Self-immolation: Wikis


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Thích Quảng Đức pictured during his self-immolation.

Self-immolation is often used to refer to suicide by fire. The Latin-based English word immolate, which for centuries was rarely used, means sacrifice, without any reference to burning, so more generally self-immolation means suicide without specifying the method. However, "immolate" is not uncommon in British English to denote consumption by fire, whether autonomously or imposed. The word itself comes from the Latin "immolare", to sprinkle with meal, in reference to the ritual sprinkling of the heads of sacrificial victims with wine and fragments of mola salsa, holy cake.[1][2] The practice is also called bonzo because Buddhist monks immolated themselves in protest of the Vietnamese regime in 1963. It was Western media coverage of the fiery Vietnamese suicides that introduced the word "self-immolation" to a wide English-speaking audience and gave it a strong association with fire. In English literature prior to the mid-20th century, Buddhist monks were often referred to by the term bonze, particularly when describing monks from East Asia and French Indochina. This term is derived via Portuguese and French from the Japanese word bonsō for a priest or monk, and has become less common in modern literature.



See also: Rainbow body#Self-immolation

Self-immolation is tolerated by some elements of Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism, and it has been practiced for many centuries, especially in India, for various reasons, including Sati, political protest, devotion, and renouncement. Certain warrior cultures, such as in the Charans and Rajputs, also practiced self-immolation.

During the Great Schism of the Russian Church, entire villages of Old Believers burned themselves to death in an act known as "fire baptism". Scattered instances of self-immolation have also been recorded by the Jesuit priests of France in the early 1600s. Their practice of this was not intended to be fatal, though. They would burn certain parts of their bodies (limbs such as the forearm, the thigh) to signify the pain Jesus endured while upon the cross.[3]

A number of Buddhist monks (including Thích Quảng Đức, pictured) immolated themselves in protest of the discriminatory treatment endured by Buddhists under the Roman Catholic administration of President Ngô Đình Diệm in South Vietnam — even though violence against oneself is prohibited by most interpretations of Buddhist doctrine. The twenty-third chapter of the Lotus Sutra recounts the life story of the Bodhisattva Medicine King, which served as the main inspiration for the monks and nuns who self-immolated to protest the Vietnam War. In the Sutra, the Medicine King demonstrates his insight into the selfless nature of his body by ritualistically setting his body aflame, spreading the "light of the Dharma" for twelve hundred years. Thich Nhat Hanh adds: "The bodhisattva shined his light about him so that everyone could see as he could see, giving them the opportunity to see the deathless nature of the ultimate."[4] Having loosed himself from self-grasping, Thích Quảng Đức was able to follow the Medicine King's example and offer up his body to alleviate the suffering of his countrymen.[5]


Czech students Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc and Czech businessman Evžen Plocek performed self-immolation in 1969 to protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia of August 1968. Polish philosopher and former soldier of Polish Home Army Ryszard Siwiec did the same in September 1968 during the Dożynki festival in Warsaw to protest against the involvement of Polish troops in this invasion.

Sándor Bauer and Marton Moyses were Hungarians who committed self-immolation as a political protest respectively against the Hungarian and Romanian communist regimes in 1969-1970.

University of California, San Diego student George Winne Jr., protesting against the Vietnam War, immolated himself on May 10, 1970 at the university's Revelle Plaza before dying the next day.

In 1970, Kostas Georgakis, a Greek geology student at the University of Genoa, set himself on fire in protest of the oppressive Greek military junta of 1967-1974.

In 1970, the 22 year old South Korean labour activist / martyr, Jeon Tae-il, set himself, and a copy of the country's legal code, on fire in protest against South Korea's inadequate labour laws and the government's opposition to reform.

In 1972 Romas Kalanta, a Lithuanian dissident, set himself on fire in protest against Soviet Union.

In 1972, 28 year old French novelist Huguette Gaulin Bergeron publicly killed herself by self-immolation on a major street in the Old Port of Montreal, Place Jacques-Cartier, while screaming “Ne tuons pas la beauté du monde!” which means loosely translated from French “Let us not kill the beauty of the world!”. Luc Plamondon, a famous French-Canadian lyricist, was inspired to write a hymn in Huguette Gaulin Bergeron’s honor. The hymn, entitled Hymne A La Beaute Du Monde, has since been sung by numerous famous French-Canadian artists such as Diane Dufresne, Isabelle Boulay, Garou, and Éric Lapointe.

Lutheran pastor Oskar Brüsewitz killed himself by self-immolation August 22, 1976, protesting against the East German communist regime.

