by P. Krishnaswamy | Sunday Observer

by P. Krishnaswamy

The recent heart-rending suicide of a young mother in Jaffna after poisoning her three children, allegedly due to a family friend’s betrayal on money transaction appears to be an example of how low a society, once famed for its honesty and hard work, has morally deteriorated after the three-decade-long war fought basically on the concepts of Tamil Eelam and separatism.

Sunethra (28) and her three children - Karsha (4), Sayith (2) and Saravana (1) embraced death after the head of the family Krisanthan committed suicide two months before. The young husband, Krisanthan committed suicide when his friend to whom he lent a huge amount of money to start a business, allegedly deceived him and suddenly disappeared into thin air when he asked for the money back after a lapse of more than two years.

The deceased, Krisanthan, a handsome young man, who lived at Kannara Street, Nallur, Jaffna, was a goldsmith by profession and also had a partnership in a jewellery business. He was doing well, and leading a happy family life, and is known to have been good-hearted, and always willing to help friends and relatives in their financial difficulties.

It is reported that Krisanthan’s father and the father of the man to whom he lent money were bosom buddies and so were the sons. Krisanthan was approached by his friend for financial help when the latter wanted to start a business and Krisanthan, willing to help and not giving a second thought or consulting any other, had apparently sold his house and also borrowed from micro finance companies and banks to make up the Rs. 11.7 million requested by his friend. When he wanted to hand over the the money, his friend had allegedly wanted Rs.10 lakhs in cash and the balance Rs.10.7 million by cheque drawn in favour of his older brother.

Krisanthan had apparently complied with the request, and his friend’s wife and his brother were sureties for the repayment. After a lapse of over two years he himself in financial straits with loan repayments, approached his friend to get the money back. His friend, his wife and his older brother had allegedly been rude and refused to repay the amount, and had challenged him to take whatever action, to recover the money. Krisanthan was driven from pillar to post with no avail. He lodged complaints with the police and also filed a case in the Jaffna High Court. Appearing for the High Court case trial on August 30 and realising that nothing would work in his favour, he had decided that the entire family would commit suicide.

The plan was changed for whatever reason, and he alone took poison the following day, August 30, and died on September 3 in the Jaffna Hospital when medical treatment proved futile. His wife, overtaken by grief, with the three children moved to her parents’ home at A.V.Road in Ariyalai on the A 9 highway 3 km from Jaffna town. When she approached her husband’s borrowers, it is reported that they had been rude to her too, without any concern that she was widowed and destitute. She had then decided to end her life and that of the three children. When her parents were away, she had added poison to ice cream and fed her children,and had some herself. She had allegedly written the following letters before committing suicide:

“We wanted to live many more years . We struggled against all odds until the last moment. But it was futile. Now we are going. My husband committed suicide after being deceived by his friend who borrowed Rs.11.7 million. Life for us without him is meaningless.”

Letter addressed to High Court Judge Ilancheliyan :

“ My husband committed suicide on September 3, 2017 after being deceived by his friend who borrowed Rs.11.7 million. A life for us without him is meaningless. I prayed to God that we would live with him even if he lived with us in a wheelchair. But that wasn’t to be. I thought I should live for the children. But I could not answer their questions. They constantly asked “When will Dad come? When will he open his eyes and look at us? Why has he not come? Can we go with him to the children’s park when he comes?” How can I reply them and how can I tell them lies again and again ?

Srishankar’s wife and Sridaran are the cause for our deaths. We want justice meted out. We have no tangible evidence. So we have decided to commit suicide hoping that justice will be meted out after we die. You are God’s representative for meting out justice. So please open the case and mete out justice.”

Letter to parents and brothers:

“Dear Mother, Father, Older Brother and Younger Brother :

Forgive me. All those born are to die one day. Console yourself because you fulfilled all our desires in spite of thousands of odds. I am blessed by God because the life I lived with all of you was fulfilling. The life that my husband gave me was also fulfilling. The one shortcoming is that we wanted to live happily for many more years. We struggled for that until the last moment. But all were futile. We are going. Look after our mother. More than me my husband wanted to keep her with us and look after her until her last moment. But we could not do it.”

Commenting on these tragic deaths, Jaffna Government Agent Nagalingam Vedanayagam is quoted as saying :

“We are increasingly hearing about the acute problem of debt, especially, from women’s groups. Banks and micro finance companies virtually visit every doorstep and thrust these loans upon the naïve, who struggle to make ends meet. And then, they harass families to repay them.”

Local media reports said the woman added poison to ice cream and fed her children, after which she had some herself.“The mother was 28, her children were 4, 2 and 1. We are investigating the case. We suspect that their death is related to the pressure of having to repay a huge debt,” a police spokesman told The Hindu. The young woman’s husband committed suicide about a month ago, unable to settle loans, police said.

After Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, many banks and microfinance companies opened branches in the war-hit north and east, giving out loans to families in dire need of money for basic sustenance in the absence of income sources. The interest rates are as high as 70%, and they force borrowers to take new loans to service existing debts, according to officials.

Sources at the Jaffna Secretariat told the Sunday Observer that they have intensified awareness and consultation programs among the poverty-stricken families of the district in an effort to avert them falling prey to micro finance companies and other lending institutions. They were also implementing programs on empowering the families , the sources said. Some of the institutions were levying high rates of compound interest which is dubbed as ‘meter interest” and some of them levy as much as 100 percent interest. A team of Central Bank officials visited the district in order to assess the situation, identity the institutions and implement strict regulations on the institutions, the sources said.

Observing that predatory debt is “contagious”, Jaffna-based political economist Ahilan Kadirgamar was quoted in reports as saying that :

“What began as high interest microfinance loans is now pushing people to even mortgage their homes to money lenders. We need a holistic solution, including affordable rural credit and a cap on interest rates. Some sell their kidneys and some even commit suicide, as their debt trap deepens. Ironically, in recent times it is some of the formal financial institutions that are functioning as loan sharks.

“This situation is a consequence of the state’s failure to regulate these institutions , even as it privileges the financial sector as a whole.

Predators thrive on desperation, and it is the most vulnerable in society that get caught by such micro-finance schemes. Rural women who have taken multiple loans, often speak of the Monday loan, Tuesday loan, Wednesday loan etc., referring to the different micro-finance companies, and spend much of their time finding ways to pay the interest for that day of the week.”