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Family members sit quietly as Rajiv Tomar (47) tosses and turns on a cot, struggling to keep his eyes open and speak clearly due to the poison he consumed last week.

On February 8, Tomar attempted suicide on Live, blaming the government for the collapse of his business. His wife, Poonam (41), also consumed poison shortly afterwards and died during treatment at a hospital.

Tomar had been struggling with mounting debts from his shoe business for the past two years, which suffered losses due to the Covid lockdown. Recent data shows that suicides among the unemployed reached the highest number (3,548) in 2020.

Tomar and Poonam had been married for nearly 15 years. Tomar started his wholesale shoes business in 2012, followed by a retail shop. The business was stable initially, but then demonetization and the GST took a toll, and Tomar never recovered.

The family says that as the business slowed down, the added taxation further reduced the profits. The lockdown was the final blow, forcing Tomar to shut down with a large amount of debt.

Baghpat, where Tomar lives, is mainly an agrarian district with a majority of sugarcane farmers. The suicide attempt by Tomar caused shock among the small trader community in the region. “At the end of the day, an outsider can’t know what a family is going through, especially during these hard times. Covid is something that we never foresaw. Several people end up borrowing, which is a dangerous trap,” says Adesh Tiwari, a grocery shop owner in the area.

After his businesses failed, Tomar started a shoe business in Poonam’s name, but it also did not take off. Poonam started stitching and tailoring work from home to make ends meet.

In a two-minute Facebook Live video he recorded as he consumed poison, Tomar said, “I will pay the debts I have. Even if I die, I will pay. But I request everyone to please share the video. I am not a traitor, I think about the nation. If Modi ji had any shame, things would change. There has been no benefit to farmers and small traders.”

As Tomar recovers, with the knowledge that Poonam is dead, the family has little hope about what comes next. His sister Rakhi says, “Many such incidents must have happened. We just don’t know of them. In Covid, the rich got richer. The middle class cannot keep digging their own graves. There is something wrong with the system and the government should make policies to ensure people don’t take extreme steps.”

At a “Vyapari Mahakumbh” held in December, SP chief addressed the distress, saying while demonetization and GST had left “a lasting impact on the overall economy”, “The government’s approach towards trade and the trader community during the lockdown came as a final blow.”

At a recent campaign rally, Congress leader Vadra said the government had sold PSUs “to its friends”, while making the small- and medium-scale businesses and manufacturing units “weaker by demonetization”.

The irony, the family says, is that Tomar was a life-long supporter of the BJP. His Facebook profile has a photo of him with BJP leaders, including Baghpat MP Satya Pal Singh, as well as photos of party hoardings featuring him. Neighbors said he would attend party events and rallies.

Of his backing for the BJP, Tomar told : “I met one person and they introduced me to another. Through social media, my network grew. Soon I became known to several people in the party. I supported it in an ideological sense.”

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