DYING WITHOUT KILLING: SELF IMMOLATIONS
– Apeksha yadav1
– Prerna Diwan2
“Nothing can make self immolation proper. Nothing can give them the right to turn men into sacrificial animals. Nothing can make it moral to destroy the best. One can’t be punished for being good. One can’t be penalized for ability. If that is right, then we’d better start slaughtering one another, because there isn’t any right at allin the world.”3
“When things are reached beyond tolerance, when exploitation reaches its zenith….
When innocent people are crushed under the feet of power….
When imperialism climbs the heights of destruction….
Powers in these situations are overthrow by revolution.”
And each such revolution is led by the radical protest of voices, of masses and of flames.These flames lights therays ofhopes in the masses by burning itself for collective cause. Each such burning to enlighten other’s lives is significantly termed as “Self Immolations”.
Self-immolation has been practiced for many centuries, around the world by some elements of MahayanaBuddhism, Hinduism and others.
India being an ancient country, Hinduism and other religions have originated and been practiced since time immemorial. Self immolation was performed for various reasons, including Sati(jauhar), political protest, devotion, and renouncement. Certain warrior dynasties, such as in the Charans and Rajputs, also practiced self-immolation.
Even in Buddhist texts the existence of self immolation can be found. Well-known Jataka tales,4 concern self-immolation. Like in the “Hungry Tigress”, Prince Sattva looked down from a cliff and saw a starving tigress that was going to eat her newborn cubs, and compassionately sacrificed his body in order to feed the tigers and spare their lives.
The twenty-third chapter of the Lotus Sutra5 recounts the life story of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, which served as the main inspiration for themonks and nuns who self-immolated. In the Sutra, the Medicine King demonstrates his insight into the selfless nature of his body by ritualistically setting his body aflame,spreading the”light ofthe Dharma” for twelve hundred years.
During the Great Schism of the Russian Church, entire villages of Old Believers burned themselves to death in an act known as “fire baptism”. Scattered instances of self-immolation have also been recorded by the Jesuit priests of France in the early 17th century. Self immolation had its beginning from different parts of the world. It was practiced at various places as the suppression reached its heights.
Self-immolation refers to setting oneselfon fire,often as a form of protest or for the purposes of martyrdom or suicide. It has centuries-long traditions in some cultures, while in modern times it has become a type of radical political protest. Michael Biggs,6 in his work has identified definition of self immolation is generalized to any intentionalsuicide “on behalf of a collective cause.”
But “abandoningthe body” also covers a broad range of more extreme acts (not allof which necessarily result in death):feeding one’s body to insects; slicing off one’s flesh; burning one’s fingers or arms; burning incense on theskin; starving, slicing, or drowning oneself; leaping from cliffs or trees; feeding one’s body to wild animals; self-mummification (preparing fordeath so that the resulting corpse is impervious to decay); and of course, auto-cremation. Self-immolation is an extreme form of renunciation. Self-immolations are often public, dramatic, political, and thus newsworthy. They can be seen as a type of altruistic suicides for the collective cause. Unlike suicide attacks, self-immolations are not intendedto inflictphysicalharm or materialdamage.They attract attention and become glorified as martyrdom,because of the perception of great pain, but they do notguarantee death for the burned. While the burning of vital tissue can be very painful during self-immolation, shock or asphyxiation quickly make the event painless, as do the onset of third- degree burns which destroy the nerve endings. Like a suicidal attack, an actofself-immolation involves an individualintentionally killing himself or herself (or at least gambling with death) on behalf of a collective cause. Thedefinition ofself-immolation mustinclude othermethods of self-inflicted death. In addition, this is not always a solitary act; two or more individuals may coordinate their sacrifice.
BURNING TIBET IN FLAMES OF SELF IMMOLATION
Thich Quang Duc, an elderly Buddhist monk who set himself alight in the lotus position in Saigon in 1963, was the first globalised act of self- immolation.
A number of Buddhist monks followed Quang Duc and immolated themselves in protest of the discriminatory treatment endured by Buddhists under the Roman Catholic administration ofPresident Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. Most of these suicides occurred in the United States protesting the Vietnam War and Asia.
Since then numerous Buddhist monks have selfimmolated themselves as a mark of radical protest. This shows the protest that china was and is going through pertaining to its governance in Tibet.
Since 2009, at least 94 Tibetans have self-immolated, more than 40 have died in parts of China since 2011.7 The Dalai Lama has said he does not encourage the protests, but he has praised the courage of thosewho engage in self-immolation.However, theChinese government claims that he and the Tibetan exiled government are inciting these acts.
