x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

37 Indians commit suicide in six months

Aid workers say the fear of social humiliation caused by debt and harassment from illegal private money lenders could drive middle-class Indian families to extreme measures, including suicide.

Santosh Kumar, and his wife, Manju Menon, suffocated their daughter, Gauri, nine, then slit their wrists over debts. Courtesy family and friends of Kumar family
Santosh Kumar, and his wife, Manju Menon, suffocated their daughter, Gauri, nine, then slit their wrists over debts. Courtesy family and friends of Kumar family

DUBAI // Thirty-seven Indian nationals have committed suicide in Dubai and the Northern Emirates in the first half of this year, the Indian consulate’s latest figures show.

Those represented almost 7 per cent of the 544 Indians reported to have died over that period.

And from 2007 to last year, 700 suicides were reported among Indians. It is unclear how many were the result of debts from unpaid loans or other financial stress.

Aid workers said the fear of social humiliation caused by debt and harassment from illegal private money lenders could drive middle-class Indian families to extreme measures, including suicide.

This week police said film producer Santosh Kumar recently suffocated daughter Gauri, 9, before he and his wife Manju Menon slit their wrists over debts.

Their bodies were found after police broke into their Al Nahda flat on Tuesday. Relatives raised the alarm as they had not seen the family since July 8.

“When will a person be desperate enough to commit suicide – if he has no money to run the house, cannot admit this to friends and family, and does not have money for school fees,” said Sreedharan Prasad, a coordinator of the charity Sevanam in Ras Al Khaimah.

“If they come to us we can help but they don’t reach out to the right people. They come to us if the father goes to jail for bounced cheques and the family cannot meet daily expenses.”

The Indian community was shaken in 2011 when a couple in RAK hanged their daughter, 8, before taking their own lives. Police cited financial trouble as the reason.

The highest number of Indian suicides in the UAE, 176, was reported in the 2008 economic downturn and officials attributed it to job losses, and psychological, personal and financial problems.

Mr Prasad said he was recently approached by a family after the wife’s visa expired but her passport was being held by a money lender as a guarantee for a loan.

Indian associations in the UAE say they ask families to approach the police or consulate in such cases.

“We have told the couple they need courage now or they will land further into trouble,” Mr Prasad said. “If you write a blank cheque, you face even deeper problems.”

He said some people were forced to sign off property or write blank cheques by illegal money lenders. The Indian consulate and the Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC) have provided financial help in more than 500 cases since 2011, paying school fees, medical expenses and buying necessities when businesses have failed.

“These are people from middle and upper-middle class families who live beyond their means and can’t handle social and family reactions if they admit they are in debt,” said K Kumar, the chairman of ICWC.

“It’s a combination of bank loans, credit card debt, then they can’t pay monthly instalments, and once they pledge their passports with private lenders or their cheques bounce and they face a travel ban. This puts them in a fix.

“It all depends on the willingness of a person to accept counselling from us. And in many cases it’s a question of prestige because they don’t want to tell people they couldn’t pay back a loan.”

The organisation approaches each case individually and covers the financial requirements of a family for a limited period.

Friends and family of the Kumars on Thursday said they were still in shock.

Relatives are awaiting police clearance for the forensic report, after which the embassy will register the deaths, issue a no-objection letter, cancel the passports and release the bodies for cremation.

“So how do you know a person sitting next to you because anybody who knew Santosh cannot believe he was capable of anything like this,” said S D, a friend who was the last to see and speak to Mr Kumar on July 8.

“We spoke for a long time about cinema, about recently released Malayalam films. He said he would be going to Kochi [his hometown] soon. I thought I knew him well.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae