x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Two Indians a week take their own lives

Debt pushes expatriates to desperate measures.

DUBAI // An average of two Indians commit suicide in the UAE every week - with debt being the reason behind nearly all of them.

Community workers are now calling for better marketing of the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) - which provides free financial, legal and psychological counselling - to reduce the number.

"They should come out and advertise their activities better," said KS Vachaspathy, the secretary of Sevanam UAE, a social organisation. "They should hold a seminar for all the social organisations and give their contacts out so we can share with expatriates approaching us. There should be practical interaction. What the resource centre is doing is not well known to everyone."

His comments followed a spate of suicides this month, including that of a top official from his organisation. Vasudevan Sugathan, the secretary of Sevanam's Sharjah branch, was found hanged at a construction site in Fujairah on May 6.

Sevanam held an anti-suicide talk, the first in a series, on May 18 in Al Qusais at the Gulf Model School/

So far this year, 42 Indian expatriates have taken their own lives, according to the Indian Embassy.

For all of last year, the suicide tally was 91. In 2010, the figure was 132 suicides.

The year before that, 135 people killed themselves. In 2008, the missions registered 176 suicides, the most on record, which officials attributed to job losses brought on by the global economic downturn.

The embassy did not provide a breakdown of the victims' gender or state of origin.

Welfare groups also said the Indian government should consider throwing a lifeline to its nationals in financial distress by offering to pay some of their loans, as many suicides were debt-related.

"Only financial support would help solve the way," said K Kumar, the head of the Indian Community Welfare Committee.

"If someone has 30 or 32 credit cards, money is the only solution, and the funding has to come from the Indian government.

"The government can come half way, and banks can come half way. It is not a big amount for the government to pay."

The ICWC set up a fund last October with the help of donations from Indian businessmen. The fund pays the tuition fees of children whose parents have either lost their jobs or are facing financial problems. So far, it has paid fees totalling Dh743,000, for nearly 200 children.

The fund also helps pay for medical fees, household provisions and temporary shelter.

The purpose of creating the reserve was to help overseas Indians tide over fiscal woes, and to discourage suicide. More than seven months after its launch, the fund was doing just that, Mr Kumar said.

"By taking care of children's education, we are removing one of the major pressure points on the family. It could definitely be preventing people from committing suicide," he said.

However, the Indian ambassador, MK Lokesh, said it was not "practical" for his government to clear people's debts. "We do not have the resources to pay," he said.

"If the amount is small, maybe the government can step in. But people should live according to their means."

He said the number of suicides had fallen in recent years. "We are doing whatever we can. But it is a small figure in a community of two million. We can reduce suicides, but cannot eliminate it.

"The numbers have come down drastically. This means our counselling has succeeded."

The resource centre receives an average of 60 calls a day, mostly about delayed wages or legal issues. Only about 95 people have approached it for psychological counselling this year.

pkannan@thenational.ae

* The IWRC's toll free contact is 800 4632