Around midday on April 16, a man in the village of Suruma in Ngaba county, Sichuan, set fire to himself after calling out some demands and died on the spot. Photographs and a video that have surfaced show his body to be completely charred, and that he was approximately 20 feet away from a makeshift altar with a framed photograph of the 14th Dalai Lama, and the 10th Panchen Lama who died in 1989.
Sources have told VOA that the man was Nikyab, 46, father of seven children, and in the moments before he set himself on fire, people in the area had heard him shout out for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, and for the release of the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama who has been disappeared since the age of six in 1995.
Ngaba county, once part of the Tibetan province of Amdo, but located today in the Chinese province of Sichuan, is the epicenter of the Tibetan self-immolation protests which started there in 2009 and has since witnessed the most number of such protests. Kirti Rinpoche, the head lama of the largest monastery in the region who has been living in exile in India has said that the causes of the self-immolation protests are directly related to violent repression that the communities and monasteries in the region have been undergoing not only since communist China started controlling the region in the 1950s, but all the way back to the turn of the century when Chinese warlords and before them, the Manchu armies, continually tormented this part of Tibet. The US State Department has stated that China’s harsh policies on Tibetan culture and religion work to exacerbate Tibetan discontent which in turn fuel protests by the Tibetan people.
Nikyab, known also as Dhamkar which may have been his monastic name, becomes the 138th Tibetan to carry out a self-immolation protest inside Tibet. This most desperate and resolute form of political protest has slowed down in momentum since 2013 when China passed laws that criminalized self-immolations and started convicting and imprisoning relatives and friends of self-immolators.
While most people understand the Tibetan self-immolations to be indications of Tibetan suffering and humiliation under Chinese rule, Beijing has labelled the self-immolators as being either fringe people with psychological problems, or as people who were incited to do so by the Dalai Lama and ‘hostile foreign forces,’ allegations that few Tibetans and Tibet experts give credence and that remain unproven.