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Self-immolation in Mcleod Ganj UPDATED

By Tenzin Samten  /  August 3, 2017;

Photo: Kirsty McHenry

Passang Dhondup, 48, a wood painter at Norbulingka Institute in Sidhpur near Dharamshala, died on July 29 in a self-immolation protest against the illegal Chinese occupation of Tibet. He died at around 3pm at Lhagyal Ri on the Kora – the circumambulation path around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence and temple in Mcleod Ganj. This is the second case of self-immolation in India this month.

He was spotted by other people walking the circumambulation at the time. Tenzin Dorjee, a witness, said “His body was already in flames when I came across the spot where he had set himself on fire”. Dorjee notified Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and the Dharamshala Tibetan Settlement officer. Two other witnesses, Mr Gyurmey Dorjee and Mrs Bhukyi heard the deceased shouting “Long live the Dalai Lama”.

When the Tibetan Settlement Officer and members of TYC arrived on the spot, followed by the police, no one had information about the person’s identity. They found a small bag nearby containing an umbrella, Tibetan national flag, some cash, house key and small paper on which they found a phone number and a name of a Tibetan person – Nyima Gyalpo. Two empty bottles of kerosene or petrol were also found on the site. After investigation, it was found that the phone number belongs to a cable contractor in the Norbulingka area and that Dhondup worked under Nyima Gyalpo in the woodcraft section of Norbulingka Institute. Speaking to the Tibetan media, Gyalpo said that Dhondup had taken a half day leave on that day.

Photo: Kirsty McHenry

“All the evidence, including his slogans and the eyewitness accounts, are clearly stating the fact that he was a Tibetan national and he had self-immolated for Tibet,” the Dharamshala Tibetan Settlement Officer Dawa Rinchen told reporters at a press conference.
It was later confirmed that Dhondup came to India in 1991 from Gyaltse in Shigatse Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region. He studied for sometime in Suja School and has been working at Norbulingka as wood painter since 2012.

Nyima Gyalpo explained that Dhondup was a man of few words, lived alone and was someone who loved reading Tibetan books and newspapers.

Tibetan non-government organisations in Dharamshala held a candle lit vigil for Dhondup on July 31. Tibetans and supporters in Dharamshala, including the President of Tibetan Government-in-exile Dr Lobsang Sangay, gathered for a special prayer service at Lhagyal Ri and attended the funeral August 2. Sikyong Sangay discouraged self-immolation protests outside Tibet and urged Tibetans to seek other means to contribute to Tibetan cause.

Photo: Kirsty McHenry

“While we understand the intention behind the act of self-immolation, we must remember that the life of every Tibetan is precious and that we must be alive to fight for our cause. In a free country, we have the freedom to embark on all possible methods to contribute substantially to advancing our cause. The life of every one of the six million Tibetans is precious, and every life lost is a huge loss for us and for our cause”, said Sikyong. He further added that his office is considering not attending prayer services in the case of anyfuture self-immolations in exile.

Passang Dhondup’s self-immolation is the tenth to take place in exile. The first Tibetan to stage a self-immolation protest was Thupten Ngodup, who set himself in fire in Delhi on April 28, 1998. He was involved in a hunger strike protest which was being forcibly ended by Delhi police. He later died in hospital.

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