A 63-year-old contract farmer, who was also a member of one of the protesting unions on Delhi’s borders, died by suicide on Sunday morning. The victim, identified as Amarjeet Singh Rai, consumed sulphas tablets, which are used to protect crops from rodents, near Pakora Chowk, the protest site of BKU Ugrahan on the Tikri border. The site of the incident was barely 200 metres away from the stage erected for the farm union’s president Joginder Singh Ugrahan.
“Around 8.48 am (on Sunday), he rang me up to say that he had consumed sulphas (tablets). As I reached him at 8.55 am, he handed me two typed letters before falling unconscious. We rushed him to the civil hospital in Bahadurgarh. From there, he was shifted to PGI, Rohtak where he was declared dead,” said Ram Kumar Munshi, who worked with him and had been camping at the Tikri border along with him since December 16. He was also a practising lawyer.
One of letters he handed before passing out was addressed to the sub-divisional magistrate, Jalalabad. Drafted by the Bar Association of Jalalabad, it extended support to the farmers’ protest for withdrawal of the contentious agriculture Bills. The other one was titled, ‘Letter to Modi, the Dictator’. While he had arrived at the Tikri border on December 16, the typed letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bearing his signature, was dated December 18.
“He must have brought this letter from Jalalabad as he didn’t leave the Tikri border since December 16. He was a popular lawyer in Jalalabad and met us on Sunday morning with a smile on his face. We had no clue he would take a such a step. However, he was deeply disturbed from the day the farm Bills were promulgated through ordinances,” Amritpal Singh, a Jalalabad resident who is among the ones camping at the Tikri border, said.
Rai, who had three decades of legal practice and also engaged in contract farming, was associated with the Ugrahan group for a long time. His letter to the PM is being termed by the union as his ‘suicide note’.
“The people India has given you absolute majority and power and have put their faith in you to strive for their welfare and prosperity. They had expected a better future with you as prime minister. But it is with great sorrow and pain that I have to write that you have become the PM for the likes of Ambani and Adani. Farmers and labourers are feeling cheated by your black farm Bills and fearing the worst. People are on the streets, not for votes but in the interest of their livelihoods, families and future generations. In order to cater to the interests of some Capitalists, you are bent on destroying the common man and agriculture, which is the economic backbone of India. Please don’t snatch food from the mouths of farmers and labourers just to make some Capitalists happy. Don’t force them to consume sulphas. You have not only betrayed the people but also your allies such as SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal),” the letter reads.
“The voice of the people is the voice of God. It is sad that you wish sacrifices from us. I offer myself as sacrifice in support of the global protest if that’s what takes to shake your conscience,” it says. Below the letter were the words ‘Amarjit Singh Advocate, Bar Association Jalalabad (Fazilka)’, written in green ink. There were a few more handwritten lines in Punjabi, which translates to ‘people have lost faith in the judiciary’, ‘compulsion of farmers against the arrogance of Modi’, ‘a drop of blood is a must to light the flame of struggle’, and ‘Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Ekta – Zindabad (long live the farmers’ struggle)’.
His 24-year-old daughter Suman Bala, who recently got a job as an elementary teacher at a government school in Jalalabad, said, “I can’t believe Papa took such a step. He spoke to us on Saturday night and did not betray any stress. He told us he will be back soon.”
“He enquired about buses and trains as he wanted to return. It’s shocking that he had been roaming all these days with a suicide note in his pocket and sulphas tablets on his person. He had tea with us on Sunday morning and seemed to be in good spirits. We couldn’t read what was playing in his mind. We’re surprised to learn that while the letter was dated December 18, he took his life on December 27,” Amritpal told Indian Express.
Shingara Singh Maan, vice-president, BKU Ugrahan, told this newspaper, “It is a shocking incident. We always tell our members, khudkushi nahi sangram (choose struggle over suicide)’ No one should choose death. The government should wake up now and read the writing on the wall. It must take back the black laws if it is, indeed, a government for the people.”
“Amarjeet is survived by wife Bimla Rani, daughter Suman and 21-year-old son Ramanpreet, who is pursuing his graduation. None of his children are married yet. He not only participated in protests against the farm laws but was also vocal on other issues,” said Rohit Ahuja, president, Jalalabad Bar association.
Vishal Setia, general secretary of the Bar, said “He hailed from Mahalam village in Jalalabad where his two brothers live. He also took land on contract for farming. He used to grow wheat and paddy. He feared losing his regular source of income, which was farming. His family was dependent on him,” Parmod Chaudhary, an advocate and his colleague, said.
His family members left for left for Tikri on Sunday to bring back his body. The vice-president of the Ugrahan group demanded compensation for the family, a job to a member and waiver of loans that the victim may have taken.
Earlier, a farmer from Punjab’s Gurdaspur district tried to kill himself at Singhu border but was saved.
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