The Burning Question: Why are Tibetans Turning to Self-immolation?

The fact that Tibetan people are setting themselves on fire in this 21st century is to let the world know about their suffering, and to tell the world about the denial of basic human rights. – Jamphel Yeshi¹

Janphel Yeshi
Tibetan exile Janphel Yeshi is engulfed in flames after setting himself on fire during a protest in New Delhi. (March 2012) As one of the few magazines Germany’s Der Spiegel, has reported about Jamphel Yeshi in a very moving report. (PDF)

The world press has been mainly silent about the many self-immolations among Tibetans. Some media mentioned it briefly, some speculated about the reasons behind it, assuming for instance it would have to do with “religious fundamentalism” (ZEIT Online), lacking any understanding or deeper insights. It might be due to this undue silence of the world, that the CTA (Tibetan Government in Exile) felt urged to publish their own documentary about it. It’s a real shame that the press failed to pick up this sad tragedy but instead uses time and money to report about ridiculous topics like a “Nazi Buddha from Space“.

For a background about the documentary see:

In an interview anthropologist Katia Buffetrille commented on the silence of the media with respect to Tibet and the self-immolations as follows:

What is happening in Tibet is very rarely covered by the media, firstly because of the many events that shock the world, secondly, because the Western countries greatly restrain themselves when it comes to anything to say against China. They are afraid that they might miss a business …

In answer to the question why the Dalai Lama is now silent with respect to the self-immolations, Buffetrille answers:

During the hunger strike of Thubten Ngödrup in 1998, the Dalai Lama expressed his disagreement with this kind of practice, which he considered as violence against oneself. However, he cites often Gandhi, for whom hunger strike was a non-violent act. He expressed his admiration for the courage of these people and attended prayers for them. But he questioned the effectiveness of such actions, he said, [these actions] lead to increased repression. Now he does not want to say anything about this [topic] any more.

The first Tibetan who self-immolated was Thupten Ngodup. He set himself on fire on 27th April 1998 after the Indian police came to forcefully stop the “Hunger Strike Unto Death” which was organised by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC). After Thupten Ngodup set himself on fire the Dalai Lama visited him next day in the evening at the hospital.

For a background article see:

To see the self-immolations in a more global and balanced perspective, see:

Update Nov 24th, 2012

Update January 2013

Update March 06, 2013

Update March 07, 2013

Update March 09, 2013

Update March 10, 2013

Update August 17, 2014

¹ Associated Press, March 29 2012.

  Last edited by tenpel on August 17, 2014 at 2:21 pm