Isakkimuthu, a labourer, set himself, his wife and two children on fire by dousing kerosene right outside the Tirunelveli collector’s office on Monday morning, 23 October. This incident comes after his submission of repeated pleas regarding relief from harassment by moneylenders, over unpaid debts, fell onto deaf ears.
The victims were rushed to Tirunelveli Medical College and Hospital where Isakkimuthu is in a critical condition, whereas his wife Subbulakshmi, minor daughters Mathi Saranya (4) and Akshaya Bharanitha (18 months) have already succumbed to severe burns.
Isakimuthu is a daily wage earner from Kasidharman village of Tirunelveli district. He had borrowed Rs 1.45 Lakh from their neighbourhood moneylenders Muthulakshmi and Ganapathiraj. The interest rate was fixed at 10% of the entire amount, till the time the whole principal is not paid off.
They had already paid Rs 2.34 lakh, yet they were being subjected to constant harassment. The moneylenders would harass them in front of their children. Unable to tolerate the bullying by moneylenders any further, Isakimuthu had filed two petitions at the collectorate office, Tirunelveli.
Seeking police intervention to end the harassment, Isakimuthu had submitted petitions to the collector at sic weekly grievance redressal meetings, usually organised on Mondays. In spite of filing the petition, his pleas were not paid any heed to.
At 11 AM on Monday, Gopi, Isakimuthu’s brother had accompanied them to collectorate’s office, with their children aged five and one-and-a-half years.
According to Gopi, the police instead of rebuking the lender also harassed him after submitting the petitions. Gopi had gone to a nearby tea stall when Isakimuthu took the extreme step. He poured kerosene on himself and his family and set themselves ablaze.
Those present on the spot did not react initially. Many have been seen to photograph the incident with their mobile cameras, instead of helping them.
The public finally managed to save them, though they suffered severe burns. On hearing screams from the family, other petitioners waiting to meet the collectorate tried to put out the flame.
Since their situation was critical, Justice Magistrate Karthikeyan obtained a declaration from Isakimuthu and Subbulakshmi at the hospital.
According to a report by The Newsminute, the authorities, however, have denied any inaction. An official at the Tirunelveli Superintendent of the Police’s office said, “They had given petitions to the collector earlier, and the investigation is underway. They had taken action before they got to the bottom of the matter.”
According to a report by The Hindu, Collector Sandeep Nanduri visited the Tirunelveli Medical College and Hospital to inquire about the conditions of the victims. He said, “The victims sustained 75% of burns. We’ll concentrate on this serious issue by forming a special squad to enquire into the complaints pertaining usury.”
Several families have lost their homes when they could not pay the exorbitant rates of interest. This practice is commonly prevalent across Tamil Nadu and is known as Kandhu Vatti. In this practice, the ones in need often take money from the lenders, and exorbitant amount of interests are fixed. They often end up paying more than the original amount.
Usury is prevalent across the state, where some try to extort money manifold more than what was formerly lent to the hapless victims. There have been instances of money lenders are sexually exploiting women victims in western Tamil Nadu and murdering those tried to come their way.
This is the second instance of such exploitation in the last two months in the district of Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. In September, Babu Elango, a school teacher had borrowed money from a few lenders to meet the educational expenses of his daughters. He later succumbed to exploitation, consumed poison and died.
Despite paying a hefty amount as interest, he took the extreme step owing to pressure from money sharks. Money sharks were pressuring him to part with his house. A decade ago, six persons of a family had committed suicide for the same reason by consuming poison for the same reason.
Earlier, in 2009, a young woman of Pallipalayam in Namakkal district was raped by a money shark and his aide and the duo video recorded on their phones. They uploaded it online only to circulate it in the social media. According to the report by The Times of India, a senior police official who has served more than five years in the region said, “Money lenders from Tirunelveli have their businesses extended as far as Mumbai and Chennai.”
The Logical Indian take
Victims mostly depend on private banking procedure as they are often illiterate and belong to the unorganised sector. They also allege that the cumbersome procedure of applying for loans in the public banks often steer them to take loans from private lenders.
The Logical Indian community abhors the treatment meted out by the loan sharks to the ones borrowing money in the dire times of need. The Logical Indian also appeals to the concerned authority to look into the matter and ensure that the victims get justice and the perpetrators of violence, that is the concerned money lender must be booked and taken into a task.
Alongside, this incident should also act as a wake-up call for the government to simplify the borrowing procedure. Most of the victims, in this case, are illiterate and belong to the unorganised sector. So, a complicated lending procedure will only increase their unwillingness to borrow from the government bank. If the process is eased, they can apply for loans from the bank. This, in turn, will decrease their dependence on the private lenders and lead to a fewer number of cases of extortion.