An unmarried Tibetan man set himself on fire and died in the northwest Indian hill town of Dharamsala on Saturday in a protest calling for the long life of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Tibetan sources said.
Dhondup, aged 48 and a painter employed by the Norbulingka Institute—a center for the preservation of Tibetan culture and art—self-immolated at about 3:30 p.m. on July 29 in a wooded spot called Lhagyal Ri where local Tibetans perform religious rites, witnesses to the burning said.
“When I arrived, his body was mostly burnt, but there was nothing I could do,” one witness to the protest, Tenzin Dorje, told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“I immediately went to call others [for help], including the Tibetan Youth Organization, and when we returned we found an umbrella, a small Tibetan flag, two to three thousand Indian rupees, and a small note about the 80th birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” he said.
Another witness, a woman named Ama Phurkyi, told a press conference after the protest that she had been walking along a path that circles the area, “when I suddenly heard the sound of fire burning.”
“When I looked back, I heard a man calling out for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama while engulfed in flames,” Ama Phurkyi said. “I was so frightened that I ran away so that I could inform others.”
Gyurme Dorje, another witness to the burning, said he also heard Dhondup call out for the Dalai Lama’s long life, he said.
“I was impressed by his faith and devotion for His Holiness,” he said.
A sincere worker
Speaking to RFA, Norbulingka Institute employee Nyima Gyalpo said that Dhondup, who sources said had arrived in India from Tibet in 1991, was proficient in the Tibetan language and a regular reader of Tibetan newspapers like the Tibet Times and Tibet Express.
“He did his work sincerely and always reported on time,” Gyalpo said, adding that Dhondup tended to avoid going out with others and preferred going places on his own.
Dhondup’s protest was the second self-immolation by a Tibetan living in India this month, and followed the July 14 self-immolation of Tenzin Choeying, a Tibetan college student living in Varanasi who died of his burns more than a week later.
Self-immolation protests by Tibetans living outside Tibetan-populated areas of China are rare, while a total of 150 have now set themselves ablaze in Tibet and Tibetan-populated counties in western China.
Most protests feature demands for Tibetan freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama from India, where he has lived since escaping Tibet during a failed national uprising in 1959.
Reported by Sangye Dorje and Lobe Socktsang for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Richard Finney.