For many of Kerala’s lottery winners, initial joy turns into nightmare

Past Kerala lottery winners have suffered for months and years dealing with people who approach them and harass them for money.
A lottery seller
A lottery seller
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Anoop, the Thiruvananthapuram resident who won this year’s Kerala Onam bumper lottery, has not been able to return to his home. He and his family had to leave after many people made a beeline for their house in Sreekaryam asking for money. Anoop won Rs 25 crore in the lucky draw held on September 18,  of which he is expected to get around Rs 12 crore after taxes. Little did he know that his life would turn into a nightmare after the initial happiness of winning the lottery.

In a video posted in September third week, a distraught Anoop said, “I have to keep changing houses. I went and stayed at my sister’s house, but people found that address and came there too. Now I really wish that I hadn’t won. I, like most people, enjoyed the win and all the publicity thereafter, but only for a day or two. Now it has become a menace… wherever I stay, I can’t even step outside. People are after me seeking money.”

Anoop’s family told the media that many people, coming from different parts of south India, had harassed and even threatened them for money. Some people in their locality were heard on local TV abusing him and asking him – for no reason – to give the prize amount back to the government.

What prize winners face

This is not just Anoop’s story; past Kerala lottery winners too have suffered for months and years dealing with people who approach them for money, losing many friendships in the process. In 2017 when TNM spoke to Musthafa, the Onam bumper prize winner that year, he had many dreams. It was a Rs 10 crore prize, of which he took home around Rs 5 crore. He said he would use the money to renovate his house, pay for his medical treatment and for his children’s education, and to help his daughters. However, we learnt that Musthafa was not in a position to speak over the phone now.

When TNM contacted his acquaintances, it was revealed that he lives alone in Malappuram’s Parappanangadi after he became estranged from his family after winning the lottery. Though he built a huge house for his son, Musthafa allegedly destroyed its windows and doors over a dispute. The house remains abandoned.

Jayapalan, an auto driver from Trippunithura, won the 2021 Onam bumper lottery. Of the Rs 12 crore prize money, he took home around Rs 6 crore. His family said that even after a year people call or come home seeking help. “Last year a lot of people came from many parts of the state immediately after the news went public. Until we received the prize amount, we told them that we did not have the money. After that we asked them to contact an organisation where we had donated some money to help people in need,” Jayapalan’s son Vysakh told TNM.

Jayapalan even received letters threatening him to donate money. However, he invested the money wisely and did not spend unnecessarily. He still continues to drive an auto. Jayapalan said, “Only after paying all the taxes – which happens a few months or a year after receiving the amount – can the money be taken. It's always better to invest in something that gives a steady income. We can use that income to help others, not the prize money.”

Another person who sought anonymity told the media that his father had won a lottery years ago, but it was of no use. “My father was a daily wage worker. After winning the lottery, he stopped going to work. He started a business, bought a vehicle and renovated our house. Since he didn’t have experience in business, it failed miserably and he landed in debt. It was difficult to even maintain the vehicle as we had no income. It was after we children started earning that the family saw some financial stability,” he narrated.

He also recalled how many people had camped outside their house for days asking for money and the family had to move to a relative’s place for some days.

The prize winners said that people cite different reasons when asking for money. Some claimed they have cancer or other severe illnesses, some said they needed it for their children’s education or to build a house or set up a business, or for a daughter’s wedding. Whatever the reason, it caused severe mental agony for the winners.

“It was very difficult for us to deny everyone, we went through enormous mental pressure. But with such a huge number of people coming every day, how could we accommodate all of them?” asked Manoharan, a lottery winner from 2018.

This year the winner of the Rs 5 crore second prize in the Onam bumper lottery preferred anonymity and refused to meet the media.

Is publicity the villain?

When TNM contacted Anoop recently, he said he had stopped talking to the media. He said that he regretted giving interviews and making the news public, and commended the second prize winner for remaining unidentified.

So is it necessary that the winners are revealed?

“Obviously, winners can choose to remain anonymous and keep away from the media. Officially we don’t give out information on winners. The publicity helps the Department, but we don’t insist,” Aji Jayakumar, Deputy Director (Prize), Directorate of State Lotteries, told TNM. He also said that while the Department was helpless regarding winners being hounded by money-seekers, it provides financial management awareness on how to use the money wisely.

While some winners desire to remain anonymous, some others think that it may lead to fraud. “Last time a person from the UAE claimed that he had won the lottery and shared a photo of the winning ticket, when actually my dad had won. So I think publicity will help avoid such fraud,” said Vysakh, Jayapalan’s son.

In 2021, Syedalavi, who hails from Panamaram in Wayanad and works in a restaurant in Dubai, pronounced that he was the winner of the Onam bumper. He had paid his friend some money to get a lottery ticket and after the results were declared his friend sent him a photo of the winning ticket saying he won. Thinking he actually won the lottery, Syedalavi spoke to the media. But later his friend revealed to the media that it was a prank. Vysakh was referring to this incident. However, the Lottery Department official clarified that it was not possible for anyone to cheat.

“Only the person who produces the ticket will get the prize money. There is no possibility of fraud in that,” Aji Jayakumar said.

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