x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Funding for families struggling with debt

The Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC) has announced the creation of a fund to ease pressure on cash-strapped families.

DUBAI // Indian families in financial strife will be given aid to tide them over and discourage desperate measures such as suicide.

The Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC) said yesterday that a new fund would pay for school and medical fees, household provisions and temporary shelter.

The first contribution of Dh500,000 came from the Indian businessman Siddharth Balachandran, who launched the fund yesterday at the Indian consulate.

The ICWC hopes to match this amount with donations from other businessmen at the next committee meeting.

The money will not be used to pay off bad debts. Instead, it will help lighten the load in cases where businesses have gone bust or families cannot pay credit card bills.

"You hear of unpaid credit cards but it is women and children who suffer the hidden pain - this is reflected in schools and at home," said Mr Balachandran, the managing director of the Bumga group, which trades in building material.

"If you can alleviate financial distress, then the socio-economic impact can be lessened. These times are bad and we're hoping to help."

The measure comes after a spate of suicides in the Indian community. The most recent was in August, when a couple hanged their eight-year-old daughter before taking their own lives in Ras Al Khaimah.

Police believe financial trouble was the reason for the suicide.

School authorities said the child had dropped out and neighbours said the family had asked the nearby grocer for food on credit.

Some 67 Indian expatriates have committed suicide this year - more than 50 of them living in Dubai and the northern emirates.

A study of 110 suicides last year showed most cases involved middle class men in  white-collar jobs, according to the Indian consulate.

The ICWC provided shelter and paid school fees in about 30 cases of financial distress in the last six months, with four cases pending.

Many Indian workers were struggling because of credit card debt, personal and car loans and borrowing from illegal moneylenders, said the ICWC.

"This folly by the elders is affecting women and children very adversely and this is one of the major issues that might unfortunately trigger the thought of committing suicide," a statement read.

Sanjay Verma, the Indian consul general in Dubai, said principals would be asked to pass on details of families who needed help with school fees. "In the most serious of cases it boils down to economic distress," Mr Verma said. "We want to reach the larger Indian community that is in need of help."

Families will be guided to seek psychological help and given financial advice through consultants available on the Indian Workers Resource Centre helpline.

Radio announcements and newspaper advertisements will be used to spread information about the aid and volunteers will check the authenticity of each case.

"If a family cannot make ends meet and if the pressure continues, things can explode at home," said K Kumar, the head of the ICWC.

An aid organisation manning a three-week-old RAK hotline to help Indian expatriates with depression said most calls were debt-related.

"People were calling to seek help on repayment of bank loans and money they had borrowed from the loan mafia," said A K Sethunath, president of the Kerala Samajam.

The ICWC has also raised Dh200,000 as blood money towards the release of three men from an Ajman pest control company.

They had to pay Dh400,000 for causing the death last year of two children asleep in a neighbouring apartment while they sprayed chemicals. Friends and family also collected Dh200,000.

Last year, the ICWC secured the release of 11 men still in jail long after completing their sentences by raising Dh600,000 in blood money.


* With additional reporting by Preeti Kannan