In April 2011, HH the Dalai Lama passed along political leadership of Tibet to Lobsang Sangay, a Harvard scholar who has embraced the legacy of non-violence and deep faith and commitment to compassion and dialogue emblemized by HH the Dalai Lama. Recently, Mr. Sangay called on the Chinese government to soften its hardline policy with Tibet and to take up dialogue as a way to resolve problems in the Himalayan region that have contributed to the spike in self-immolations in protest against the Chinese regime.
According to the International Campaign for Tibet website, the first modern-day self-immolation took place on April 27, 1998. Since February 27, 2009, there have been 123 self-immolations. Of these, 122 occurred since March 16, 2011. The most recent was Tsering Gyal, a monk, age 20, who set fire to himself in the province of Amdo. As he was taken away by authorities after the fire was extinguished, it is not known whether he survived. Of those Tibetans who have self-immolated, 24 were age 18 or younger.
In October 2012, NBC's Ann Curry interviewed HH the Dalai Lama in Syracuse, NY, and questioned him then on the self-immolations. The following is an excerpt from that interview:
Ann Curry: "More than sixty Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the three years, expressing a desire for greater religious freedoms and a desire to be able to speak their own language? Their deaths have brought no change from the Chinese. Have they died for nothing?
His Holiness the Dalai Lama: It is difficult to judge whether these kind of methods are right or wrong. They are expressing in a non-violent way regarding the Chinese policies [in Tibet].
A C: One young Tibetan set himself on fire two days ago left an online statement that read: “If we reflect on the past we can see nothing but signs of defeat, anger, anguish and tears.” What should your people do to express these feelings? Do you support their decisions to set themselves on fire? Do you want them stop setting themselves on fire?
HHDL: I always consider myself as the free spokesman of the Tibetan people, and not their boss. My boss is actually the six million Tibetans in Tibet. I am in free country and quite comfortable. But they are passing through a very desperate situation, so they take these decisions. I am quite certain that those who sacrificed their lives with sincere motivation, for Buddha dharma and for the wellbeing of the people, from the Buddhist or religious view points, is positive. But if these acts are carried out with full anger and hatred, then it is wrong. So it is difficult to judge. But it is really very sad, very very sad."Finding out what is happening in Tibet remains challenging due to restrictions imposed by the Chinese government. Nevertheless, the International Campain for Tibet (ICT) remains a very good source to find out news and a good place to offer support to the cause of Tibet. Students for a Free Tibet is another a good resource.