In a shocker, a 19-year old Kerala woman Vaishnavi and her 41-year old mother Lekha killed themselves by self-immolation while resisting revenue recovery from a bank in Thiruvananthapuram.
The incident took place around 3pm on Tuesday, hours after the local branch manager of Canara Bank initiated revenue recovery process for a default housing loan by the family.
While the daughter had died instantly, the mother battled for life in a local hospital for about four hours. But suffering more than 90% burns, she could not be saved.
The death of the women is a shocker in Kerala, a red turf state of heavy welfare measures and where the ruling communist government has a stated policy for banks to not impound mortgaged houses, and show as much leniancy as possible, if the family has no other shelter to live.
The incident has moved many people, leading to a popular outrage and street protests, supporting Lekha's husband Chandran's demand to arrest the bank officials under homicide charges.
The family had taken a housing loan of ₹5 lakh from Canara Bank in 2013, mortgaging the property, and has repaid so far ₹7,80,000 but still had ₹6,40,000 pending as due amount, according to a report by regional news channel Manorama News.
The two woman took the extreme step after the bank put severe pressure over the repayment, locals told the channel.
"When the bank officials and the police came for recovery, we, the locals, banded together and forced their return. We asked to give them to give a week's time (for the family to repay). But without giving a week, the manager mentally tortured the family today. If you check the daughter's and her mother's phones, you will know how many times the bank manager called and threatened them today," a neighbour told the channel.
Some of the bank's local officials told local media that they were only following due process since the family had promised in writing to repay the dues by Tuesday, but has not issued an official statement so far.
Local MLA C.K. Hareendran said he had begged the bank to show some leniancy to the family, intervening in the case months ago. "The family even tried to sell the partly built house to escape out of the debt trap, but could not find any immediate takers," he said.
After the worst floods ever since the formation of the state, which caused ₹30,000 crore damage and millions of people loss heavily on business and income, the state government had put a moratorium of one-year on agricultural loans. Finance minister Thomas Isaac said the bank should have thought twice before taking action on a poor family consisting two women members.
"This is not a question of law, it is a question of social commitment. The local MLA had asked the bank to give some time to the family, which they didn't pay heed to. The bank should immediately pay the husband an ex-gratia amount for the loss of his dear ones," he said.