Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Indian Express
Patna: Amid the lockdown due to COVID-19, the financial crunch is killing the poor in Bihar – those who have their source of livelihood. It is a phenomenon which has largely gone unreported. However, there are now reports of increasing stress among thousands of people, most of whom are poor, and are struggling to survive.
Sachitanand Shah, Md. Rafique and Mukesh Rawat are the names of three men who committed suicide in the last two days from the state. They fell victim to poverty brought upon them by the lockdown.
Shah, a middle-aged skilled labourer, allegedly committed suicide by hanging in Chapra town, the headquarters of Saran district, on Thursday. He was depressed after being rendered jobless. Shah’s neighbours informed the police that he was worried about having to manage his family of five, including three minor children, without any source of income.
“Shah was worried about the survival of his family and the education of his children after he was forced to sit at home without any work due to the lockdown,” said a local police official. The case was declared a suicide after a post-mortem was conducted on his body.
Rafique, a shopkeeper, committed suicide by hanging in Bodh Gaya village in Gaya district on Friday. He was also depressed after his shop was shut down due to the lockdown and he was faced with a financial crunch as a result.
Rafique’s relatives said that the mental strain took its toll after the Body Gaya Math management threatened him and asked him to vacate the shop which he had been running for nearly two decades. It was his only source of livelihood. “The lockdown first forced him to shut shop. Later, the Bodh Gaya Math management put pressure on him to vacate the shop. He was mentally disturbed about how he would make a livelihood, and ended his life,” said a close relative.
Mohan Kumar, the officer-in-charge at the Bodh Gaya police station, said that a case had been registered and that Rafique’s body had been sent for post-mortem. “The police will inquire into what led him to commit suicide. Local residents said that he was facing a financial crunch during the lockdown as his shop was shut,” said Kumar.
Thirty-three-year-old Mukesh Rawat had a heated exchange with his wife after he had been out of a job for over two months. With money not coming by, he committed suicide by hanging in Jamui district.
According to the police, Rawat’s family said that he was depressed after he lost his source of income during the lockdown.
Aside from the above cases, there are at least two unconfirmed reports of suicide by workers from earlier this month. Again, they were financially struggling to cope with the lockdown.
Since the lockdown began on March 25, nearly half a dozen people committed suicide in Bihar between April and May, after being reportedly rendered jobless. In late April, Dhananjay Kumar, who had been working as a project manager in a private firm in Patna, committed suicide by hanging from his ceiling fan in his flat. He was distraught after being rendered jobless. Kumar had left his job in Delhi and left for Patna just a few months prior.
In early May, a young couple committed suicide in Khagaria district after they were unable to pay a loan that they had taken to buy two trucks. Their business was badly hit after the lockdown and they had been facing financial problems.
In the second week of April, 45-year-old Mahesh Ram allegedly committed suicide in Lakhisarai district by hanging from a ceiling fan after his road-side tea shop was shut due to the lockdown. He was under a lot of pressure to manage his family of nine members after losing his only source of livelihood.
It was the first such case reported from Bihar during the lockdown.
According to reports, thousands of poor people are yet to receive the benefit of the relief package announced by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar two months ago.
The fear of hunger and an uncertainty is growing among the poor in the state. The likely beneficiaries of the relief package have staged protests at several places since they have been rendered jobless and penniless by the lockdown.
A major challenge before the state government is also to provide livelihood to thousands of migrant workers who have returned home.
According to top officials of the state government, more than 30 lakh migrant workers had returned to Bihar from other states over the last month due to the lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19. The first batch of stranded migrant workers arrived in Bihar on May 2.
As of Friday, Bihar had 4,551 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 30 reported deaths. So far, the state has tested more than 87,000 samples in the seven COVID-19 testing facilities in the state. Bihar Health Secretary Lokesh Kumar Singh said that 73% of the total COVID-19 cases had been attributed to migrant workers.
Singh said 3,187 migrant workers had tested positive for COVID-19 so far. He mentioned that 166 migrant workers had shown symptoms of the disease, a number which was revealed during a household survey of 4.08 lakh houses to screen migrant workers.