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Puppets on a string

Death trap


SATISAN T | Issue Dated: May 20, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : death trap | suicides by migrants from Kerala |
Suicides by migrants from Kerala are on the rise in the UAE as the Gulf's financial crisis hits home, reports Satisan T
Sugathan's life ended in tragic irony. The 61-year-old social worker had lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for 37 years. Secretary of the Sharjah unit of an organisation called Sevana, he was, among other things, actively involved in an anti-suicide campaign in the Gulf.
Who would have expected the Kerala native to kill himself? It is reported that he had run into financial problems, which forced him to take the extreme step. Last year, the Indian community in UAE had felicitated him for social service. He had dissuaded many despairing souls from committing suicide before he himself succumbed to a moment of weakness.
When an activist becomes a victim of a worsening malaise, it is time to sit up and act. So the Youth India Movement in UAE conducted a month-long campaign in April against the growing suicidal tendency among migrants from Kerala in Dubai and other emirates of
the UAE.
Rajagopal Menon, operations manager of International Assistance Shipping Company LLC, Dubai, told TSI: “During my 30 years in Dubai, I have come across a few suicides among Gulf Indians. These incidents happened mainly due to business setbacks and inability to repay debts. The Gulf once had flourishing businesses, but due to the current recession, the business houses are not in good shape”.
The Gulf is a favoured destination for people from Kerala looking for a better life. Their expectations are often sky-high, as a result of which they end up overreaching. Some make it, some fail miserably. Needless to say, it is the latter lot that is usually in trouble.
Dreams go sour especially when bank loans and credit card spending become unmanageable. Some flee the Gulf and return to India. But the “recovery teams” chase them, hunt them down, and often drive them to suicide, if not actually eliminate them.
The Youth India Movement launched the anti-suicide campaign in the hope of helping non-resident Keralites (NRKs) in the UAE tide over their personal and financial crises. As part of the campaign, public meetings were organised and messages disseminated through TV and radio programmes and mobile and e-mail messages.
When NRKs return home from the Gulf, their luggage spills over with expensive dresses and gifts for the family. These people have to protect the impression of financial well-being even if it comes at the expense of their shrinking bank balances. Only a lucky few among them are genuinely wealthy and can afford the show of affluence.
NRKs who draw meagre salaries in the Gulf and work in conditions that are worse than those available to their counterparts back in India are assailed by depression and a sense of misery. They are the most vulnerable. 
To meet the often unreasonable demands of their relatives back home, they take loans either from banks or the unorganised sector. In the Gulf countries, people pledge their passports or work permits when they borrow from private moneylenders. Many such migrants finds themselves stranded if ever they need to rush back to India at short notice.
It isn't that the problem is confined only to those that aren't too well off. Even the affluent among NRKs are prone to suicides. They, too, take loans to sustain an ostentatious lifestyle.
Baiju Rogers (name changed to conceal identity), a former Gulf resident, told TSI that he was in the habit of living beyond his means. He regrets that he did not have anyone to advise him. Matters got out of hand when his relations with his boss became strained and he did not receive his salary for six months. He managed to sneak out thanks to help from well-wishers who bought him an air ticket.
A far more tragic story is that of an idealistic young political leader of Kerala. Sundaresh (name changed) ran a trading business alongside his political activities. Since he was the state head of his party's youth wing, his travel bills were high. He did not use his party funds for the purpose. His purse ran dry soon. As he ran up debts, his wife was compelled to take up a job in the Gulf to earn the money that the couple needed to get themselves out of the red. The children stayed back with the father.
In the meantime, Sundaresh was diagnosed with cancer. His wife rushed back home and arranged the money for his treatment. But it dawned on her that Sundaresh was unlikely to survive. She returned to the Gulf after her leave ended, and the next day she committed suicide there. A heart-broken Sundaresh died within a few months. The couple's orphaned children are now in the care by their relatives.
In January, Rijesh, head of an Indian family, and his six-year-old daughter were found dead in their Dubai apartment. The wife lay in a pool of blood oozing from her ripped veins. It was reported that the man had informed his parents a couple of days before the incident that his former boss was creating problems for him.
It is alleged that the ex-boss and his friends visited the apartment that night in a drunken state and had taken away Jayesh’s laptop and chequebooks. The neighbours had heard screams from Jayesh’s apartment. The very next day, he was found hanging from a ceiling fan while his daughter was said to have consumed poison.
These aren't stray cases anymore and the problem is assuming alarming proportions. Perhaps the Indian government needs to address this issue officially before it becomes worse.
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017