Manipulating self-immolations to slay others is a punishable crime, whether in China or other countries. A court in southwest China’s Sichuan Province on Thursday convicted two ethnic Tibetans of intentional homicidefor inciting eight people to self-immolate, three of whom died.
Lorang Konchok, 40, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve and has been stripped of his politicalrights for life. His nephew, Lorang Tsering, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and has been stripped of his political rights for three years, according to the court verdict.
Also on Thursday 2-01-2013, another six people were sentenced by a court in northwestChina’s Gansu Province to three to 12 years in prison for being implicated in a self-immolation case.
In a legally binding document jointly issued by the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security, the authorities have made it clear that any act to organize, design, incite, coerce, induce, abet or help others in self-immolation is a crime that intends to take others’ lives.8
The fear of punishment couldn’t stop the Tibetan people and monks from self immolation themselves even after settingan example.
After a week of decision, three Tibetans had set themselves alight to bring the world’s attention to the Chinese government’s treatment of their culture. Those three Tibetans were an 18-year-old man, a mother of four and a teenage girl. More than 20 have made this viscerally shocking publicstatement in the past year in protest againstthe Chinese government’s treatment of Tibetan culture and religion.
Most of the 3,000 acts of self-immolation since have occurred in countries with Buddhist orHindu traditions,as sociologistMichael Biggs records.9
YET again Tibetans haveburnt themselves to death in protestat Chinese rule. According to a website produced by Tibetan exiles, Kunchok Phelgye, a 24-year-old monk, set himself on fire on December 8th, near Kirtimonastery in the Chinese province of Sichuan. In a separate incident on the same day and in the same region, where this form of protest began in February 2009, Pema Dorjee, a 23-year-old, also lost his life. Since the first self-immolation, more than 90 Tibetans have followed suit. Most have done so to protest against Chinese rule, and to call for the return to Tibet of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader.10
The desperate protests are not petering out. On the contrary, they are intensifying.
The ICT has reported another self-immolation. On December 9th Wangchen Kyi, a 17-year-old student, set herself alight in a nomadic area of Qinghai province.
Self-immolation has become a symbol for the Tibetan struggle against Chinese rule. It’s been going on for years, but after a recent resurgence in the ultimate display of civildisobedience, the Chinese government has decided to try to stop Tibetans from coating themselves in gas and lighting a match in a bid to restore “social harmony” once and for all.11
PROTEST IN INDIA
Self immolation had its existence in India since a long period of time. Certain Cultures and traditions reports about its presence.
Satiin Hindu is both a goddess figure, and an act that takes after her name. Thegoddess Sati, also known as Dakshayani, is aHindu goddess of marital felicity and longevity. Sati is said to have self-immolated because she was unable to bear her father,Daksha’s, humiliation of her husband, Shiva.
Theact ofSati grew into a religious funeralpractice amongsome Hindu communities in which a recently widowed Hindu woman, either voluntarily or by use of force and coercion, would have immolated herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. It was widely practiced in India in till 17th century. Nut after that the practice became rare and has been outlawed in India since 1829. The term may also be used to refer to the widow herself.
Another series of self immolations that had shaken India deeply years ago. The protest was at its peak and youngsters were ready to give away their lives as a mark of protest against the decision of the Indian government.
The MandalCommission was established in India in 1979 by the Janata Party government under Prime Minister MorarjiDesai with a mandate to “identify the socially or educationally backward.” It was headed by Indian parliamentarian Bindheshwari Prasad Mandal to consider the question of seat reservations and quotas for people to redress caste discrimination, and used eleven social, economic, and educational indicators to determine backwardness. The report of the commission was submitted in December 1980.A decade after the commission gave its report, V.P. Singh, the Prime Minister at the time, tried to implement its recommendations in 1989. The criticism was sharp and colleges across the country held massive protests against it. Soon after, Rajiv Goswami, student of DelhiUniversity, committed self-immolation in protest of the government’s actions. Although he survived it but his act further sparked a series of self-immolations by other college students and led to a formidable movement against job reservations for Backward Castes in India. After him the student who attempted and died due to self-immolation was Surinder Singh Chauhan on Sep 24, 1990.Around 150 to 200 self immolated themselves to protest against the government’s actions. The protest spreaded in the whole country witnessing self immolations and riots. The situation got criticalwith the passage of time. It was the decision of the Supreme Court that ended the country wide protest. The Supreme Court granted a stay on the implementation of the Mandal Report on 1 October 1990. Thus, the protest and riots ended that took away hundreds of the young lives by mere decision of implementation and not even that of execution of it.
