In the span of barely a year, Tibet and its activists have become known for self-immolations. Until recently, suicide-as-protest—not to be confused with suicide bombings intended to kill others—was so rare in the political vocabulary of Tibetan activism that a protester named Thupten Ngodup, who set himself on fire in New Delhi in 1998, is memorialized in a white stone bust in the exile town of Dharamsala. That has changed abruptly, with thirty-two self-immolations in little more than a year, in markets, remote cities and towns, and now expanding to New Delhi. In the beginning, the protesters were mostly monks and nuns, some in their teens, who doused themselves in kerosene, and, in some cases, filled their stomachs with it to maximize the conflagration. Their deaths remained largely invisible, captured by little more than grainy cell-phone footage, and rarely investigated because police barred foreign reporters from the area.
But lately that pool of protesters has widened, mostly strikingly with Jamphel Yeshi, a twenty-seven-year-old refugee who told friends he had been tortured in China before fleeing to India. Last Monday, as Chinese President Hu Jintao prepared to visit India, he set himself aflame and ran screaming down a street lined with photographers. By day’s end, he had died in a hospital, and the horrific photographs of his protest had appeared around the world.– Evan Osnos writes about the alarming trend of self-immolations in Tibet: http://nyr.kr/HRiQ1f