Crimean Tatar named Musa Mamut set himself on fire in protest against violations of the individual rights of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet regime. He lived for five days, dying from his burns on June 28, 1978. Before dying, he is reported to have said, “I feel the pain of every Tatar who is not allowed to return to his Crimean homeland.”


Artin Penik, a Turkish-Armenian set himself on fire protesting against the 1982 ASALA attack at Esenboğa International Airport in which they opened fire on travellers in a crowded waiting room.

Sebastián Acevedo was a Chilean miner who committed self-immolation on November 1983 as a protest against the kidnapping of his children by the Chilean police during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.[6]

In August 1985, during the Glico Morinaga case after the continuing harassment of "the Monster with 21 Faces" and the failure to capture the "Fox-Eyed Man", the police superintendent Yamamoto of the Shiga prefecture killed himself by self-immolation.

In April 1989, Taiwanese activist Cheng Nan-jung set his office on fire when police came to arrest him on the charge of insurrection.[7] The police blocked his funeral processions in the following month, at which time another activist, Chan I-hua, immolated himself in protest.[8]


In 1990, Rajiv Goswami of Delhi University attempted self immolation against Prime Minister V.P. Singh's implementation of the Mandal Commission laws for Affirmative Action (reservation) recommendations.[9][10]

On April 29, 1993, Graham Bamford doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire in front the British House of Commons in London. He was attempting to draw attention to atrocities committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina particularly the Ahmići massacre.

On Monday, February 21, 1994, Homa Darabi, a 54 year old pediatrician and mother of two daughters from Iran, immolated herself in Tajrish square in Tehran while shouting "Death to Tyranny! Long live freedom! Long live Iran!". Later, her sister Parvin Darabi named the Dr. Homa Darabi Foundation in her remembrance and co-authored with her son, a biography of Dr. Darabi, Rage Against the Veil.

Kathy Change was a West Philadelphian performance artist and activist who killed herself in an act of self-immolation on the University of Pennsylvania campus in 1996.

Alfredo Ormando, an Italian writer, burned himself alive in Saint Peter's Square, in Vatican City on 13 January 1998, in protest against the Roman Catholic Church's policy of condemning homosexual acts as sinful.


In April 2001, Shahraz Kayani, a Pakistani refugee settled in Australia set himself alight on the steps of Parliament House, Canberra. Dying days later in a hospital, he was protesting against the refusal of the government to grant the entry of his wife and daughters into Australia, one of whom suffered from cerebral palsy.[11]

In 2001 a group of people immolated themselves in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, known as the Tiananmen Square self-immolation incident. China Central Television broadcast the event nationally on Chinese new year and claimed the immolators were practitioners of the Falun Gong. Falun Gong supporters point to inconsistencies in state media reports and maintain it was set up by the Chinese government to persecute the group.[12]

In August 2003, Israfil Shiri, a gay Iranian seeking asylum in Salford, UK fearing abuse over his sexuality, covered himself in petrol and burned himself fatally in the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester, after hearing that his asylum claim had been refused and he was being deported.[13][14]

Malachi Ritscher was a Chicago musician and anti-war protester who committed suicide in 2006 by self-immolation as a political protest against the War in Iraq.

In 2006, a Gujaratti man, Pravin Joshi, set himself on fire to protest a screening of the film Fanaa in a private cinema in Jamnagar, Gujarat. There had been considerable controversy in Gujarat over the film and threats had been made, urging the theater to provide private security at the cinema where it ran for a week. Joshi entered the bathroom of the theatre during intermission of one of the screenings and set himself on fire. He suffered 85% burns and succumbed to his wounds 9 days later.[15]

In 2008 Son Jong Hoon attempted self-immolation to halt the Olympic torch; however, he was intercepted by police before he could set fire to himself.

On August 9, 2008, Dean Lorenzo Turnbull Jr. of Waldorf, Maryland committed suicide by setting his house on fire and refusing to leave.[16]

On October 1, 2008, the indigenous Mexican leader Ramiro Guillén Tapia attempted self-immolation during an act of protest against the local government in the city of Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. He died the day after.

