On 7 September 2017, Tashi Namgyal, aged 32, committed suicide by lying on train tracks outside the Emmenbrücke station in Switzerland. He left behind two notes in which he stated that the purpose of his act was to call attention to the plight of Tibet, and called for the United Nations to take up the Tibetan issue and for the Swiss government to grant asylum for 300 Tibetan asylum seekers. His brother Chime Tenzing writes about Tashi and Tibet:
We were born in exile. We never got to see our homeland. But we grew up together listening to the grim tales of escape from our home Tibet from our grandparents and parents. The hardships and trauma they underwent were nothing less than enormous.
The Chinese came little by little. First, they tried to win hearts with their pseudo-friendliness and promises of a greater tomorrow. Later they tricked the Tibetan people and forced them to abandon everything. They separated our ancestors, looted our homes and monasteries. They first duped and later killed hundreds. My parents and grandparents had to flee overnight, leaving all their belongings and loved ones behind. The only thing they could at that moment think was — to run for life.
They walked over the mountains in freezing cold with little or nothing to eat. They had to run everywhere without any idea where it might possibly lead them. Crossing the border, before they could even take a sigh of relief, they were faced with more challenges — of language, culture, food, shelter, and the worst, the fatal heat of their new exile home, which eventually claimed many of their compatriot’s lives. The greatest relief for them was the news of His Holiness being safely escorted into exile.
Growing up listening to all these sad tales in lieu of otherwise rosy children’s stories of Super Heroes, it is understandable what to expect from these children when they grow up. They grow up not only as just displaced second-generation Tibetans, but they grow up with a strong sense of injustice wrought to their parents and ancestors by the Red enemies. With this strong sense of being victims of injustice they are committed, in their own ways, to fight for justice. And that, in whatever ways they are capable of.
My brother Tashi Namgyal was one such innocent child, metamorphosed into an angry young man by circumstance. He sacrificed his life [[put description here?]] as a call for help, for justice, for his country and countrymen, without giving a thought on how much his family members would miss him and suffer the loss. To him it was clear, the love of the country comes before anything else.
In that way, he proved he was one of the true sons of Tibet. He had all the ingredients that make, not only a perfect, but also a patriotic citizen. Until he took that road less travelled, he was just my little brother. When he took that road it has reconfirmed my belief in his strong sense of patriotism. He was no longer just my brother, but brother to all our people. He had this very strong mindset of doing something good for the country, and by offering his precious life, he wanted to contribute, in his own way, to draw attention to our collective fight for justice and for our brothers and sisters in trouble.
Until then I hadn’t thought of a bond that would stretch far beyond that of just brother’s relationship. Now it is clear to the world, or at least to me, he wasn’t just my brother that I knew and care about — he was more courageous than I ever realized, a born activist in his own right, a patriot in his own capacity, a compassionate soul in his own way, a doer of good for his people in his own style.
He was different, but at the same he was just like one of us. He loved his family as much as everybody does, he loved all the basic fun of life like the youth of his age, and he loved his life like all of us do.
So why did he choose to offer his precious life for a cause that all of us Tibetans have been fighting for? Why did he go all the long way from his exile home in India to Europe to complete his act? Why did he plead to a country to grant asylum to hundreds of fellow Tibetan brothers and sisters seeking shelter in troubled times? Why did he voluntarily die with a message to the world and the UN? At the time of his death the local authorities confirmed he had not applied anywhere in Europe for asylum. Had he carefully planned his mission to draw more attention from the outside world? Had he not thought of his family before taking that step? Had he no inhibitions encountering death? What might have gone through his mind at the last moment?
But all these questions take me only to one conclusion — it was because he loved his country and people so much! His sacrifice was very carefully planned — none of us had a clue. He made all the effort to cross a continent to do this act to draw more attention from the outside world.
Often all these questions trouble my mind when I reflect and try to comfort my weeping heart every evening when I light a lamp for him. I think of my parents and grandparents and imagine how much pain they must be enduring at this point of time. I think of the more than 150 sacrifices made by our fellow brothers and sisters in Tibet and in exile. I think of the family members they have left behind without saying a proper goodbye. And most tragically, I think about the fate of my country and countrymen in the years and decades to come, particularly the day when His Holiness is no longer with us. Then what kind of situation might arise? Can we rule out the possibilities of seeing our young men taking up arms?
