“I want to stay alive, I want to do something for my children so their lives turn out well. But I cannot help it. They are not letting me live.” These are the words of a young man called Prem Kumar from a video he recorded himself, words that his family fears could have been his last. The young man from Vijayawada has named four money-lenders in the video version of a suicide note, alleging harassment over a high-interest loan which pushed him to take his own life. Police officials found Prem’s bike near the Buckingham canal in Tadepalli town, and are continuing to look for his body in the canal.
According to his family, Prem had borrowed an amount of Rs 6 lakh from the money lenders in a ‘call money’ deal. Call money is a form of informal lending prevalent in Vijayawada and other parts of Andhra Pradesh, where instant loans are provided at exorbitant interest rates. The loan can be provided at the borrower’s doorstep, and the borrower could be coerced to return the money at a short notice, over a phone call.
In his videos, Prem alleged that the four men he named had been harassing him in spite of repaying the loan. “They’re lying and making the Rs 6 lakhs which I borrowed into Rs 16 lakhs,” Prem says. Speaking to local media outlets, Prem’s wife said, “We borrowed Rs 6 lakhs for building a house. We paid back Rs 5.5 lakhs, apart from a huge amount of interest. We owe the money lender only Rs 50,000 more but he has been harassing us to give him our house,” Prem’s wife said.
According to his family members, initially, the monthly interest rate agreed upon was 3 per cent. However, after taking Rs 18,000 as interest for the first month, the family alleges that one of the lenders demanded that they must return the entire amount immediately. “He asked us to either repay the loan amount right away, or pay 10 per cent monthly interest. Since we couldn’t return the amount right away, we were forced to agree,” Prem’s wife told reporters. She also claimed that when Prem initially asked to sign an agreement document for the loan, but the lender said that there was no need for such formalities as he Prem had known him since his childhood.
In call money rackets, lenders are often known to take blank, signed cheques from the borrower, and legal documents of the borrower’s properties. The collateral is then used by extortionists to harass them. Prem in his video mentions such cheques, saying the prime lender had given them to the extortionists. Prem’s wife also mentions that a loan shark was in possession of their cheques, and the original legal documents of their house. “They would often visit our home when Prem wasn’t around and demand that the house must be registered in his name. They would ask us what proof we have that we had paid him back already,” says Prem’s wife. Prem’s sister and wife both alleged that the lenders repeatedly bragged about having clout, and being able to pay the police off so as to not intervene in the matter.
In one of his videos, Prem alleges that though he had approached the Patamata police, the officials had been bribed by the moneylenders and extortionists. His family members have stated that Prem had already attempted to take his life because of the alleged harassment earlier on November 26, by consuming pesticide. “Since then, for an entire month we have been going to the police, but they have been indifferent. We gave a complaint during the Spandana program. We then went to the police station in Autonagar and then to the task force. Everyone keeps asking us for proof. Some officials even said that he drank pesticide to create a drama for sympathy,” Prem’s wife lamented while speaking to reporters.
Prem was allegedly beaten up by the lenders on December 25, after which he recorded the videos. In one of his videos, he also alleges that the men had used his caste name to insult him at the police station. “Yet the police could do nothing. Look at how much clout they have,” he says.