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Northampton vigil calls attention to crisis of self-immolations in Tibet

  • Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of the Unitarian Church in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of the Unitarian Church in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Area Tibetans and supporters light candles outside of city hall in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Area Tibetans and supporters light candles outside of city hall in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of city hall in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of city hall in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of the Unitarian Church in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

    Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of the Unitarian Church in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.
    JOSH KUCKENS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of the Unitarian Church in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Area Tibetans and supporters light candles outside of city hall in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of city hall in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS
  • Area Tibetans and supporters gather together outside of the Unitarian Church in Northampton Wednesday as part of an 85 hour vigil held in memory of the 85 tibetans who have died from self-immolation in the past few years.<br/>JOSH KUCKENS

That’s why Zidig and dozens of other members of the Tibetan community in Northampton and Amherst donated the better part of this week to participate in an 85-hour vigil to remember Tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest China’s treatment of Tibet.

By Friday, the number of self-immolation deaths in Tibet had climbed to 89 people. In November alone, 22 self-immolations occurred.

“I feel this is the least I can do,” said Zidig, 39, a Tibetan who was born in exile in India and lives in Hadley. “I live in a free country and can voice my opinion.”

Ngawang Gyatso agrees, adding that he is participating to show solidarity with people inside Tibet, which China has occupied for 60 years.

“It’s to tell Tibetans inside Tibet that we are with them, that we have them in our thoughts and prayers,” said Gyatso, 22, who also was born in exile in India and came to the United States 14 years ago. He is studying business at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The pair spoke Friday morning amid the backdrop of chanting prayers taking place inside a tent in front of the Unitarian Society of Northampton amd Florence on Main Street downtown. They were underneath a banner bearing pictures of many of the people who have died for the cause.

The prayers are offered up in remembrance of those who have burned themselves to death since 2009. These Tibetans are young and old, monks and nuns, and students and nomads who set themselves ablaze to demand freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama, who was forced into exile in 1959 after a failed uprising. Similar vigils are taking place throughout the world.

The event, which ends tonight, is sponsored by the Five College Students for a Free Tibet. It also involves a signature campaign for Tibet and a nightly march through downtown in which participants carry Tibetan flags, posters and wooden signs and chant slogans.

“These self-immolations are not just an act of political resistance to the failed Chinese policies in occupied Tibet, but more importantly they are a call for global intervention to find a peaceful resolution to the occupation of Tibet,” said Thondup Tsering, a local community organizer and adviser to the Students for a Free Tibet chapter.

In a press release, Tsering and Tenzin Choephel demanded a coordinated international response by world leaders to condemn China’s repressive measures in the affected regions and across Tibet.

Specifically, they call for the international effort to pressure China to withdraw its security forces from Tibet, stop the harassment and torture of monks, allow foreign diplomats and independent foreign media unfettered access to the country and respond to the Tibetan peoples’ demands for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama.

The issue couldn’t be more personal for Zidig, who has never set foot in her native homeland and desperately wants to when the time is right and it’s safe.

“My long-term goal is to visit,” she said.

This week’s vigil was co-sponsored by the Social Justice Task Force of the Unitarian Society and Northampton Rental Center.

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