Even India had faced protest with regard to china’s governancein Tibet. But the latest cause which had become the worry for the country and leading to severalself immolations is the matter of creation of new state of Telangana from the state of Andhra Pradesh. Dueto this the country has and had witnessed much self immolation. The count worthy being the latest ones carried out within a span of one or two year. In Andhra Pradesh, a large southern Indian state, an auto-rickshaw driver set himself on fireto demand that a new state,Telangana, be formed within India. He died. Elsewhere, in the same state, also on March 26th 2012, another man attempted to set himself ablaze but was rushed to hospital. He, too, was demanding that Telangana get statehood.
The practice continues with India leading – as many as 1,451 and 1,584 self-immolations have been reported in 2000 and 2001, respectively. A particularly high wave of self-immolations in India has been recorded in 1990protesting the Reservation in India. TamilNadu has the highest number of self-immolations in India till date. It is considered to be the capitalof Self-immolation in India.
The utmostcriticism faced by the act of self immolation is that when to a human the birth and this body is gifted with grace of God then who we people are to take it away.. There are various other measures and tools to mark revolution and bring changes. The suppression of weaker
ones has always being done by the powerful class. As rightly said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”12 But it doesn’t mean by giving away lives as a mark of sacrifice willrevive all. Freedom and Independence had been earned by most of the presently successful democracies who were slaves one time. But the acts of burningone orcutting limbs were notthe criteriato getthe independence. Thus, such practices must be stopped.
Scattered instances of self-immolation have been recorded by the Jesuit priests of France in the early 17th century. However, their practice of this was not intended to befatal. They would burn certain parts of their bodies (limbs such as the forearm or the thigh) to symbolize the pain Jesus endured while upon the cross.
A 1973 study by a prison doctor suggested that people who choose self-immolation as a form of suicideare more likely to be in a “disturbed state of consciousness”, such as epilepsy.
Whilemost acts of self-immolation have no discernible impact, a small minority evokea tremendous response, especially from sympathizers. Some episodes of self-immolation have shifted the balance of power between protesters and their opponents, rather sometimes in an unexpected direction.
Self-immolation tragedies are restrained to only a limited number of areas, and there is no such thing dreamed by Dalai Lama and his followers that all the Tibetan regions are in flames.
The article quoted a self-immolation survivor Sangde as saying:”First I thought I was a hero, but now I realize that I was such an idiot at that time.”
Convicted LorangTsering was also quoted as sayingthat “I don’t believe they (self-immolators) arereally ‘heroes’,I just think they were fooled.”13
FLAMES REACHED AROUND THE WORLD
The widespread coverage ofthe self-immolations of theBuddhist monks in western media established thepractice as a type of a political protest.
It is not like that only Mahayana Buddhism and Hindus practice the acts of self immolations it is spreaded in almost allaround theworld the incidents like theSoshigateliincidentwhere Russian Christians immolated themselves. Self immolation by Mohamed Bouazizi and others had triggered the incidents of the politicalcrisis in Tunisia, NorthAfrica and had overthrown the governments in Middle East. In Egypt, Abdou Abdel-Moneim jaafar who self immolated himself before Egyptian parliament and his act contributed towards protest that resulted in the resignation by the President Hosni Mubarak. In Saudi Arabia, an identified person self immolated himself of about 65 years old in the town of Samtah,Jizan. This was thefirst selfimmolation in SaudiArabia.
As everything is incompletewithout its criticism so as there exists critics for self immolation as well. But the increasing cases ofself immolation shows that this subject requires nationaland internationalconcern. The daily increasing case of self immolation in Tibet region is the matter of utmostconcern. China needs to deal with this crucialissue distinctively. Even in India, Rules and guidelines must be issued to regulate this practice. When suppressions and exploitation reaches its heights, there emerges the most severe form of protest to stop them one of which is self immolation. But severely increasing case shows the political involvement of the power greedy person behind the burning flames of the innocent people.According to a detailed report produced by the InternationalCampaign forTibet, aWashington, DC-based lobby group, The report has a poem posted by a Tibetan blogger. It begins as:
“After a storm bursts on one grassland
Another storm bursts on the other grassland
Following the direction of the wind
Dark shadows move accordingly.”
And it is hard to see where the storm will end, until severe changes are not taken into course.
1. www. wikipedia.com
2. www.economist.com/blogs/banyan. 3. www.oxforddictionaries.com
7. “Making Sense of Suicide Missions.” compiled a list of 533 “self-immolations” from the 1960s to 2002 by Michael Biggs.
9. Burning for the Buddha: self-immolation in Chinese Buddhism, by James A. Benn 10. www.goodreads.com.