AHMEDABAD: “Give us permission to die” is the letter written by over 5000 farmers of Gujarats Bhavnagar district to President of India Ram Nath Kovind. A copy has also been sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Away from the headlines, the farmers representing the 20,000 plus population of a cluster of 12 villages have been resisting efforts by the state government to acquire land for a power project under the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited. “We are being treated like terrorists” the letter says with the farmers urging the President to ask the soldiers to shoot them dead with bullets. Jai Kisan, Jai Jawan is the sub-text of the letter that expresses deep distress and trauma in the request to die, and the reasons therein.

About 500 farmers from each of the 12 villages have signed this letter, sent out early this week. No response so far, with the farmers without crops, without food, and in visible distress. Their land has been acquired by the power corporation 20 years ago, but they had been resisting this. Now the authorities have moved in with lathi charges, and tear gas to take away the land with the farmers pointing out that this is completely illegal.

And that the Land Acquisition law clearly states that if the company has not taken possession of the acquired land within five years, the entire process has to be started yet again. In this case the land had been acquired by the state government 20 years ago, and the Gujarat government was using force now to acquire it.

The farmers have been protesting peacefully, with tear gas and force being used to disperse them. As they told The Citizen, “we are now being treated like anti-nationals, being called terrorists, so shoot us dead if that is what you want.”

The fresh confrontation between the farmers and the state government started last month, with at least three rounds of tear gas and force against the villagers. Gujarat Khedut Samaj, a local farmers body has been leading the agitation. One of the leaders Narendrasinh Gohilhad told reporters on April 1 after being attacked, "We carried out a peaceful protest march against the company's move to take possession of our land, a large number of policemen were deployed to prevent us. The farmers and their families, including women and children, came out in thousands to protest this (taking over possession of land).” At least 50 farmers were detained in that one instance.

The Gujarat government, however, remains adamant although the letter now is expected to attract media attention and with it some pressure on the BJP to withdraw its forces and leave the land. The BJP governments have been facing farmer uprisings in recent months, largely over loans and remunerative prices. Huge demonstrations have been held in Rajasthan and Maharashtra as well as in Delhi as farmer continue to commit suicide following deep distress.

This is the first protest, however, where the farmers have come together to ask for the permission to die. “Iccha mrityu” is how the letters that have been despatched in large numbers to various political leaders and government departments as well, put it. Women have been in the lead in these protests, making it clear that they cannot give up their land as that means “giving up our lives.” There are no crops, no food in the houses.

The protests have sharpened since 2017 when the efforts by the Corporation to possess the land have intensified. However, as the farmers insist, they are not going to give in pointing out that an entire generation is now 18-20 years old in these villages, since the land was acquired. “Surely there is a law that even this government should follow,” the villagers said.