The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh experienced a staggering 200 suicides by farmers in late 2010, and a probe suggests that SKS Microfinance which gave them loans could be implicated in the suicides, said a new report by the Associated Press.
The AP said that internal documents as well as interviews with current and former employees and testimonies from the families of those who killed themselves “show top SKS officials had information implicating company employees in some of the suicides.”
An independent investigation commissioned by SKS ended up linking SKS employees to at least seven deaths, said the AP, while another investigation by an industry umbrella group showed SKS links to two suicides. The reports suggest SKS verbally harassed borrowers and publicly humiliated them, in some cases even physically abusing defaulters.
The harrowing reports suggest that SKS agents told debtors to prostitute their daughters, told them to drink poison or prevented them from access to medical care until debts were paid.
An 18-year-old girl drank pesticide after she was forced to hand over money meant for an exam fee, leaving a note, “Work hard and earn money. Do not take loans.”
Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace prize winning economist who introduced microcredit to help the poor in his native Bangladesh, addressed the SKS controversy in a conversation with The New York Times:
“The key is that the whole thing was triggered by SKS. They were the ones who kind of overdid things in a big way. The aggressiveness that it brought into the picture created all the problems. And then he [Vikram Akula, the founder and former chairman of SKS] made personal money out of it. That also irritated the people. That you are saying that you are helping the poor people but I see you are making personal money out of this.”
In late 2011, the BBC estimated that around 200,000 farmers had committed suicide in India since 2007.
Below is a report from NDTV in 2010, addressing the undercounting of the number of farmer deaths by the government in Andhra Pradesh.