By Spiegel

Ramachandran arrived six years ago. Leaving his parents and two siblings in Tamil Nadu, he found in Singapore a new life, steady employment, and a shot at lifting his family into a better existence.

He earned his keep as a fitter at Jurong Shipyard, where his amiability and conscientiousness on the job earned him a promotion to supervisor after four years.

A stickler for workplace safety, the stocky and mustachioed Ramachandran won many friends amid a mix of Indian and Bangladeshi co-workers, who shared their lives in close quarters at the docks and dorms. He put in solid shifts at work, and enjoyed the odd drink and smoke, but never in excess.

“Everybody liked him. He’s a good guy,” Titu, a Bangladeshi colleague, said.

To feed two families back in India – his widowed elder sister’s and his own – Ramachandran, who was single, remitted nearly half of his S$700 monthly wage. His younger brother, however, couldn’t find similar purpose, languishing in unemployment in his mid-twenties, and leaving Ramachandran to shoulder breadwinning duties alone.

Two years ago, Ramachandran fetched his brother over to Singapore, hoping to land him a similar job at the shipyard. But his brother never settled; within weeks he had slipped home where he remained jobless.

Ramachandran’s efforts cost dearly. Agent fees and travel costs for Indian migrants coming here run easily into several thousands of dollars, and he could only fund them with debt. Twice more Ramachandran would bring his deadbeat brother over here to find work, but each time his efforts went to waste.

His fraternal hopes dashed. His debts piled up.

Ramachandran was slipping fast into an abyss, financing previous obligations by borrowing from colleagues and hometown acquaintances. From about six or seven co-workers here, he had taken about S$6,000, while his hometown debt ran as high as 400,000 rupees (about S$10,000). The interest alone overwhelmed his measly means.

His friends were willing creditors, but Ramachandran’s spiraling arrears would eventually wear at the patience of some, who began offering reminders of what they were owed, however gently.

The burden was palpable. In the last few months, co-workers noticed that Ramachandran became withdrawn, keeping to himself most of the time, and even stopped shaving. Workplace rumours spread also of Ramachandran facing relationship troubles back at home, though he himself never really shared much, becoming more and more uncommunicative.

On November 11, Ramachandran failed to show up for work.

It was a rare miss for him, not making the 6 a.m. start to the workday when his colleagues set off from their Boon Lay dormitory. But the manager saw no reason to doubt Ramachandran, a dutiful long-time subordinate, when he called to say he was tired and needed more rest.

Some time after the conversation, Ramachandran took his own life.

Co-workers found him later that evening hanging from a rope secured to a ceiling hook, his mouth stuffed with a towel. He was 28.

Word soon spread of Ramachandran’s death. Disbelieving superiors and colleagues hurriedly gathered at the dormitory, succumbing to shock and tears.

A note was found near his body, placed beneath his mobile phone. In it he wrote of the weary weight of debt and family, and exclaimed of a better fate in death.

The debts he owed went unhonoured. But his creditors, including a fellow supervisor who lost S$3,500, didn’t begrudge their dead friend.

Ramachandran had already paid the ultimate price.