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Debt burden missing link

Bishwanath Ram’s relatives show the photograph of his son Adesh in the The Telegraph’s September 29 edition. Picture by Ajit Kumar Verma

Nirpur (East Champaran), Sept. 29: Bishwanath Ram (47), who has been missing si-nce last week’s Sikkim landslide, had to flee his native Nirpur village in Bihar’s East Champaran district after bei-ng hounded by moneylenders.

According to his relatives and neighbours, Bishwanath has been living in Sikkim for over 15 years and had last visited the village — around 180km northeast of Patna — around four years ago.

“He had borrowed around Rs 5,000 at an exorbitant interest rate, but could not repay the amount. He came to the village around four years ago. However, he had to escape after spending a night because he was threatened by the money lenders,” said Kaus-halya Devi, one of his relatives and a resident of Nirpur.

His 15-year-old boy, Adesh Kumar, had walked 50km over five days to reach Chungthang on Wednesday night in search of Bishwanath, who has been missing since a landslide at the Teesta hydel project site last week. Adesh, however, found on reaching the place that rescue work was yet to begin because the road leading to the project site has been washed away by a flash flood.

Along with his family members, Bishwanath had visited his in-law’s house at Barharwa village near Gaur in Nepal in April 2011 to perform the marriage of his eldest son, Awadhesh Ram. When his wife Shaila Devi returned to Nirpur after Awadhesh’s marriage, she, too, had to face the moneylenders’ wrath.

“Shaila was held captive in her hut for an entire night. But after being released the next morning following intervention of her neighbours, she preferred to return to her husband in Sikkim with their sons and daughter Nirmala (11) in 2004,” said Kaushalya.

At present, the thatched house owned by Bishwanath is in a dilapidated condition and cannot provide shelter to anybody.

“My sister Shaila had shifted to Sikkim keeping in mind the education of their children. There was no way that they could stay in Nirpur,” said Reshmi Devi, who is also a resident of the village.

Shashi Kumar, a neighbour of the Rams, said Bishwanath used to work as a truck driver with a cement company in Gujarat. “I first met Bishwanath in 2001 while he was working with the a hydro project in Sikkim. He was a gentleman and was very helpful. Bishwanath’s youngest brother, Baiju, has left for Sikkimg on learning that the former was missing,” he added.

Despite repeated attempts, Awadhesh could not be contacted over his cell phone in Sikkim.

East Champaran district magistrate, Abhijit Sinha told The Telegraph: “I have learnt about the incident but am not sure about the victim’s exact name and address. We need to first know if the person is dead or alive before we can take any step about the compensation according to the provision meant for migrant labourers,” he added.