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Indian farmer’s suicide fuels opposition to land Bill

NEW DELHI — The public suicide of a farmer at a political rally appears to have added momentum to the opposition to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s land policies.

Protesters gather around a farmer who hanged himself from a tree during an AAP rally in New Delhi on Wednesday. The body was released to the crowd below after he died. Photo: Reuters

Protesters gather around a farmer who hanged himself from a tree during an AAP rally in New Delhi on Wednesday. The body was released to the crowd below after he died. Photo: Reuters

NEW DELHI — The public suicide of a farmer at a political rally appears to have added momentum to the opposition to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s land policies.

The farmer, apparently from arid Rajasthan state in western India, climbed a towering tree near the stage at a rally in New Delhi, where politicians were speaking out against the new land Bill on Wednesday. He tied a noose out of a white scarf, placed it around his neck and stepped off a branch to his death. His body hung in view of scores of shocked rally participants until attendants managed to free it from the tree, witnesses said.

“I saw him alive, and a few minutes later, I saw him dead,” said Mr Jogender Deshbhakt, 30, an activist with the Aam Aadmi Party, which organised the rally and governs in New Delhi state. Mr Deshbhakt said that when he saw the farmer tightening the noose, he climbed up the tree to try to stop him, but did not reach him in time.

He criticised the police officers at the scene for failing to act, calling them silent spectators.

The Aam Aadmi Party organised the rally for farmers to oppose the central government’s proposed legislation that would make it easier for the government and private companies to acquire land for certain industrial projects.

Opposition parties have highlighted the suffering of farmers affected by crop losses and unseasonal rains to considerable effect in fighting the Bill. The public suicide was likely to add fuel to the opposition.

Television stations showed video clips of the suicide and a note that witnesses said was found in the farmer’s pocket circulated swiftly on social media. “Friends, I am a farmer’s son,” the note said. “I’m thrown out by my father because my crop is destroyed. I have three children. Please tell me, how do I go back to my home?”

The authenticity of the note which could not be independently verified was signed Gajender Singh.

Mr Modi said in parliament yesterday that he shared “pain” with the entire nation, adding that the farmers’ problems were “old, deep-rooted and widespread” and required collective resolve.

Farmers who had gathered in New Delhi for the rally voiced shock at the death and concern over their own economic problems.

Mr Mahant Singh, 28, from Uttar Pradesh state, said he had lost most of his wheat crop this year because of unseasonable rains. “Now we are in real distress,” he said. “The government may give us some compensation of a few hundred rupees. How will my family eat for the rest of the year?”

India’s political parties reacted to the farmer’s suicide by pointing fingers. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, a vocal opponent of the land Bill, referred to the farmer in a speech shortly afterward at the rally. “He came here from Rajasthan, tried to end his life hanging from a tree to bring attention to himself and his condition, to bring it to the attention of the whole country,” he said.

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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