“These Chinese are not letting us live in peace. It’s better to die, better to die.”
These were the last words uttered by father of two, Lhamo Kyap, 27, during a phone conversation, moments before he burned himself to death, according to detailed information received by TCHRD. Kyap made his last phone call to a friend as he stood beside his motorcycle near Bora Monastery waiting to set himself on fire.
Lhamo Kyap set himself on fire on 20 October near Bora Monastery in Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) County in Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province, traditionally in the province of Amdo, Eastern Tibet.
TCHRD has received a detailed account of events leading to the burning protest staged by Lhamo Kyap and his eventual death, as well as attempts made by the Chinese authorities to confiscate his body from local Tibetans. We present here the full account as told by the source whose identity is withheld for obvious reasons:
On 19 October, the day before his burning protest against Chinese rule, Kyap visited Bora village, his birthplace, meeting his parents and other family members and spending the night there. During a long conversation with his family, he appeared to be his normal self, showing no indications about anything serious or related to his future actions. His family got the impression he was the “same old cheerful” man. The next day, on 20 October, when Kyap’s family went to see him off on his way back to Doknang village, where he lived with his wife and children, they saw Kyap buying a few plastic containers filled with petrol. But the family took it as a mundane affair and did not suspect anything else. Later, Kyap bid them farewell as he took to the road on his motorcycle to Doknang village.
Soon after his family returned to their home, Kyap took a detour and went towards Bora Monastery. There, near the monastery, he called his friend [name withheld] and said, “Can you come today to pick me up?” The friend responded, “Today, I don’t have the motorcycle, so I can’t come. What’s the matter?” Then Kyap said, “Oh, no problem. This evening you might hear something.”
Then, Lhamo Kyap, continued, “Aro! When will they hold this 18th CCP Congress?” The friend said he had no idea although he had heard it’s being discussed a lot in newspapers.
Before hanging up his mobile phone, Lhamo Kyap said wearily, “These Chinese are not letting us live in peace. It’s better to die, better to die.”
That was Kyap’s last phone conversation. He then moved towards Bora Monastery. As he reached the highway road between the monastery and Bora Village, at an intersection of roads leading to and from Luchu, Machu, Alag, major areas in the Tibetan province of Amdo, he set himself on fire. It was around 2 pm (local time) when flames began devouring Kyap’s body. In recent weeks, the spot where Kyap burned has seen increased security presence of police vehicles and armed Public Security Bureau (PSB) officers who patrol the area.
While on flames, Kyab continued walking from the intersection to the main road, and shouted slogans calling for ‘independence for Tibet’, ‘release of the 11th Panchen Lama,’ and the ‘return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ even as he poured petrol on his head. As he neared the monastery’s hospital, his steps faltered and he fell. But he rose up again, folded his hands in a praying gesture and uttered prayers for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “Gyalwa Tenzin Gyatso Khenno!” As his voice dimmed, he walked towards the PSB vehicles stationed nearby and fell down. Eyewitnesses say PSB officers, upon seeing the burning man walking towards them, fled in different directions.
Moments later, local Tibetans and monks from the nearby monastery reached the spot where Lhamo Kyap lay dead. Some passers-by, including some tourists, were seen taking pictures and asking questions. Kyap was taken to the monastery where the monks placed his body in the main prayer hall in front of a portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The monks then lit butter lamps and recited prayers.
As news of the burning protest spread, local Tibetans from nearby villages gathered in large numbers to offer their prayers for the deceased. As the prayer ceremony was being held, some Tibetans suggested to the elders of Doknang village that the body be cremated soon before it fell into the hands of the authorities. But the elders refused, saying it went against their tradition to cremate before completing the prayer rituals. The elders requested the monks to perform the required prayers and promised that they would take care of the body if problems arose. The elders sent a message to Doknang village to come to the monastery to observe prayer rituals.
Following the prayer rituals, monks and lay Tibetans wrapped the body with khatags and took it to Doknang Village. As the Tibetans carrying the body arrived near the Mani (Prayer Wheel) temple of the monastery, a group of PSB officers and government ‘work team’ officials came in vehicles and stopped them on the way. A scuffle occurred between the two sides as some Tibetans shouted at the officials, “it is because of you that we have reached such a situation; you must bear responsibility for Lhamo Kyap’s death!” The local Tibetans finally managed to take the body to Doknang village.
On 21 October, in addition to Bora Monastery, many other neighboring monasteries decided to observe prayer ceremonies for the deceased. But local officials issued orders allowing no more than 20 monks to hold prayers. Sources say many Tibetans from Tsoe, Tsayul, Zoge, Khakya, and Dokar came to console the family members. On 23 October, monks conducted prayers at the cremation site. In spite of all the restrictions, around 400 people were present.
Restrictions and surveillance have increased considerably in the Bora area. The Sangchu County government has ordered the armed police to keep a watch over schools, monasteries and the general situation in and around Doknang village. Police are checking the identities at every entry point towards Doknang village.
Lhamo Kyap was born in Bora village, located in the south of Labrang Tashikyil Monastery in Sangchu (Ch: Xiahe) County, Kanlho (Ch: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu Province. After getting married, he left Bora village and began living in the neighboring Doknang village. He was known for his friendly and cheerful disposition and the village elders used to set him as a good example.
In Bora Township, Kyap’s birthplace, all the villagers, young and old, lay or monastic, worship the female deity Palden Lhamo for refuge and protection. Thanks to this deity, the villagers share a strong bond of solidarity among themselves. The influence of this deity is evident in the village’s popular tradition of naming children in the village after this deity. Some popular names are, for instance, Lhamo Dhondup (also the current Dalai Lama’s childhood name), Lhamo Kyap, Lhamo Tashi, Lhamo Tsering. For example, when the villagers take oath, face hardship or encounter fear, they often invoke the Palden Lhamo deity for protection and sustenance.
Lhamo Kyap left behind his wife Dorjee Kyi, 28, and daughters Dukmo Tso, 10, and Pema Tso, 7.