Aug. 8, 2012, is a notable date for Tibet. Last year on this day I was inaugurated as the first democratically elected Tibetan leader under a new political system in which the Dalai Lama ceased to have a presiding role.
Last year, despite impassioned appeals by many Tibetans, the Dalai Lama officially relinquished his political power, including his power to dismiss the Tibetan parliament, judiciary and executive and to sign or veto bills. The Dalai Lama remains only as Tibet’s spiritual leader.
Under the new system, a democratically elected “Kalon Tripa” is the political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) — the India-based governing administration of Tibetans in exile.
As the Tibetans commemorate the first anniversary of this democratic transition, we also look at a very difficult year tragically marked by a wave of Tibetans self-immolating in protest against Chinese policies.
Self-immolation as a form of protest against Chinese policies has been rare in Tibet.
However, in recent years, it has reached a scale which is highly disturbing. The first such protest of recent times occurred in 2009 when a young monk set himself on fire at a marketplace near Kirti Monastery in eastern Tibet.
This incident was only the beginning. Since August last year, 43 Tibetans have set themselves on fire while shouting slogans for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and crying for freedom.
Most were young and included monks, nuns, nomads and students. The majority have died. These protests have continued despite the fact that the Dalai Lama has always emphasized the sanctity of human life and despite repeated appeals by the Central Tibetan Administration to refrain from such drastic actions.
Self-immolation may seem incomprehensible, but such acts must be viewed in their context. Most of the people who self-immolated were current or former monks and nuns. It is impossible not to see the repressive policies of the Chinese government as the root of their despair.
“Management Committees,” dominated by Chinese cadres, have been rigorously instituted in all monasteries. These committees dictate what monks and nuns should do, how they should pray and who should be allowed into monasteries.
All monasteries must display pictures of Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and fly the Chinese flag. In numerous monasteries, forced patriotic re-education campaigns are under way.
Monks or nuns refusing to cooperate with Chinese policies are evicted from monasteries or arrested.
According to the abbot of Kirti Monastery, the government not only installed surveillance cameras but deployed as many as 800 security officials inside the monastery last year.
Under the “Strike Hard” campaign monks and nuns are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama and to stamp on his photo, which is banned all over Tibet.
Lobsang Sangay, Kalon Tripa of the Tibetan government-in-exile, is the political head of the Central Tibetan Administration, based in Dharamsala, India.