THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As many as 17 people died by suicide in the state in the last six weeks after they ran out of all means to sustain their lives. The 17 deaths, picked from over 50 reported cases from June 20 to July 31, have a common thread as reason: Covid and lockdown-induced financial constraints. In two incidents, more than one person died.
The string of suicides began with that of Manoj Kumar of Nanthancode, here. The 45-year-old goldsmith consumed poison on June 20 as he had no work for several weeks and could not repay his loans. As he was taken to hospital, his wife Ranju and daughter Amritha, 16, too consumed poison and died.
The case of Sreekanth, 36, of Vilappilsala was more tragic. He was a small-time dairy farmer. Apart from rearing cows, he milked cows in his neighbourhood. But as lockdown hit hard, most of his neighbours sold their cows and Sreekanth lost a major portion of his wages. On June 27, he hanged himself in his under-construction house, leaving behind wife and sons, aged eight and four.
Three of the deceased – P C Rajamani (Wayanad), Mohanan Pillai (Kollam) and V Mohanan (Kottayam) – were entrepreneurs in the transport industry. Rajamani owned a bus while Pillai ran Seena Travels at Kottiyam. Mohanan, who died on Friday, had a van, which he used to rent out to tourists.
Earlier in June, tourist bus driver Abhjith, a native of Kozhikode, had ended his life inside the bus which got stranded in Assam for more than two months due to lockdown. Nirmal Chandran of Thiruvananthapuram and Ponnumani of Palakkad had owned light-and-sound business, which saw red following the pandemic.As the government announced its decision to revise the lockdown strategy on Friday, traders and small-scale business owners see a glimmer of hope.
“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,” said Kerala Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi general secretary S S Manoj. He said the crisis in trade and industry is as grave as the Covid situation. “We want all parties to convene a meeting to discuss the livelihood crisis,” he said.
Economist and former state finance commission chairman B A Prakash said except those belonging to the fixed income group, everybody is hit by the crisis. “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,” said Prakash.
“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,” he said.
An unprecedented crisis like Covid calls for unprecedented measures to address its impact, said CMP general secretary C P John. “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,” said John, who had also served as the state planning board member.
According to the planning board’s estimate, 73 lakh of the 1.27-crore workforce in the state were affected by the national lockdown in 2020. For giving them a cash transfer of Rs 10,000 each, the state needs only Rs 7,300 cr.
The figure is not huge when compared to the state’s plan size. In 2020-21, the plan fund was Rs 36,786 cr. If the state cuts 20% of it, the amount to provide Rs 10,000 as social security allowance for all who lost their jobs can be mobilised. “Or, let there be a distress relief head also part of the plan,” suggested John.Psychiatrist Dr G Mohan Roy said the deepening crisis reinforces the need for all of us to stand together and support each other.
“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,” he said.
According to Roy, the state should put in place a support plan — both financial and social. “It is not only the responsibility of the government. Social and non-governmental organisations can also lead the way,” he said.Noting that of the 17 who ended their lives, 15 are men, Roy said the patriarchal mindset that men need to be strong is the main villain in such scenarios.
“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.
73 lakh of the 1.27-crore workforce in the state were affected by the national lockdown in 2020
Rs 7,300 cr needed for giving them a cash transfer of Rs 10,000 each
(If you are having suicidal thoughts or are worried about a friend or need emotional support, someone is always there to listen. Call: 1056, 0471-2552056 or Sneha Foundation – 04424640050).