An advocate from Jalalabad in Punjab’s Fazilka district, who had been protesting with farmers affiliated to the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Ugrahan at Delhi’s Tikri border, died by suicide on Sunday morning.
Amarjit Singh Rai consumed the farm pesticide sulphos about 200 metres from the stage at the protest site that farmers have named Gadri Gulab Kaur Nagar. Before collapsing, he gave two printed letters — one of which was addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi — to other protesters.
Earlier this month, a 65-year-old Karnal-based religious leader died of a gunshot wound near Singhu, leaving behind a purported suicide note that said he was pained by the farmers’ plight. Subsequently, a 70-year-old farmer from Tarn Taran allegedly attempted to kill himself by consuming pesticide tablets.
“At 8.48 am, I got a call from him (Amarjit). He said he had consumed sulphos. I reached him by 8.55 am. He handed us two typed letters before falling unconscious,” said Ram Kumar Munshi, who had been camping with Amarjit at Tikri border since December 16.
Munshi said Amarjit was taken to the Bahadurgarh civil hospital and then to PGIMS Rohtak, where he was declared dead. Members of Amarjit’s family said he was 63 years old.
“We have received information regarding the death of an advocate at Naya Gaon Chowk near Tikri. A team has been sent to look into the matter,” Ashok Kumar, DSP (Badli), said.
One of the two letters that Amarjit gave to other protesters was from the Bar Association, Jalalabad to the SDM, Jalalabad, over extending support to the peaceful protest by farmers.
The other was titled as a letter to the Prime Minister, and was signed “Amarjit Singh Advocate Bar Association Jalalabad (Fazilka)” and dated “18/12/2020”, in green ink.
“He got this letter from Jalalabad, he never went anywhere else to type any letter after December 16. He was a notary public and a popular lawyer of Jalalabad,” said Amritpal Singh, a Jalalabad resident who is also at the Tikri border.
“He met us smilingly on Sunday morning,” Amritpal said. “We had no idea that he would take this extreme step, even though he had been deeply disturbed about the new laws.”
The letter, addressed to Modi, was a printed note in English which said that people expected a “better future in you as Prime Minister”.
Accusing the PM of “arrogance” and working for special “capitalist (Ambani and Adani) interests”, it said: “The common people like farmers and labours are feeling defrauded by your three agriculture black Bills…the public is on tracks and roads not for votes but for the livelihood of their families and generations…Kindly don’t snatch bread and butter (Roti) of farmers, labours and common people for a few capitalists and don’t compel them to eat Sulphos. Socially you have betrayed the public and politically you have betrayed your associate parties like SAD…I offer my sacrifice in support of this worldwide agitation for shaking your deaf and dumb conscience…Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Ekta zindabaad.”
Amarjit’s daughter Suman Bala, 24, a teacher in a government school in Jalalabad, said, “I can’t believe Papa could take such a step. He spoke to all of us on Saturday night, and told us he would come back soon.”
Amritpal said Amarjit had been inquiring about buses or trains to go back home. “It is shocking that he was roaming with a typed suicide note in his pocket, and even had sulphos tablets with him. We are even more shocked that his letter has a signature dated December 18, and he committed suicide on December 27,” he told The Indian Express.
Shingara Singh Maan, vice-president of BKU Ugrahan, said: “It is a shocking incident, we always tell our workers ‘Khudkushi nahin, sangram’ (Choose struggle over suicide). No one should adopt this path. The government should wake up even now and see the writing on the wall. If they are a government of the masses, they must take back the laws.”