When Esakkimuthu, 40, a daily wage labourer of Kasidharmam village near Tirunelveli went to borrow Rs 1.40 lakh from two money lenders in his village, he believed that he would soon be able to repay them. But Esakkimuthu would have never imagined that this money would one day claim all the lives in his family.
The Tirunelveli collectorate was much tensed on Monday morning, after Esakkimuthu and his wife Subbulakshmi set themselves and their two children—Mathi Saranya (4) and Akshaya Bharanitha (18 months)—on fire. While the father, mother and one child were seen running to and fro with flames all over their body, the toddler was totally burnt and seen lying on the floor.
All the four were rushed to the Palayamkottai government hospital. While Subbulakshmi and the two children succumbed to burn injuries, Esakkimuthu was battling for life in critical condition.
The family had reportedly taken money for 10 per cent interest from Thalavai Raj, one of their relatives. Police said Thalavai Raj, his wife Muthu Lakshmi and his father Kalimuthu were arrested while Sub Inspector Murugan and Head Constable Kandhasamy Kumar who allegedly threatened the couple were placed under suspension.
Called as “Kanthu Vatty” in Tamil, usury, unlike in other states, prevails extensively in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. Esakkimuthu, according to sources, had paid more than Rs 2 lakhs for the principal amount of Rs 1,40,000. But he was harassed by the money lenders and asked to pay more. Unable to pay it, Esakkimuthu had reportedly approached the local SP office.
“He had already given a complaint. But his complaint was not registered by the police. They only spoke in favour of the money lenders,” said one of his relatives.
After police didn't take action on his complaint, Esakkimuthu had written two petitions to the Tirunelveli collector, but all in vain. This is believed to have prompted the couple to take the extreme step.
“Usually people come here to petition the collector. Some of them even threaten to kill themselves. We thought it would also be like that, but they poured kerosene all over their body and set themselves on fire,” said a collectorate staff.
Soon after the shocking incident, the authorities announced setting up of a separate centre to help those affected by usury and formed a special team to probe the allegations levelled by Easkkimuthu. Officials asked people not to fall into the trap of money-lenders, adding, action would be taken by officials to end the usury menace in the district.
(With inputs from agencies)