It wasn’t sudden. For weeks, the humiliated and harassed family of five searched for a way out. On November 19, they surrendered to Bhopal police and all they asked for was time. They were reassured, but the next day the loan sharks were back. They tried to sell their property but there were no buyers. There was no escape.


They started talking about options, and there seemed to be only one left. Not everyone had to make this choice, the elders tried to convince the two girls. But if this unthinkable road had to be taken, it would all be, the girls said. On November 25, the family began to write. Together, the five of them, a 47-year-old auto parts trader, his 67-year-old mother, his 45-year-old wife who ran a grocery store, and their two daughters, 19 and 16, wrote a long Note. Then the two young girls wrote separate letters. The next day, they began by poisoning the two dogs of the family. Then each of them consumed the poison themselves. They were rushed to hospital by neighbors, but within three days an entire family’s life was wiped out, shocking Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and questioning the long-standing predatory loan problem . Their last words in the 13-page note: “Hmm buzdil nahi, majboor hain»(We are not cowards, we are powerless).


The last 45-year-old mother of two died on November 28. For three days, she told police about the family’s ordeal in what is now legally a declaration of death. The family had two business establishments and no issues until 2020, but then came Covid. The foreclosure meant no income, and home expenses and loans were on the rise. In 2020, without telling her husband, the wife took a ??Loan of 2 lakh from a money lender, Babli Dubey. A few months later, the tuition fees of their two daughters, one a Grade 10 student at a private school, the other a BTech student at a private engineering school, were due to be paid. She took another loan from ??1.5 lakh.

From June of this year, people started coming to the house, asking for the money to be paid back with interest. The husband knew now, and the suicide notes detail the almost daily harassment and abuse, and even threats to kidnap the two girls. The family paid ??80,000 but I wanted time for the rest. So, on November 19, they went to the Piplani police station, and asked them to convince Babli Dubey to give them more time. Police station official Ajay Nayar told HT that he did not call it harassment at the time and did not file any complaints, but just wanted him to talk to Dubey, what he did. The suicide note, however, indicated that they had received no assistance from the police or their relatives. Ten days later, they were all dead.


Additional Police Superintendent Rajesh Bhadoria said four people, including Babli Dubey, have been convicted under section 306 (incitement to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code and the Money Lenders Act. They have since been arrested and sent to prison.

But what killed the family, Bhadoria said, was not the money, but the public humiliation. “They had property of a value ??1.5 crore in Bhopal and a plot in Chennai but the family were hurt and depressed because of the public humiliation. They said their neighbors started laughing at them because of the daily commotion and viewed them as criminals. It was not something the family could take, ”said Bhadoria.

AN OLD PROBLEM

The mass suicide is a grim reminder of the long-standing predatory lending problems that persist in India, with families trapped in a cycle of deep financial distress, even more glaring now with the economic effects of Covid, seeking quick loans from no – institutional sources.


In 2019, the All India Debt and Investment Survey, carried out by the Union’s Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation, indicated that 10.2% of rural Indian households and 4.9% of households urban dwellers were indebted to non-institutional credit agencies. Overall, the survey indicated that the “debt incident” was around 35% in rural India and 22.4% in urban India.

On the ground, this means an ever-increasing cycle of debt. A loan shark from Bhopal told HT that loans are usually given at an interest rate of 10%. “The problem is that when we claim the amount, we want it in full, with the amount of additional interest, because otherwise it encourages default. So the additional stipulation that we add is that if the money is not paid within the stipulated period, the interest doubles, ”the lender said.


For example, two days after the suicide of a family of five, 40 kilometers from the state capital in the district of Sehore, a fruit seller committed suicide. His son said that several years ago he took out a loan from ??50,000. “Over the years he paid up to five lakh rupees, but the loan never seemed to end. The two lenders always wanted more, called him, abused him and threatened him and told him that they would take possession of our house. So on November 28, he jumped in front of a train and committed suicide, ”the son said.

