The people of the areas where the People's Republic of India has taken root have suffered the corruption and excesses of capitalism...
2012-02-25 "Suicides in India linked to microfinance debts" from "Associated Press"
Mumbai, India --
First they were stripped of their utensils, furniture, mobile phones, televisions, ration cards and heirloom gold jewelry. Then, some of them drank pesticide. One woman threw herself in a pond. Another jumped into a well with her children.
Sometimes, the debt collectors watched nearby.
More than 200 poor, debt-ridden residents of Andhra Pradesh killed themselves in late 2010, according to media reports compiled by the government of the south Indian state. The state blamed microfinance companies - which give small loans intended to lift up the very poor - for fueling a frenzy of overindebtedness and then pressuring borrowers so relentlessly that some took their own lives.
The companies, including market leader SKS Microfinance, denied it.
However, internal documents obtained by the Associated Press, as well as interviews with more than a dozen current and former employees, independent researchers and videotaped testimony from the families of the dead, show that top SKS officials had information implicating company employees in some of the suicides.
An independent investigation commissioned by the company linked SKS employees to at least seven of the deaths. A second investigation commissioned by an industry umbrella group that probed the role of many microfinance companies did not draw conclusions but pointed to SKS involvement in two more cases that ended in suicide. Neither study has been made public.
Both reports said SKS employees had verbally harassed over-indebted borrowers, forced them to pawn valuable items, incited other borrowers to humiliate them and orchestrated sit-ins outside their homes to publicly shame them. In some cases, the SKS staff physically harassed defaulters, according to the report commissioned by the company. Only in death would the debts be forgiven.
The videos and reports tell stark stories:
One woman drank pesticide and died a day after an SKS loan agent told her to prostitute her daughters to pay off her debt. She had been given $3,000 in loans but only made $12 a week.
Another SKS debt collector told a delinquent borrower to drown herself in a pond if she wanted her loan waived. The next day, she did. She left behind four children.
SKS continues to deny all responsibility for the deaths. SKS spokesman J.S. Sai said the company stands by its September 2011 affidavit before India's Supreme Court. In that affidavit, chief executive M.R. Rao says SKS "is neither the cause of nor responsible for any suicides in the state of Andhra Pradesh."
Originally developed as a nonprofit effort to lift society's most downtrodden, microfinance has increasingly become a for-profit enterprise that serves investors as well as the poor. As India's market leader, SKS has pioneered a business model that many others hoped to emulate.
But the story of what went wrong at SKS has led current and former employees and even some major shareholders to question that strategy and raises fundamental questions for the multibillion-dollar global microfinance industry.