Thiruvananthapuram: In the last six weeks, as many as 17 people ended their lives in Kerala due to the financial crisis caused by the lockdown restrictions imposed in the state. From June 20 to July 31, a total of 50 suicides were reported in the state. More than one person died in two of these 17 cases.
The first case reported was that of Manoj Kumar, a resident of Nanthancode in the capital city. He committed suicide on June 20 by drinking poison. Manoj Kumar working as a goldsmith had no work for several weeks and could not repay his loans. His wife Ranju and daughter Amritha, too drank poison while he was taken to a hospital and died. On June 27, Sreekanth, a small-time dairy farmer hanged himself in his under-construction house. Sreekanth used to milk cows in his neighbourhood and due to lockdown he lost his major portion of wages as many of his neighbours sold their cows.
P C Rajamani (Wayanad), Mohanan Pillai (Kollam) and V Mohanan (Kottayam) also ended their lives due to the financial crisis. They were entrepreneurs in the transport industry. Rajamani owned a bus while Pillai ran Seena Travels and Mohanan had a van, which he rented to tourists. Abhjith, a native of Kozhikode who worked as a bus driver had committed suicide inside the bus as he got stranded in Assam for more than two months due to lockdown. Two people engaged in light and sound business, Nirmal Chandran of Thiruvananthapuram and Ponnumani of Palakkad had also ended their lives due to the financial crisis.
‘They are all people with self-respect. This is a particular situation created by the system in an unprecedented condition. They have everything, including willingness to work. However, the system denies them the opportunity, and they are in no mood to approach anyone for financial support. Instead, they end the life either alone or with family, alleged in some cases,’ said Dijo Kappen, a Consumer activist and a social observer
Meanwhile, the state government has announced some relief measures and its decision to revise the lockdown restrictions in the state. This has given hope to traders and small-scale business owners.
‘The government’s decision to waive off rent and drop fixed charges in power bills is welcome. The interest waiver will be only for new loans and I don’t know how many of us are in a position to take the risk of borrowing afresh. We want all parties to convene a meeting to discuss the livelihood crisis,’ said Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi general secretary S S Manoj.
‘Unlike previous economic crises, this is a prolonged one. There is no scope for immediate revival for certain sectors. School bus drivers and cinema theatre employees have no clue when they can resume work. The government should have addressed the woes of labourers and entrepreneurs in distress and given them relief like direct cash transfer. Instead, they hiked the salary of government employees. Maybe, they are the only section of workers which received a raise during the pandemic,’ said Economist and former state finance commission chairman B A Prakash.
‘A Covid disaster relief commission, having power to study and recommend relief for all who are hit by the pandemic and lockdown, should be formed. Debt relief and financial assistance need to be given to all who are hit. We remember how the farmers’ debt-relief commission formed by the VS government in 2006 had helped put a brake on farmer suicides in the state,’ CMP general secretary and former planning board member C P John.
As per the state planning board, around 73 lakh of the 1.27-crore workforce in the state were affected by the national lockdown in 2020. So, the state will need around Rs 7300 crore for transferring Rs 10,000 each for them. This is only a small portion of the state’s annual plan of Rs 36,786 crore. So, by reducing the plan budget by 20% the state government can provide Rs 10,000 for these affected people, said CP John.
‘We must remember that our enemy is coronavirus. As in a commando-style combat operation, each of us should be the buddy of the other and fight the virus. A sense that the loss of my neighbour’s livelihood is my loss too should be cultivated. For promoting use of masks, we say it’s not only for our safety but for that of others too. If someone lost his/her income, it is because they helped us to stay safe. Now, it is our turn to support them. It is not only the responsibility of the government. Social and non-governmental organisations can also lead the way,’ said Psychiatrist Dr G Mohan Roy.
‘We need friends or relatives with whom we can share all our tensions. Men need to cry too. There is nothing that prevents them from breaking down. If anyone feels any tension, please do find a friend and confess. Or seek professional help. There is no crisis without a solution,’ he said.