, which have already seen both a widening in the demographic make up of the protesters, and the places where they have taken place, which now includes all major Tibetan regions.
Tamdin Dorjee, the grandfather of the 7th Gungthang Rinpoche set himself on fire near Tsoe Gaden Choeling monastery in Kanlho in Amdo (Chinese: Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province.) The previous incarnation of Dorjee’s grandson was a highly revered teacher and scholar, and held the office of vice president of the Chinese Buddhist Association. Dorjee burned himself at the site of the Buddhist stupa where a young mother of two burned herself to death two months earlier on August 7th.
Sources say Tibetans gathered in large numbers to pray for Dorjee despite a heavy military buildup in the area following his self-immolation. It is the 55th self-immolation in Tibet since February 2009. Tamdin Dorje was in his early fifties and was originally from Drong che village in Khasag township, Kanlho. He was a father of three and the grandfather of the 10-year-old boy who is recognized as one of the most important lamas in historic Labrang Tashikyil (Chinese: Xiahe) monastery. Apart of being a respected elder relative of a high lama revered by Tibetans, he would be considered in the elite section of the society.
Tibetans have told VOA that the waves of self-immolations have created a sense of unity and shared purpose among Tibetans perhaps not seen in many generations. Recently the elected exile Tibetan political leader, Lobsang Sangay, stated that both the cause and the solution to the self-immolations lay with the authorities in Beijing, and that China should lift its repressive policies and actions in Tibet.
However, local and national Chinese officials have labeled those who have burned themselves previously as being either womanizers, criminals or mentally derelict. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in March painted the self-immolator’s demand for greater freedoms and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet by saying "Its (self-immolations) purpose is to separate Tibet and the Tibetan-inhabited areas from China.”
China’s inability to find a solution to the self-immolations is described in the 2012 Congressional Executive Committee on China’s annual report, which states that the, “The Party and government have not indicated any willingness to consider Tibetan grievances in a constructive manner and to hold themselves accountable for Tibetan rejection of Chinese policies, and handled the crisis as a threat to state security and social stability instead of as a policy failure.”
In January 2012, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero reiterated grave concern over Tibetan self-immolations in Tibetan areas of China and called on the Chinese government ‘‘to resume substantive, results- oriented dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to ad- dress the underlying grievances of China’s Tibetan population.’’
In putting the Tibet self-immolations into context, the Congressional Executive Committee on China’s annual report states, “Reports of self-immolators’ calls for Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama’s return are concurrent with increasing Chinese government and Party use of legal measures to re- press and control core elements of Tibetan culture, and with the China-Dalai Lama dialogue’s failure to achieve any sign of progress."