Mumbai-based architect Jenis Makwana found something odd while poring over his late brother Abhishek’s emails. The younger Makwana had accumulated around Rs 1.8 lakh ($2,400) in loan debt. But that wasn’t the odd part.

At the last count, says Makwana, his brother had 72 different instant loan apps on his smartphone, most of which had lent him bite-sized loans between Rs 3,000 ($40.8) and Rs 10,000 ($136.2). These included apps such as SuperRupee, CoolRupee, KreditBear, SweetCash, Cashtime, and Cashvibe.

The lockdown had made things perilous for Abhishek Makwana, a writer who freelanced for a popular Hindi sitcom. And these small loans with their short repayment cycles—between seven and 15 days—kept popping up on his radar. They required no documentation; money would be instantly deposited in his bank account.

The flipsides, however, were the high interest rates ranging from 800% to 1,000% on an annual basis and the pack of collection agents that hounded him if the repayments were even a day late. Abhishek Makwana died of suicide in December 2020, but ironically, he had repaid most of his loans.

“No one is going to commit suicide for dues of Rs 1 lakh ($1,360). It was the constant debt cycle and the harassment of collection agents that killed him,” Makwana tells The Ken over the phone. “Even after his death the collection agents harassed me, my family and my brother’s friends,” he says.

Abhishek Makwana’s death is among the many suicides reported over the last few months, driven by these loan apps and their collection methods. Police have been making arrests arrests The News Minute Hyderabad police crack whip on digital lending apps, arrest six Read more in major Indian cities such as Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, and Pune so far in connection with these cases.

What is common among them, though, is that these apps were allegedly run illegally by Chinese nationals, who have made considerable inroads into India’s lending sector.

Srikanth Lakshmanan, a researcher with Cashless Consumer Cashless Consumer Cashless Consumer A consumer collective working on digital payments to represent consumers in policy of digital payments ecosystem , analysed 1,000 instant loan apps in November 2020. Around 80% have Chinese links. “All of them use cloud services from Alibaba or Baidu. Many of them also have links to Chinese white label white label White label An app produced by one company that other companies simply rebrand to make it appear as if its theirs companies that provide fintech as a service. We could see that most apps were generated by some of these white labels.

AUTHOR

Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 10 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

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