“One Tibetan woman’s tragic path to self-immolation”

Jason Burke from The Guardian has a sad look at Tsering Kyi, the teenage nomad girl who self-immolated three weeks ago:

As a young girl, Tsering Kyi’s favourite days of the year were the eve of her village’s annual move to their summer pastures and the eve of their return. The lives of the 30 nomadic households of Tethok, in China’s Gansu province, followed the rhythm of the seasons. In the spring they would load their household on to yaks and ride up into the high valleys and hills where their herds would find grass and the children would play with frogs in the lakes and streams. As the winter approached, they would return to lower grazing.

A day before they moved all the heavy items would be packed and sent ahead. The women and children would remain behind, sleeping under the stars, to follow the next day. This was Kyi’s favourite time.

“I remember how she was always excited. She loved to sleep outside with her sister and brothers and all the cousins,” said a close relative interviewed by the Guardian last week. “Even when she went to school and was a teenager she still came with the family to the pastures in the summer. She didn’t like the town so much.”

Change was coming, however. When Kyi was still a young girl, relatives remembered, a new government policy led to each household being allocated a plot of land for grazing and barbed wire divided the high pastures. The old days of allowing the herds to roam freely over the high plateau grassland were over.

Another change was education. Nomad children had never gone to schools in distant towns. But new facilities were being opened, in part to cater for the huge numbers of nomads being resettled in places like Machu. Kyi set about persuading her parents to send her and her younger brother to the Tibetan middle school in the town. An aunt finally convinced them to agree and, aged 11, Kyi started lessons, staying in the hostel attached to the school during term time.

Unpicking the course of events that led Kyi to her self-immolation is difficult. The act itself goes against many of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism and although the Dalai Lama has refused to condone it, he says he understands the reasons behind it. But if Kyi had not actively searched for involvement in activism, she was soon to find herself plunged into its centre.

The spring of 2008 saw the most significant unrest in Tibet for decades. Peaceful protests turned into serious riots in many cities and towns as security forces moved to disperse demonstrators. In Machu police cars and government buildings were burned.

But the unrest did not stop, at least not in Machu. Kyi’s school became a centre of protest in 2010 when students staged a demonstration calling for more freedom and Tibetan independence. Though dozens were arrested, another protest took place a month later. Then the popular headmaster was fired and at least two teachers detained, provoking further anger. Kyi had found herself in a hotbed of activism.

Following the 2008 unrest there is now an unprecedented level of “political consciousness and Tibetan nationalism”, a monk in Dharamsala said last week. He would only speak anonymously as he feared reprisals when he returns to Tibet. “With the internet and mobile phones, everyone now hears about what the Dalai Lama is doing, the protests, every burning. That is a huge change from before,” he told the Guardian.

In early January Kyi spoke of the spate of self-immolations and told a close relative that she understood why they were happening. “No one could go on living like this,” she said.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

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