Patna: Faced with a financial crunch in a post-lockdown COVID-19 world, a family of five members – parents, two daughters and a son – allegedly died by suicide by hanging in a room in their house in a village in Bihar’s Supaul district. It is probably the first such case from rural Bihar where an entire family ended their life in the face of financial difficulty.
The shocking incident took place in Gaddi village under Raghopur police station in the flood-prone area in northern Bihar.
According to the local police the victims were identified as 52-year-old Mishri Lal Shah, his 44-year-old wife Renu Devi, daughters – Roshni Kumari,15, Phul Kumari 8 – and 14-year-old son Lalan Kumar. Their bodies were found hanging; they had new clothes on.
Some villagers, including their neighbours, told local police officials that Shah was debt-ridden and in trouble after being unable to repay a money-lender. However, the police said that it was difficult to confirm if this was indeed the case. “We have begun an investigation into the case after we found their bodies (five of them) in hanging position inside the house. We will be able to comment only after the probe,” an official said.
Supaul Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar, who visited the incident site soon after being informed by the local police station about the incident, said a forensic team will collect evidence for an investigation.
A villager by the name Rameshwar Prasad said that there was no doubt that the family had been struggling to get by for the last few years but had managed to survive somehow. It is said Shah was selling coal and making some money but his work suffered following the COVID-19 lockdown. “He was left with no source of income as he had already sold his ancestral farm land earlier and the only property he owned was the house in the village,” Prasad mentioned.
The village mukhiya, Md. Taslim said that it appeared that a financial crunch forced the family to take the extreme step. “The head of the family was facing a financial crunch and was under tremendous pressure to manage the family after his small coal trade was badly hit during the lockdown last year,” he added.
According to Taslim, villagers last saw Shah and his family a week ago on Saturday. Mishri Lal Shah was spotted when he visited the local PDS shop for ration.
However, the incident came to light only late on Friday night when some villagers complained of a foul smell from inside the house. Local elected representatives were then informed. His neighbours repeatedly knocked on the door which was locked from inside. When there was no response the door was broken down on Saturday (March 13). Their bodies were found in the room.
What was surprising was that the family’s neighbours and fellow villagers did not sense anything unusual despite not having seen the family for about a week. Unlike urban areas, rural India does see much of each other on a regular basis.
In early January this year, unable to bear the strain of a loan from a private bank, Chandra Bhushan Singh, a popular chemistry teacher, allegedly died by suicide in Bhagalpur district. His coaching institute had been shut for nine months during the pandemic-induced lockdown.
Reports mentioned that the bank officials were allegedly harassing Singh and had served him notice to repay the loan without any delay.
Singh, popularly known as “CB Sir” among colleagues and students in the silk city of Bhagalpur, was finding it difficult to get by as the coaching centre where he taught had been closed since March last year; it stayed inoperational till January 3, 2021. Coaching centres and schools in Bihar were allowed to reopen on January 4 with guidelines in place.
Singh was not an isolated case. Similar cases have been reported across Bihar over the past ten months and over a dozen people have died by suicide after being allegedly harassed by private finance companies, moneylenders and banks to repay loans or credit. The lockdown was a tipping point for many.
After the sudden lockdown, millions of skilled and unskilled workers, drivers, vendors were rendered jobless or without any work, as per official figures. In Bihar, joblessness after the lockdown poses a great challenge, with more than 21 lakh migrant workers returning to the state as per official data.
According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s estimates, for the past 20 months – since February 2019 – the unemployment rate in Bihar has been more than 10%. It is one of the longest cycles of unemployment the state has ever seen.