GOVERNMENT ACTION AND WHY IT DIDN’T WORK

In Madhya Pradesh, it’s not as if these issues haven’t caught the government’s attention before. In July 2020, Chouhan announced changes to Madhya Pradesh’s 1934 Moneylenders Act that he said would help end extortion and harassment.


In amendments introduced on September 26, 2020, the state government added two articles, the first of which prohibited pawn shops from charging interest other than a rate notified by the state government from time to time. The second required that no loan advanced to a person by a lender who was not registered with the state government under the law be collectible.

Introducing the changes, State Revenue Minister Govind Singh Rajput said: “It has been found that some unregistered money lenders operate such businesses in different parts of the state, and it has therefore been decided to set the higher interest rate. In the event of a violation, the loan will not be recoverable.

While the state government imposed a simple interest of 15% per annum as the acceptable interest rate, a year after the law was changed, state government officials said they did not no data yet on the total number of registered pawn shops, or the amount of loans made in the state.


“Lenders are supposed to be registered by local urban agencies by filling out a form. After registration, they can lend money at the maximum rate of 15% per annum of simple interest, but no system has been created to control this. This is why there have been no raids or checks, and action is usually taken only when there is a complaint to the police, ”said a senior official of the revenue department, under the guise of ‘anonymity.

Experts in the field have said the lack of bite in the law is another reason there has been no deterrence. Rakesh Malviya, an activist who works in the state’s welfare sector, said: “Even after a year, the law has left no impact. The law on the protection of deputies’ debtors only provides for sentences of up to three months in prison.


Vibhuti Jha, a lawyer and activist who has worked in tribal areas for several years, said the cash lending crisis is particularly acute in districts like Anuppur, Shahdol, Jhabua, Mandla, Dindori and Barwani. “In most cases in these districts, even in the state, when farmers kill themselves, it is because they are harassed. This is because in rural areas, once the harvest fails, there is no other source of income to fall back on, and there is no knowledge of this law, ”Jha said. . The 2020 Report on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India shows that 735 farmers and farm workers committed suicide in Madhya Pradesh in 2020 and 541 committed suicide in 2019.

WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW

The mass suicide prompted an immediate reaction from the Chouhan government. Calling the deaths “heartbreaking and unbearable”, the CM called for a high-level meeting on November 27 that included Chief Secretary Iqbal Singh Bains, Additional Chief Secretary Rajesh Rajora and DGP Vivek Johri. He said a campaign was needed to tackle this harassment and called on relevant departments to take “coordinated and concrete actions”.

The Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister and Secretary of the Revenue Department, Manish Rastogi, said: “It is true that the state government did not have a database, but we are now developing a system to strengthen the imposition of law. From surveillance to inspection, revenue officers will now update the data on a monthly basis. “

The Home Office has also given instructions to the police to publicize the law in force and notify the police in the event of a violation. Home Secretary Narottam Mishra said: “All police officers in the district have been urged to take strict action against pawn shops and educate people to register criminal cases for illegal loans.” .

In his comments after the meeting, Chouhan highlighted a strengthening of laws governing the lending of money among tribal people through the 2021 law on deputy Anusuchit Janjati Sahukar Viniyam (amendment). Under the regulations, the penalty for lending money to tribal people without registration was increased from six months’ imprisonment to two years, while the financial penalty was increased to ??1 lakh of ??1,000.

However, in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh, there is little hope that there is really any change. In August 2020, a 40-year-old tribal man from Awali village in Barwani district committed suicide after taking out a loan from ??1.3 lakh from two lenders. “It was at 5% interest per month. He paid them ??3,20 lakh by selling land, but they wanted ??8 lakh. They behaved badly with him, humiliated him in public. He couldn’t take the pain and committed suicide in August, ”his brother told HT. The family was unaware of the existence of the law at the time, and even today there is little awareness in the village.

The brother added, “Our only hope is that the police will act quickly when someone is about to commit suicide or die. But honestly, nothing has changed. Here we always take money from lenders to make ends meet. What law can prevent this? Our entire lives depend on these loans, revolve around them, and then depend on them again. “

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