If I continue to delve into the details, I have more to fear than to hope for. I cannot bear the pain of seeing Tibetans as a race eventually being gradually wiped out from the memory of the world. I cannot accept the thought of the impending hard reality that we might have to face in years to come. All these nagging thoughts, coupled with my own grief, leave me no room for optimism. How long should we have to live with this bitter reality? I am sure these kinds of thoughts must have surely troubled my brother before he took that step. I could totally feel his pulse, share his thoughts, and understand his mental conflicts, not only as a brother, but as a fellow Tibetan.
Our more than fifty years of yearning and fighting for justice have taken us sadly nowhere today. Despite all our efforts of appeasement and kowtowing to what the men at the helm in Beijing dictate, we see no hopes and signs of any breakthrough. The Chinese leaders are instead hell-bent on giving us an impression that there is no issue at all called ‘Tibet’. They are not even ready to listen to our well-intentioned proposals for a compromise based on mutual benefit.
They are always forcing themselves to believe the issue of Tibet is just a matter of time, before it becomes a history and eventually a mystery. But, I firmly believe, going just by the sense of nationalism of our youth today at home in Tibet as well as outside in exile, that the spirit of Tibetans will remain ever stronger like the wind of truth. However strong may be the wind of evil, it can never extinguish the light of truth. There’s no doubt that Tibet will be the most fought-after issue in the 21st century. The myopic and groundless beliefs of the Chinese Communist regime, sooner or later, will be proved wrong. It’s only a matter of time.
All these reasons and more unfortunately have compelled young Tibetans like my brother to take such drastic steps in desperation to highlight the Tibetan issue and remind the world community to stand up and support our just cause for freedom. In some ways, I feel all of us in a free world and our leadership in Dharamshala are overcautious and playing it safe in order not to hurt the Chinese leaders’ sentiments.
The Chinese Communist regime demonstrates not even a remote willingness to engage in a dialogue and propose a win-win agenda. They instead become ever more adamant in affirming their right of sovereignty over Tibet. This is despite all our efforts at peaceful resolution, and the sacrifices made by hundreds of our brothers and sisters in Tibet and in exile, including over 105 self-immolations.
In such a milieu, it is sadly understandable what my brother and all the other patriots wanted to say by sacrificing their precious lives. They surely have had felt we Tibetans are reduced to just cogs in the machine. Sadly, the only way left to make their grievances heard was to sacrifice their precious lives.
It’s painful to admit that today we are left with not much choice as our tormentors become stronger economically and politically. China being now a world economic power, every nation wants to take their share of interest by partnering their business ventures while overlooking the prevailing human rights abuses. Therefore, China always has the upper hand and always dictates us to dance according to their tunes. And, like sincere old dogs, our job is always to create a ‘conducive atmosphere’ where both Chinese and Tibetans could sit together on a table and discuss the ways forward. In the meantime, because of China’s stubbornness and political tenacity, our people are losing patience (particularly the youth), knowing China is in no way ready to let Tibet be free, leave alone be an autonomous state.
What my brother wanted to demonstrate by sacrificing his own life is — to appeal the the world and to the UN to help our people and support our struggle in finding ‘at least a way forward’. In a way, he had to sacrifice his life with a sense of urgency as a wakeup call. The melancholic and desperate tone in the notes he left behind also serves as an eye-opener for us Tibetans to realize the looming dangers that lie ahead. He has this eternal fear — the day His Holiness is no longer with us, it will be harder for both the Chinese and Tibetan sides to reach an amicable solution. Things will be completely different and much more complicated, and whatever it will be, it will not be peaceful as we have been for decades exhibiting. Our youth today are, surprisingly as well as understandably, more than ever angry, passionate, united, patriotic, and ready to do anything for justice, at any cost!
In the letters he left behind, my brother questioned ‘why, why, why’ the world, particularly the United Nations, is silent on Tibet’s issue. Going through his last letters one can understand his sense of desperation and helplessness that everyone of us feel at some point of time. The only difference is that, he had enough! Therefore, he decided to offer his life in the hope that his sacrifice may bring, if not big changes, at least some awareness about the Tibetan struggle for freedom and Tibetan people anywhere in trouble.
