NEW DELHI — A Tibetan exile lit himself on fire and ran shouting through a demonstration in the Indian capital Monday, just before a visit by China’s president and following dozens of self-immolations done in China in protest of its rule over Tibet.
Indian police swept through the New Delhi protest a few hours later, detaining scores of Tibetans.
The man apparently had doused himself with something highly flammable and was engulfed in flames when he ran past the podium where speakers were criticizing Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit.
Fellow activists beat out the flames with Tibetan flags and poured water onto him. He was on fire perhaps less than two minutes, but some of his clothing had disintegrated and his skin was mottled with black, burned patches by the time he was driven to a hospital.
About 30 such protests have occurred over the past year in ethnic Tibetan areas of China, and a Tibetan self-immolated last year in India, where many exiles reside. Beijing has blamed the Dalai Lama and called the actions a form of terrorism.
Tibetans inside China and exiles say China’s crackdown on Tibetan regions is so oppressive, those who choose such a horrific form of protest feel they have no other way to express their beliefs.China says Tibet has always been part of its territory. Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries. Many of the protesters who have self-immolated in China are Buddhist monks or nuns, often in their teens or early 20s.
The origin of this form of protest is unclear. Some activists see inspiration from the Arab Spring protests, set off by a Tunisian fruit seller’s self-immolation. Others see historical examples among Buddhist monks: those who protests Vietnam’s crackdowns in the 1960s and Chinese in the last imperial dynasty.
The economic summit Hu will be attending this week involves the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, who form a grouping known as BRICS.
Police in New Delhi were already bracing for protests by the tens of thousands of Tibetan exiles who live in India. Security around the summit location has been tightened, and roads leading to the hotel will be closed to the public a day ahead of the meeting.
Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for the Delhi police, did not know how long the protesting Tibetans would be held, or how many had been taken into custody., holding Tibetan protesters normally up to one day — often to stop further embarrassing Indian authorities during Chinese visits — though detainees legally can be held for up to one week.
Published on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Man immolated self for Tibet