On October 30, 2008, a former staff member of the University of Washington immolated himself at the campus's Red Square. He was 61 years old.[17]

On Halloween night, October 31, 2008, the body of University of Rochester sophomore Kurt Scheele was found scorched beyond recognition in a remote area of Mt. Hope Cemetery beside a gas can and a book bag after security personnel reported a fire. He was apparently a victim of self-immolation.[18]

On November 11, 2008, Liu Bai-yan immolated himself at Taipei Liberty Square in Taiwan. The 80-year-old former-Kuomintang member was unsatisfied with police mistreatment and the government's attitude during the visit by China's Chen Yunlin.[19]

On January 29, 2009 K. Muthukumar immolated himself to protest against the alleged killing of the minority Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka during the final stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Before his death, he distributed a 4-page statement in the Tamil language reasoning his death.[20] This sparked several other incidences of self-immolation in light of the 2009 Tamil diaspora protests, including the self-immolation of Murugathasan in front of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) in Switzerland.[21]

On February 12, 2009, a 40 year-old man set himself on fire with gasoline outside the Harry Hays government office building in downtown Calgary, Alberta, Canada, resulting in second-degree burns to 40 percent of his body.[22]

On August 14, 2009, Cecilia E. Casals, a 42-year old woman, attempted self-immolation by setting herself on fire at a shopping mall in Miami.[23]

On October 8, 2009, Youssef Hajizedeh (or Hajizadeh depending upon reports), a 41-year old man, attempted self-immolation at a Saskatchewan Government Insurance office in Saskatoon, but failed after his lighter would not ignite and he was subdued.[24][25][26]

On December 11, 2009, a 23-year old man who has not yet been publicly identified, died after he brought gasoline to the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, British Columbia, doused himself with it in the parking lot and set himself on fire. The large flames and screams alerted a nearby security guard, who "tackled him with blankets." [27]


On January 27, 2010, Daniel Shaull, a 26-year-old man from Kansas, died after setting himself on fire in front of Nicholas Unger Furs in Portland, Oregon. He reportedly screamed, "There are animals dying! Animals dying!" while trying to enter the store. The door was locked, however, so Shaull gave up and started running around the parking lot "screaming and asking for help". A police responder, intending to douse the flames, inadvertently arrived on the scene with a canister of pepper spray - rather than the similarly sized and colored fire extinguisher carried in the trunk of the police car - and sprayed Shaull with it. [28]. He was taken to Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center, where he later died. [29]

On February 21, 2010, a 19-year year old S. Yadaiah protesting for the division of Andhra Pradesh to form a separate Telengana state died in Apollo Hospital, after suffering severe burns. He set himself ablaze shouting pro-Telengana slogans on the day before and was quickly recognised by authorities by the papers he was carrying in his bag and was admitted to the private hospital. [30]

See also


  1. ^ "self-immolation - Definitions from". Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  2. ^ The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 7th Edition, 1984
  3. ^ Coleman, Loren (2004). The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. New York: Paraview Pocket-Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7434-8223-9. 
  4. ^ Nhá̂t Hạnh. (2003). Opening the heart of the cosmos: Insights on the Lotus Sutra. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press. p. 144.
  5. ^ Nhá̂t Hạnh. (2003). Opening the heart of the cosmos: Insights on the Lotus Sutra. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press. p. 113.
  6. ^ "Tribute to Sebastián Acevedo". 2007-11-02. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  7. ^ Copper, John Franklin. [2003] (2003). Taiwan: Nation-State Or Province?. Westview Press Taiwan. ISBN 0813340691.
  8. ^ "Independence. Rise. Chan I-hua". Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  9. ^ "For and against, with reservations". Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  10. ^ "Mera Rang De Basanti Chola". 2006-02-07. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  11. ^ "Immigration Department guilty of mal-administration: Ombudsman". 2001-08-23. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  12. ^ Sunderland, Judith. (2002). From the Household to the Factory: China's campaign against Falungong. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1564322696
  13. ^ Institute of Race Relations (2003) Destitute Iranian dies after suicide protest at refugee charity
  14. ^ Institute of Race Relations (2003) Open verdict on death of asylum seeker who slept in a wheelie bin
  15. ^ "Fanaa: man who immolates dies". 2006-06-21. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  16. ^ "Man Who Died in Fire Set Blaze Himself, Officials Say". Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  17. ^ Posted: 1:47 pm PDT October 30, 2008. "Former UW Staff Member Dies After Setting Self On Fire - News Story - KIRO Seattle". Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  18. ^ "|". Democrat and Chronicle. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  19. ^ Old man's self-immolation shocks students at the Liberty Square
  20. ^ "Last statement of Muthukumar". Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  21. ^ Eezham Tamil immolates himself to death in front of UN office in Geneva February 13, 2009.
  22. ^ Man sets himself on fire in downtown Calgary February 12, 2009
  23. ^ Woman Sets Herself On Fire in Miami Mall August 14, 2009
  24. ^ Warick, Jason (2009-10-08). "Man tries to set himself on fire inside Saskatoon SGI office". Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ "CBC News - Saskatchewan - Man in court after trying to set self on fire". 2009-10-09. Retrieved 2009-12-02. 
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  • The Copycat Effect. New York: Paraview Pocket-Simon and Schuster, 2004, ISBN 0743482239

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