What caused a person to resort to such a drastic act of suicide in the form of self-immolation? I have read of similar cases in which Tibetan monks have taken their own lives by self-immolation, which also served as a form of protest against injustice and oppression by the ruling system. Similarly, the Arab Spring revolution that inspired Occupy Wall Street movement was sparked by a Tunisian man who set himself on fire in 2010 to protest against injustice, corruption and poverty.
Refugee Rights Action Network WA offered a sound explanation for such an act of self-immolation by an Iranian refugee, whose quote was shown above:
“On October 15 last year, Khodayar Amini, a Hazara man, set his body alight in a park in Dandenong, in fear of being redetained by immigration authorities. A patch of scorched earth marked his site of death, a silent testimony to an incredibly violent end.
Before Khodayar’s death, he stated clearly,
“My crime was that I was a refugee. They tortured me for 37 months and during all these times, they treated me in the most cruel and inhumane way, they violated my basic human right and took away my human dignity…They killed me as well as many of my friends such as: Nasim Najafi, Reza Rezayee and Ahmad Ali Jaffari”
For these men, the physical burning and scorching agony brought upon by fire, can be seen as a visible expression of the unacknowledged suffering that had plagued their lives under Australia’s merciless immigration regime.
As racialised bodies in a system designed to deny care to those deemed ‘unworthy’, these men have cried out to Australia, asking for care. In a system that renders their suffering invisible they have sought to make their suffering visible. With nothing else within their control, they have cried out with their bodies.”
I believe the underlying message is: Do I matter? As human beings, we all have an inner desire to be respected, acknowledged and treated with basic dignity. I am sure most, if not all, of us would have experienced in some form of discrimination or other, and the experience can be downright humiliating. In a recent incident on social media, I was chagrined when my post was removed twice by a group administrator without explanation, despite my request for an explanation, and I decided to raise an issue openly to challenge the perceived discrimination.
I can only imagine how much worse it has been for refugees whose voices have been drowned consistently by the uncaring system. It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to compare my own experience with those who had to deal with the systemic oppression day after day, which threatened their very survival and well-being. But I can certainly relate in some ways to their pains and suffering.
“Do I matter? Does my life matter?” is the question that continues unspoken in our lives whenever we undergo struggles and setbacks. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement exemplifies the need to vocalise and highlight the issue of anti-black racism and institutional oppression of the black community that had resulted in white police brutality against unarmed black men and women.
May we all come to the realisation that we ourselves matter and so do others, and may we unite to subvert the inhumane system that threatens to strip us of our basic dignity and humanity.