Delhi

Post-Covid financial distress pushes family over the edge

Outside the house in Vasant Vihar where three members of a family were found dead.

Outside the house in Vasant Vihar where three members of a family were found dead. | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

NEW DELHI:

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant financial distress forced a middle-aged woman and her two daughters to retreat into their shell, cutting off all contact with their neighbours, following the death of her husband, who was the sole breadwinner of the family.

The reclusive family ended their lives on Saturday as part of a pact in south-west Delhi’s Vasant Vihar.

The descent

Residents of Flat No. 207, a two-room house in the area’s Vasant Apartments, for the last two decades, the family lived a normal life until the head, the father, died of COVID-19 complications during the second wave of the pandemic last year. 

An assistant to a chartered accountant, Umesh Srivastva used to earn just enough to run the house.

The two daughters were among the 2,500 children who lost a parent to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Capital from March 2020 till August last year, as per official government statistics. A total of 26,200 COVID-19-related deaths have been reported in the Capital so far.

Soon after the death of the family head, the financial condition of the woman and the two daughters started deteriorating, forcing them to cut down on expenses. Neighbours said the family, who hailed from Kanpur, used to keep to themselves and barely interacted with anyone in the neighbourhood.

‘Reclusive, aloof’

“When their father was alive, he used to greet me wherever he saw me, but after his death his wife became bed-ridden and elder daughter also fell ill…the family went into a cocoon and stopped coming out of the hour or interact with their neighbours... We used to see only the younger daughter once a week,” said Pammi Mudgil, a neighbour.

Ms. Mudgil said the only time they spotted the younger daughter was when the latter used to come out to feed the street dogs and cows. 

“The younger daughter was more active than her elder sister and the mother. She used to interact with the neighbours. She was smart and wanted to work. Somehow, due to her upbringing and the condition of her mother, she never took up a job,” Ms. Mudgil added.

‘Loved animals’

“They loved animals so the younger daughter used to feed them regularly. But never did she interact with any of us, even if we wanted to, and neither did they ever ask for money. After Umesh’s death, all the RWA members crowdfunded ₹20,000 and gave it to them,” Mrs. Mudgil added.

Among the only ones that the three deceased frequently interacted with was their house help Kamla, who was let go two years earlier, after the family’s financial troubles.

“They asked me to leave work two years back. But I had developed an emotional bond with the family. I used to keep checking on them to see if they needed anything. On the day of the incident I went to their house and found it locked so I got scared and informed the neighbours,” said Kamla.

Both the daughters had completed their B.Com. but hadn’t taken up a job yet. “Even when their father was alive, he used to restrict the activities of his wife and daughters. He prevented them from interacting with any neighbour,” said M. David, President of the society’s Resident Welfare Association (RWA).

‘Owned another flat’

The family also owned another two-room flat next to the one they lived in and earned a monthly rent of ₹13,000 from it. 

“Six months back, they suddenly asked their tenants to vacate the flat, saying that one of their relatives would stay there. I don’t know why they did that. They were at least earning something out of it,” Mr. David added.

None of their neighbours expected the family, which took pains to stay aloof, to take such a drastic step. “They could have talked to us and shared their concerns. We could have helped them both emotionally and mentally. I don’t know why they didn’t come forward,” Mr. David added.

Around 500 metres from the house is a grocery store to which the family owed ₹6,000. The family hadn’t paid the store owner for the past two months.

“They used to regularly buy grocery items from us but a few months back they stopped buying goods from here and changed shops. The younger sister told me that she will try to pay back the full amount but now she is gone,” said shop owner Lalita Jain.

Outside the mortuary, the sisters’ cousin recalled how they would always claim that everything was fine and that they didn’t need any financial help. 

‘Never asked for help’

“They never asked us for money as it was an issue of prestige for them. They always said everything was going well. I knew that they were barely making ends meet. COVID-19 and their father’s death had devastated them. I wish they had shared their problems with me,” the brother said.

Sources said that in the notes left behind by the deceased, the family highlighted their emotional, financial and health problems.

“In one of the notes, they have said that the family’s belongings be handed over to Kamla after them and thanked all their neighbours who tried to help them,” a senior police officer said.


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Printable version | May 23, 2022 2:26:19 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/post-covid-financial-distress-pushes-family-over-the-edge/article65449826.ece