Accident victim was sole earner in family

INDIAN accident victim Sakthivel Kumaravelu, whose death sparked Sunday's riot, was the sole breadwinner in his family. Three years ago, he had travelled abroad for the first time in his life, arriving in Singapore to earn a living to support his family back home.

Yesterday, the 33-year-old's death and the riot were reported in several main newspapers in India, including The Hindu and Times of India, but there was no commentary on the incident.

Mr Sakthivel is survived by his mother Rajalakshmi, 53, and younger brother Ramesh, 25.

In his village of Chattiram, 400km from Chennai, Mr Sakthivel's death was met with shock and disbelief. Friends and neighbours wonder how the family, poor and without any other source of income, will cope.

Five years ago, his father died from an illness. Three years ago, his younger brother Ramesh, who was working as a driver, was involved in an accident that left him with a brain injury and unable to work.

Then three months ago, his sister Maheshwari, 22, for whose marriage the family sold off a small piece of land, died under mysterious circumstances in her in-laws' house in Kerala state. The case is still under investigation.

It was at the sister's funeral three months ago that his mother and younger brother last saw him.

"Sakthivel's mother is in bad shape. She is crying. Both she and the younger brother are refusing to eat. We are all very worried," said Mr Bala Sundaram, 22, a next-door neighbour. "She keeps saying she wants to see her son."

The main source of income in Chattiram, a village of 50 families, is from growing rice. But times have been tough with rains being scarce, and many are forced to work as daily-wage labourers.

Mr Sakthivel was the only person from the village working abroad, though many in nearby villages have gone overseas to work.

Families in his village believe that some of the workers arrested after Sunday's riot were from nearby villages and districts. Villagers have banded together to help Mr Sakthivel's family.

Mr Sundaram and two friends have travelled over 400km by road to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state, to take Mr Sakthivel's body, which was flown out of Singapore yesterday.

"It is not like the city where neighbours don't know each other. We have all grown up together. If we don't help the family, who else will?" Mr Sundaram said by phone while on the way to the airport in Chennai.

Friends remember Mr Sakthivel, who did a course as a mechanic after finishing school, as a serious man who did not talk much.

"He was very quiet. He would speak only when you asked him a question," said Mr Kaliyappan Karthick, 28, a neighbour who broke the news of Mr Sakthivel's death to his mother.

On Monday, a rumour had started circulating from nearby villages that a man from Tamil Nadu had died in Singapore.

The same day, Mr Karthick got a call from an acquaintance in Singapore that the dead man could be Mr Sakthivel.

He and his friends drove 2km to the nearest computer centre in a larger village to check out the reports.

"We did a search and went to The Straits Times website to read the reports and then saw the photograph," he said.

"From a report on the site, we got the name of the company and then called them up. They confirmed it. That's when we were convinced Brother was dead."

The family is now left with a cow, a house, some land - and an uncertain future.

"God knows what they will do now," said Mr Sundaram, who had been planning to go abroad but has dropped the idea.

"This has happened in a next-door house. I don't want to go abroad. I am going to look for a job in Chennai."

gnirmala@sph.com.sg