A plumber hanged himself at a Murshidabad village on Tuesday, allegedly after collection agents of a private finance company “humiliated” him for EMI default on a loan taken in January when many had been encouraged to think the worst of Covid was over.
The collection agents stayed put outside the house and refused to leave without the dues, his wife said.
Sadhan Sinha, 40, who earned Rs 15,000-20,000 a month in normal times, had taken the Rs 1 lakh loan to buy a two-wheeler so he could get more work, his family said.
But with the surge-induced latest pandemic restrictions stifling his income, he had been unable to pay his monthly instalments of Rs 3,400 for May and June.
The recovery agents of the private finance company’s Samserganj branch visited his home in Bindupara village around 9am on Tuesday and asked him to clear his dues of Rs 6,800 immediately, Sadhan’s wife Mamoni, 36, said.
“I begged for a few days’ time but they would not listen. They sat down outside the house saying they would not leave without collecting the dues. My husband felt so humiliated that he killed himself,” said a weeping Mamoni, mother of two sons, aged 18 and 15.
Sadhan’s decision to take the loan in January and his subsequent suicide underline how millions of ordinary Indians were taken unawares by the pandemic’s second wave, blamed partly on the central government’s short-sightedness in prematurely declaring victory over the virus and letting its guard down.
Loans and financing, which in bullish economic times are indicators of a healthy consumer appetite, have proved a bane for much of India that has witnessed outsized job cuts and loss of income opportunity over the past year.
The Reserve Bank of India has tried to give borrowers some relief by instructing banks and financial institutions to consider a debt recast, provided dues have been cleared till March 2021. But, as Sadhan’s death suggests, not everyone could access the relief.
Sadhan was eligible for a debt recast as he had paid his EMIs till April, but he was probably unaware of the apex bank’s initiative that would have allowed him to renegotiate the loan deal with the financial institution.
“While the debt recast is a prerogative of the bank or the finance company, the problem is that most people who are in dire need of the facility don’t know about its existence,” a banker said.
A neighbour in Bindupara said the “social humiliation” was what probably prompted Sadhan to take his own life.
“He was well-liked in the area. He probably couldn’t bear the agents’ antics, which local people had noticed,” he said.
Mamoni said that after the agents sat down outside the house, Sadhan had locked himself inside a room.
Around 11am, when Mamoni went looking for Sadhan, she found their bedroom locked. After calling out several times, she looked through the window and saw Sadhan hanging from the ceiling fan at the end of a bed sheet coiled into a rope.
Villagers broke the door open and rushed Sadhan to the Samserganj block hospital, where doctors declared him dead on arrival. As Sadhan was being taken to hospital amid heart-wrenching scenes, the collection agents sensed trouble and fled.
Hospital authorities later informed the police and a post-mortem was conducted before the body was handed over to the family.
Sadhan’s elder son Rana, 18, said his father’s income had fallen after the second wave of the pandemic prompted stricter restrictions from mid-May.
In his police complaint, Rana has named the two collection agents and accused them of abetting his father’s suicide by humiliating him in front of neighbours.
“Late Sadhan Sinha’s son filed an FIR on Wednesday in connection with Tuesday’s incident. A case and an investigation under IPC Section 306 (abetment to suicide) have been opened,” said the superintendent of police (Jangipur), Y. Raghuvamshi.