Despite his painful sacrifice and his unequivocal last statements, the reluctance and hesitancy on the part of our Kashag, Chithue, NGOs, and Tibetan media even to acknowledge his sacrifice is surprisingly painful, especially for the bereaved family members. Ironically, the Tibetan service of VOA was busy making a mountain out of a molehill by airing petty news of a street verbal duel of a Chinese expat in Dharamshala! The Tibetan Chithues in Swiss didn’t attend Tashi’s funeral service, despite an invitation by the Tibetan community! Lobsang Sangay’s Kashag appeared more worried about finding a politically-correct adjective, and finally chose to remain silent! By failing to highlight Tashi’s case, they not only demonstrated a kind of cold-heartedness, but also proved to a certain degree their ineptness by failing to use this opportunity to make a political statement out of the painful death of a young man with a strong political message.
Our Kashag and Chithues did not want to risk the ire of the Communist men in Beijing by turning deaf ears to the case in question. We could say that may be justifiable — if something positive comes out of it as a price for their loyalty. But, that not being the case, then why keep silence this time? Or, maybe our leaders and Tibetan media assume by not acknowledging such sacrifices they would stop such things from happening in future. In that case also they are being tricked by a false assumption. Because these sacrifices are the consequences of long pent-up emotions that erupt like a volcanic force, which no policy or resolution can stop.
We must realize these are nothing else than acts of desperation and helplessness. It is the desperation of our Tibetan folks at home and helplessness in exile borne out of this lingering ordeal of failing to break the political deadlock. If we Tibetans do not highlight these incredible sacrifices made by our fellow countrymen, then who else is going to take the lead for our sake? For whatever reasons that are holding our leaders and media back, it is nothing but a clear demonstration of either tragic miscalculation or lack of audacity to call spade a spade. There is no point in covering the truth in order to appear nice and win some goodie-goodies from an enemy that is like a hard nut to crack!
Unfortunately, I am helpless to admit in a sort of confession – so long as our struggle for justice and freedom continues, so long the issue of Tibet does not see the light of truth, so long as our folks suffer under the rule of the Communist regime — we can neither rule out nor predict the possibility of such more sacrifices in the years to come! These sacrifices are the consequences of years of suffering under the rule of a tyrant regime. Therefore, nobody has the influence either to dishearten or to inspire such acts of sacrifices from happening. For this we have good reason to point fingers at the Communist regime in China for making our lives hell on earth. They are responsible for it, that’s why they must be the ones taking the trouble in covering up the truth, not us!
And, meanwhile at least we must have the courage and a collective sense of responsibility as free spokesperson to make our voices heard — as loud as can be and so pure as possibly could be.
Failing to fulfil that responsibility, we are the ones who lose out, nobody else. And, instead of shying away from accepting the truth, however hard it may appear, we must at least have the boldness to pay our respect to their sacrifices. The other way around is neither the right thing to do, nor the right way to do. It’s just like digging our own grave. Therefore, we must wake up from the slumbers of our petty inhibitions and look at things, as His Holiness always advise, from a wider perspective. In that way we could see reality in its purest form, without any strings attached.
Despite the huge loss of their son, the greatest consolation to my parents at this most difficult time was the audience with His Holiness. His Holiness’s compassionate glance at my brother’s picture and copies of his final letters will surely make him happy wherever he may be today. As a brother, despite my loss, I am pretty much happier at the thought of him being remembered by His Holiness in his prayers.
Lastly, may His Holiness live till eternity. May our spirit remain strong and indomitable. May we see the light of truth prevail in Tibet. May the wishes of my brother and all the martyrs be fulfilled. May our leadership in exile find new paths and courage to face the impending realities, without having to worry about maintaining or showing any political correctness! May all the sons and daughters of Tibet be reborn in a free world as Tibetans to see the fruits of their sacrifices. May my brother rest in peace. Bod gyalo!
Taking this opportunity on behalf of my bereaved family members and parents, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Tibetan community and its leadership in Switzerland for doing such a great job in honouring and respecting my brother’s sacrifice, as he rightfully deserved. I would like to thank each and every one involved for their show of solidarity and for the respect bestowed upon Tashi Namgyal. In particular, our parents would like to thank Lobsang Palden and his family in Switzerland for taking all the responsibilities on behalf of our family members and easing the official works. Thank you all once again. I take all your support, respect, and solidarity as renewed confirmation of an unconquerable Tibetan spirit. This, I take as a very good sign. This is our victory. If we continue to live so united, strong and courageous, there’s no question at all — the world will see the light of truth, and Tibet will see freedom.