Behind Sangli suicide of 9: ‘Harassed repeatedly, publicly by lenders’

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There’s a bunch of policemen. And then there are those two kittens Ranu and Manya.

This is all that’s left at the locked house of the “caring” and “animal-loving” family of the local veterinarian Dr Manik Vanmore.

On Monday afternoon, the families of Manik (49) and his brother Popat (52) — nine members in all — were found dead in their two houses at Mhaisal village in Maharashtra’s Sangli district in a case of suspected suicide by consuming poison.The reason? Harassment by money lenders “repeatedly and publicly”, “mentally and physically”, according to police, citing two suicide notes. Fifteen persons from the area, who allegedly lent money to the brothers, have been arrested and the police are on the lookout for 10 more suspects.

A day later, the entire village is still in shock.

The bodies of Manik, his wife Rekha (45), their children Anita (28) and Aditya (15), Manik’s mother Akkatai (72) and Popat’s son Shubham (28) were found at the veterinarian’s house. About a kilometre away, the bodies of Popat, who was an arts teacher at the local school, his wife Sangeeta (48) and daughter Archana (30) were found at their house.

“I literally grew up in their home,” said Ashwini Sawant, a close family friend, before breaking down. “All of them were very caring and considered me as one of them. From all the special dishes cooked at their home to all the major events, I have been there. Less than a week ago, I came to their house for a paani-puri party. They were a happy family and loved animals. But I also know that over the past few years, they have been under stress because of debt. But we had never imagined this.”

According to a police officer, “the suicide notes suggests that the family wanted to raise a manufacturing unit for steel items and had borrowed money”. “The family had borrowed money from a large number of people, even the compounder working at the veterinary clinic,” the officer said.

The police are also probing suggestions that the families were lured into an investment scheme of sorts and lost their money. “Manik uncle used to tell me that they had invested in some scheme and were waiting for high returns, which would pay off the debts and leave them with a large sum. On one of two occasions, they had asked me not to come to their house as lenders had come,” Sawant said, adding that the Vanmores moved to their own homes from their ancestral house six-seven years ago.

“We are probing all possible angles in this case,” said Sangli SP Dikshit Gedam.

“Just one day before, (Manik’s son) Aditya had come to my house and we chatted as usual. He was good at studies and college activities. We had recently celebrated a friend’s birthday. Nothing seemed off about him or anyone else in their family,” said Sujal Chaundaj, neighbour and Aditya’s classmate.

Sudhakar Gaikwad, who owns a grocery store in the neighbourhood, said: “The day before the incident came to light, Dr Manik’s son came to the shop and took a jar of yoghurt saying his father would pay me later. In the evening, his elder sister came and paid the money saying there were no unpaid dues now.

According to Ajay Sindkar, Police Inspector, the Vanmore brothers and other family members had borrowed money on interest from moneylenders. “Although they were paying the interest regularly, the lenders and other accused were repeatedly and publicly harassing them, mentally and physically. The victims ended their lives after the harassment became unbearable,” Sindkar said.

“We have sent out teams to Sangli, Kolhapur, Solapur and Karnataka to trace and arrest 12 moree accused,” he said.

All the arrested so far are Mhaisal residents: Nandkumar Pawar (52), Rajendra Banne (50), Anil Banne (35), Khanderao Shinde (37), Dr Tatyasaheb Chougule (50), Shailesh Dhumal (56), Prakash Pawar (45), Sanjay Bagadi (51), Anil Borade (48), Pandurang Ghorpade (56), Shivaji Kore (65), Rekha Chougule (45), Vijay Sutar (55), Ganesh Bamne (45) and Shubhadra Kamble (46).

The police have also invoked the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Maharashtra Money Lending Regulation Act against the accused.But all that is of little consolation for Poonam Chaundaj, the next-door neighbour of Manik and his family. “They loved their cats. Since the deaths, we have tried to give them food but they are not eating.”