Norbu Damdul, a 19-year-old former monk from Tibet, set himself ablaze yesterday in bold defiance of worsening Chinese oppression. Damdul was heard shouting “Tibet, the Land of Snow, should be independent. His Holiness the Dalai Lama should be allowed to return to Tibet,” before being doused with water and brutally beaten by Chinese police then hauled away to an unknown location.

Damdul is the eighth Tibetan monk to self-immolate in the past seven months. Four died, four survived. None of the survivors have been heard from since.

The trend of self-immolation has developed as the Chinese have further clamped down on Tibet, particularly Ngaba County. Chinese police have taken control of Kirti monastery, the focus of the Tibetans’ renewed struggle for autonomy. Monks are routinely beaten, imprisoned, restricted from studying, and forced to take part in patriotic re-education sessions. Approximately 300 monks are unaccounted for today.

The 50,000 troops infesting Ngaba County have turned the region into a police state. According to the Tibetan Youth Congress, the local people’s movement is severely restricted, and telephone and Internet communication is monitored. Chinese troops routinely pluck people from the streets and throw them into jail without cause, or beat them to death.

When even a few people disappear from the streets of Tibet, a country of just six million, the small population notices. Accurate numbers are hard to come by, but it’s believed that between 400,000 and 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed as a result of China’s Great Leap Forward and by other violence over the years. Today approximately 140,000 Tibetans live in exile, 100,000 of them in India.

Tibetans are divided on the issue of freedom. The Dalai Lama has shifted his official policy from one of seeking independence for Tibet to one of autonomy within China. Some people want to continue the fight for complete independence, unable to tolerate the possibility of continued violent repression and the loss of their culture and religion. Under the Dalai Lama’s direction, the vast majority of Tibetans pursue their struggle for freedom non-violently, which makes the recent series of self-immolations so distressing.

To counter the might of China, Tibet must use a different strategy for attaining freedom than that seen in the Middle East this year. Knowing that they’re engaged in a David and Goliath battle, Tibetans are seeking help from the outside. With only six-million Tibetans engulfed in a country of 1.3 billion Chinese, the odds are against Tibet. They cannot gain their freedom alone.

Much can be done to help the Tibetans’ cause. China prides itself on its impressive economic growth. It also cares about its international reputation, as we’ve seen during the anti-Olympic protests of 2008. Since China’s export economy is intimately tied to foreign demand, consumers have the power to affect its economy. Boycotting Chinese products will surely bring China to the negotiating table and gain Tibetans their freedom.

With a large proportion of its population living piously as monks, nuns and devoted laypeople, Tibet is a nation committed to truth, compassion, and peace. Tibetans have proven their commitment to these virtues through their non-violent resistance to their Chinese oppressors. But as the Dalai Lama grows older, the situation grows more desperate. The question being asked now is, “How many more Tibetans have to burn for the situation to change?” Fortunately this is one cause in which the world can lend a hand.

What you can do

Boycott:

Support Tibet, while saying no to slave labour, by opting for non-Chinese made alternatives. If a favourite company of yours manufactures in China, write a letter informing them of the human rights abuses the Chinese government perpetrates, and ask them to shift their operations to a democratic country. For more information, visit: http://tibettruth.com/boycott-china/.

Petition:

Add your signature to letters to the Chinese government:

Free Tibet: Urgent Call for Restraint in Ngaba
Avaaz: Stand with Tibet – Support the Dalai Lama

Enable:

Exiles fleeing Tibet often arrive in foreign countries penniless and without the means to get a job in a modern economy. Consider volunteering your time to teach Tibetan exiles a language, computer literacy or other skills to help them get jobs. For more information, visit Volunteer Tibet.

Donate:

Sponsor a child for US$40 per month or send used clothing, books or other gifts.