By B. Raman
A curfew has been imposed and a shoot-at-sight order has been given to the police following two days of violent protests by Tibetans in certain parts of Western Sichuan, which has seen 14 instances of self-immolation since March last year following the arrests of a large number of Tibetan monks of the well-known Kirti monastery and their forcible detention in a military camp.
The protests by the monks of the Kirti monastery started in support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and in opposition to the suppression of the Tibetans by the Chinese authorities. It has since spread to the general population of the area in protest against the arrest and prosecution of many bystanders, who were present at the scenes of self-immolation, on charges of abetment of suicide.
The anger has been aggravated by the refusal of the Chinese authorities to hand over the bodies of those who committed self-immolation to their relatives for funeral ceremonies in accordance with Tibetan traditions and by the disposal of the dead bodies by the police without allowing the relatives to be present.
The protests, which were peaceful till December, have since assumed a violent form with at least two attacks on police stations where, the local residents suspected, the dead bodies were kept.
An outbreak of widespread violence involving about 6000 Tibetans was reported on January 23, 2012, from the Draggo county in Sichuan province’s Kardze prefecture. According to reliable sources, the local police opened fire on the protesting Tibetans, resulting in the death of five Tibetans and injuries to 40 others.
The news of deaths in the police firings led to the spread of the violence the next day to the Serthar (in Chinese Seda) area of the same prefecture. The police again opened fire resulting in six more deaths.
Reports of demonstrations have also been received from the Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba prefecture) area where several thousand Tibetans have reportedly blocked a local road. The police forcibly dispersed Tibetans who tried to hold a special prayer meeting in the Kirti monastery in homage to those who died in the police firings.
It is reliably learnt that the latest violence started when the police beat up and arrested Tibetans in the affected areas who refused to celebrate the Chinese New Year’s Day in protest against the Chinese suppression. They also observed the Chinese New Year’s Day as a day of mourning in memory of all those who have committed self-immolation since March last.
The US , which will be hosting China’s Vice President Xi Jinping at the White House next month, has expressed grave concern over the latest violence, and called upon Beijing to review its “counterproductive policies” in Tibetan areas that have created tensions and threatened Tibetans’ religious, cultural and linguistic identity.
A statement issued by Maria Otero, US Special Co-ordinator for Tibetan issues, said: “China should resume talks with the Dalai Lama or his representatives over Tibetan grievances. We urge Chinese security forces to exercise restraint, and we renew our call to allow access to Tibetan areas of China for journalists, diplomats and other observers.”