Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) observed a prayer service to mourn the death of Shurmo at Sikyong Hall, T-building Gangkyi, Dharamshala on January 17, 2021. Photo: CTA

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Dharamshala, India — The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) observed a prayer service to mourn the death of Shurmo, a young and promising Tibetan who passed away five years ago due to self-immolation. He along with many Tibetans were protesting against China’s repressive policies in their home, Tibet. The news of self-immolation was heavily censored and remained a secret for the past five years until last week when it was smuggled out of Tibet into the free world.

With the death of Shurmo, the total known cases of self-immolations in Tibet has reached 155. The sweeping wave of self-immolation began in 2009 in the aftermath of nationwide uprisings against China and its policies. The inhuman and repressive Chinese rule in Tibet has led them to resort to extreme measures to protest the practices and policies that threaten and endangers their identities. This was also done to prevent the annihilation of their culture.

Shurmo set himself on fire near a bus station in Shagchuka village in Driru county at 13:00 local time on September 17, 2015. This incident happened in the Nagchu prefecture, in so called “Tibet Autonomous Region” of Tibet.

He was immediately arrested by Chinese police and was taken to a hospital in Shagchukha, but sadly he passed away on the same day due to the injuries. According to the Human Rights Desk of CTA, The Chinese police later arrested three of his relatives. Till today there is no information on them. Nobody knows whether they were detained or sentenced. The cruelty of the Chinese knows no bounds.

The Human Rights Watch reported in its annual 2020 report on Tibet on January 13, 2021, it reported that," Tibetan areas continue to severely restrict religious freedom, speech, movement, and assembly, and fail to redress popular concerns about mining and land grabs by local officials, which often involve intimidation and unlawful use of force by security forces".

This report posed concerns on how the intensified restrictions in workplaces, homes, and societies has ensured no protests. The heavy surveillance has been another reason that contributes in preventing public protests. This was ‘a goal’, the report said and has been constantly emphasized upon by Chinese officials. This kind of situation not only leads to suffocation but also poses threats to people living in these areas as there is no sense of privacy or guaranteed security.

The issue has been raised multiple times. Even the Central Tibetan Administration has requested the Chinese government multiple times to change its policies. The failed policies have contributed to the adversities and grievances faced by people in Tibet. Reforms in policies is the only way to prevent these self-immolation protests. People who died by self-immolation, wished for independence of their people and the rightful return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Even while taking their last breath, engulfed in raging fire, suffering from excruciating pain, all they have asked is freedom.

Self-immolating oneself is an expression of their denouncement of China’s illegal occupation of Tibet. This is also a strong political message for people across the globe demanding intervention and freedom for Tibetan people.

China-Tibet: The one thing you need to know

1.2 Million Tibetans have been killed in this conflict since Tibet was violently and illegally occupied, according to international law, by China in 1949/1950. More than 100,000 Tibetans have been forced to flee their homeland and now live in Exile communities around the world. Until today, rule of law or basic human rights were non-existent in Tibet. Surveillance, repression and arbitrary arrests are daily routine. Despite the continued suppression, the Tibetan people choose the path of nonviolent resistance and for that, they deserve our utmost respect and full support.

Over the past 70 decades, there has been ongoing political repression, social discrimination, economic marginalization, environmental destruction, and cultural assimilation, particularly due to Chinese migration to Tibet which is fuelling intense resentment among the people of occupied Tibet.

The communist-totalitarian state of China began its invasion of Tibet in 1949, reaching complete occupation of the country in 1959. Since that time, more than 1.2 million people, 20% of the nation's population of six million, have died as a direct result of China's invasion and occupation. In addition, over 99% of Tibet's six thousand religious monasteries, temples, and shrines, have been looted or decimated resulting in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of sacred Buddhist scriptures.

Until 1949, Tibet was an independent nation in the Himalayas which had little contact with the rest of the world. It existed as a rich cultural storehouse — unifying theme among the Tibetans — as was their own language, literature, art, and world view developed by living at high altitudes, under harsh conditions, in a balance with their environment.