Dorje Tsering succumbed to his injuries on the third day of his stay in the hospital’s critical care unit.
He was 16 years old. He looked younger, much younger, than his age. In one of the more widely shared photos of his, on people’s Facebook posts and profile pictures, he is in a classroom. He is smiling, in a kindly way.
For most people, this is the only image with which they will identify with this young Tibetan boy in India: a sunny, cherubic face, nattily attired in his school uniform, caught as if in the midst of writing notes on his notebook. There is no sign or trace of the violent deed to come.
A simmering dispute in the Tibetan diaspora came to boil this past week when organizers of the annual Tibetan National Uprising day rally in New York City publicly clashed with demonstrators that carried placards and shouted slogans containing the words “Free Tibet”. The opposing counterparts fell in two camps: those who advocate for Rangzen (Tibetan independence; absolute freedom from China) and those who favour Umay-Lam (Middle-Way Path or genuine autonomy; similar in some respects to Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two System” setup). The Umay-Lam supporters, it seems, wanted nothing to do with “Free Tibet” at this year’s rally.
Even though the point of contention in New York City on March 10, 2015, rested on what was and wasn’t permissible at the event, the discord points to a deeper issue: One that has been debated vociferously many times in India, and is finally wedging itself in the burgeoning Tibetan communities in North America. On the face of it, the question is about determining Tibetan sovereignty and the future of Tibet. What this incident points to though, is the more complicated question of who decides the future of Tibet.
Many Tibetans here in Toronto are becoming increasingly numb to such news from Tibet. It used to be that the initial shock and horror of the news was followed by a call for action: protest, candle-light vigil, prayers, lobbying at the Parliament, etc. Now, many of us talk about the self-immolations over breakfast, we might make a comment or two about the parsimonious coverage from our news outlets, and then we go on with our lives. When previously every new report of self-immolation was a sign of an imminent judgment day for our struggle, now they barely register in our social media updates.