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Thích Quảng Đức pictured during his self-immolation.

Self-immolation is the act of suicide, often by fire. It is considered to be among the most powerful symbolic acts of sacrifice. It also may be a part of religious rituals (see ritual suicide).

Death by fire is long and extremely painful, making it a powerful statement, a way of stating one's absolute dedication to a position or belief, such that it warrants literal self-sacrifice.


Self immolation, whilst not tolerated in anything but extraordinary circumstances by Buddhism and Hinduism, was practiced by religious or philosophical monks, especially in India, throughout the ages, for various reasons, including political protest, devotion, renouncement etc. Certain warrior cultures also practiced it, such as in the case of Rajputs.

A number of Buddhist monks, including Thích Quảng Đức in 1963, self-immolated in protest of the discriminatory treatment endured by Buddhists under the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam — even though violence against the self is discouraged by most interpretations of Buddhist doctrine.

Four Americans immolated themselves in 1965, in protest of the Vietnam War; the first was Alice Herz, an 82 year old German immigrant who performed the act in downtown Detroit on March 16, 1965, prior to the University of Michigan Teach-in. The second was Norman Morrison, who performed the act after reading an article by a missionary about the destruction of a Vietnamese village by napalm. The third was Roger Allen LaPorte, in front of the United Nations building in New York City on November 9, 1965. At the time, he was a 22-year old Catholic Worker Movement member. On May 10, 1970, twenty-three-year-old George Winne Jr. immolated himself on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. He left a sign saying "In the Name of God, stop the war".

On 8 September 1968, Polish lawyer and former soldier of Armia Krajowa Ryszard Siwiec burned himself during an official Communist ceremony in the main stadium of Warsaw protesting against the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

Five months later, in January 1969, Jan Palach immolated himself in Prague to protest against the recent Soviet military backlash against the reforming "Prague Spring" movement. A month later, another student, Jan Zajíc self-immolation for the same reason.

On 19 September 1970, the Basque nationalist Joseba Elosegui threw himself ablaze against the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, who was presiding a game of the world pelota championship in the Anoeta court of San Sebastián. Elosegui was arrested and Franco was not harmed.

Also on 19 September 1970, Kostas Georgakis self-immolated in Matteoti square in Italy to protest the Greek military regime.

Romas Kalanta self-immolated as a protest against Russia (Soviet Union) occupying Lithuania on 14 May 1972. This triggered a student uprising in Kaunas.

On April 7, 1989, the pro-Taiwan independence publisher Cheng Nan-jung self-immolated rather than submitting himself to arrest for having published a draft of the Republic of Taiwan constitution. His action was soon followed by the self-immolation of another activist during Cheng's funeral procession.

In 1990, Rajiv Goswami self-immolated in protest against implementation of job and University education reservations for backward castes to the extent of 27% in addition to the existing quotas of 22.5% in India, as recommended by the Mandal Commission. This sparked a series of the same by other college students and led to a formidable movement against implementing the policy.

On February of 1991, UMass Amherst student Greg Levey set himself on fire on the Amherst, Massachusetts town common in protest of the Gulf War. [1]

In the 1990s several South Korean students also chose to self-immolate in the waves of mass protests against the country's then authoritarian government.

On October 23, 1996, West Philadelphian activist Kathy Change self-immolated to protest "the present government and economic system and the cynicism and passivity of the people," as she said in her suicide note.

MIT student Elizabeth Shin may have committed suicide in this manner.

During the trial of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, one person in Sargodha self-immolated.

On January 23, 2001 a group of people self-immolated in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China. The group were allegedly practitioners of the Chinese spiritual movement Falun Gong; however, this is disputed by Falun Gong supporters, who claim it was a setup by the Chinese government as a part of the ongoing crackdown on the movement.

In 2003 six people set themselves on fire in the Czech Republic, with four dying and two suffering severe burns. Most of the cases were in Prague. According to suicide notes the reason was a depression from the contemporary situation of the world. [2]

On November 15, 2004, Mohamed Alanssi, a disgruntled former federal informant on terrorism set himself on fire near the White House. Secret Service officers put out the fire and Alanssi survived. [3]

On May 27, 2006, Two Students in India set themselves on fire protesting against the Reservation policies by the Government. [citation needed]

See also

  • Hunger strike
  • Sati, an old custom in which a Hindu widow would immolate herself on the funeral pyre of her husband.

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