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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 May 2018

All must help to stop tragic waste of lives

Around 100 Indians have committed suicide in the UAE each year since 2011 said the country’s ambassador, who has called on the community to pull together to help people in distress, particularly those with financial problems.

T.P Seetharam, the Ambassador of India to the United Arab Emirates. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National
T.P Seetharam, the Ambassador of India to the United Arab Emirates. Mona Al-Marzooqi/ The National

ABU DHABI // About 100 Indians have committed suicide in the UAE each year since 2011, the country’s ambassador says.

T P Seetharam has called on the Indian expatriate community in the country to pull together and help people in distress, particularly those with financial problems.

Mr Seetharam said there were about 1,300 deaths recorded within the Indian community each year, but the number of people who took their own lives because of spiralling debt was not available.

His call for support and financial prudence comes after police found the bodies of the Kumar family in their Dubai home on July 15.

Officers broke into the Al Nahda apartment acting on a relative’s complaint about the missing family.

Police say film producer Santosh Kumar suffocated his daughter, aged 9, with a pillow, then he and his wife slit their wrists.

“There are roughly a 100 cases of suicide out of 1,300 deaths in a year within the community of 2.5 million people,” Mr Seetharam said.

“Over the last two to three years, the number has varied from 98 to 101 or 102 cases of suicide.

“We cannot relate every case to debt, although debt is a prevalent problem. It’s not as if more people have committed suicide now.

“There are no simple solutions and we hope people will seek help rather than take extreme measures of taking their life and the lives of people close to them.”

In the first half of this year, 37 Indian nationals took their lives in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, out of 544 reported deaths.

Psychological and personal problems, and debt, have been blamed for suicides. The embassy did not provide numbers for Abu Dhabi.

“We have no magic wand and cannot get everybody out of a debt situation,” Mr Seetharam said. “There must be some attempt to take responsibility, spend wisely and be cautious.

“We can help to offer professional legal advice and guidance for better, wiser financial planning so they can get out through their own efforts. But we should not and do not want to create dependency.

“They should not be rash and think ‘somebody else will bail me out’.”

The community was shocked in 2011 when a couple living in Ras Al Khaimah hanged their daughter, 8, before taking their own lives. Police said unpaid loans were again the cause.

Indian suicides in the UAE reached 176 during the 2008 economic crisis. Officials blamed job loss, mental stress and financial woes.

Social pressure and easily accessible credit caused many to sink into a cycle of debt.

“Our advice is to avoid a debt trap and that requires a change of attitude with help of family, friends and society,” Mr Seetharam said.

“There are all kinds of family and societal pressures in terms of expectations about what they should do and the support they provide to family and gifts they give.

“We live in a consumption orientated society with advertisements all around encouraging people to borrow or spend, and they try to match somebody else’s lifestyle.”

He also urged vigilance within the community to notice signs of people getting into trouble.

“The enormity of a situation may tend to drive people to desperate measures,” Mr Seetharam said.

“A large part can be played by family and friends who are better placed to be aware of situations when individuals take these unfortunate decisions.”

Indian missions and welfare groups aim to increase awareness about the availability of assistance.

The toll-free helpline 800 46342 (800-INDIA), launched in 2010 with the help of the Indian Community Welfare Committee, is available 24 hours. Private radio stations also provide counselling programmes.

“Greater awareness to avoid debt would help,” said Mr Seetharam. “We need to encourage people to save and this is also being done by embassy awareness programmes.

“There are experts who provide advice but there must be greater awareness to participate. We must start encouraging a culture of investing.

“A lot is being done by associations to provide assistance to people in trouble. The media can help tell them where to reach out, and religious leaders can help give direction in stressful situations.

“More can be done by everyone – immediate family, community associations, embassies or religious gatherings in churches, mosques and temples.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae