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Question mark over self-immolations in Tibet answered

Amanda Peters, Dharamshala (TPI): According to media reports published in May this year, a high-ranking Tibetan religious figure in Kham region of eastern Tibet and his niece, a nun, died in an accidental fire on 6 May 2012.

On the day Thubten Nyandak Rinpoche, 45 and his niece, Atse, 23, were honoring Tibetans who died in the self-immolation protests; with butter lamp tributes, when their house caught fire. However, it remained unclear whether this was an accident or a case of self immolation, said reports.

As the Chinese authorities ruled the case as an “accident”, the press and media did not highlight the event.

However, a post published by Tsering Woeser on her blog (http://woeser.middle-way.net/) stated the details of the incident. It concluded that it was a case of self immolation and not an “accidental house fire”.

Thubten Rinpoche was the former abbot of Dzokchen monastery in Kham region of eastern Tibet- the site of recent protests. He was a strong advocate of Tibetan rights, culture, religion and unity and was also the head of the Drakhar Monastery in Minyak Lhagang, Kham region of eastern Tibet. His niece Atse was also known for her strong support towards the welfare of Tibet.

Recently, a Chinese website called Weibo published their photograph with a detailed account of the incident. A few days before May 6, Thubten Rinpoche organized a prayer service in honour of Tibetan self-immolators. At the meeting he gave a speech about future plans for supporting the Free Tibet Movement and towards the end of the service, monks, nuns and other attendees made prayer offerings of butter lamps.

The day before he died, he had asked his students to move the many butter lamps to his house and then sent them all away, including his Chinese pupils.

On the morning of May 6 he and Atse prayed at their home for the self-immolators. In a call made to his family he stated that it was necessary to do a good deed and that they would offer the butter lamps for the benefit of those who set themselves on fire for ” the cause of Tibet.”

Soon after his house caught fire, Thubten Rinpoche and his niece were found dead.

The police authorities arrived on the scene and declared that the incident was an accident and that the duo did not sacrifice their lives. The police also warned the community to not speak about the incident in public. Fearing that the authorities would close down the monastery, its supervisor agreed to abide by the instructions.

The relatives of Thubten Rinpoche accepted the authorities’ version of events. The Chinese gave them 10,000 yuan and several bags of rice in exchange for their silence. Very few media houses reported the incident as it was classified as an “accidental fire”. The locals did not proclaim the two as “heroes” because they feared the consequences it would entail. However, the local Tibetan community believes that they may have self-immolated “for the cause of Tibet.”

Although Thubten Rinpoche and Atse gave up their lives for Tibet, their relatives polluted their legacy by taking bribes offered to them by the Chinese authorities. Even so, the family and the local Tibetan community hope that like the many other Tibetan heroes that set themselves on fire for the Tibet cause, their names too will be remembered.

Published Date: Saturday, July 7th, 2012 | 03:00 PM

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