In story of Saradha's crores, Bengal's forgotten hundreds

SundayMala Mandal, one of the thousands of investors agitating across the state against the Saradha Group, seeking their money back. She fell sick and had to receive medical attention

West Bengal is not new to chit fund scams. What is unique to the Saradha Group scandal is how it targeted the poorest and the most marginalised, leaving them on the verge of devastation. From 17-year-old agents who raised money from depositors to 50-year-old widows who invested money, the Saradha Group didn't discriminate in roping them in. Since the house of cards started collapsing, two agents and two investors have committed suicide, while two investors have tried to kill themselves.

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Kazi Saifuddin is to appear for his Class XI final examinations soon. But the 17-year-old student of a private school in Howrah has had little time to study as he has been running around all week as part of protest demonstrations against Saradha.

He is among the hundreds of agents who worked for the company raising money from thousands of small depositors. On April 20, he joined 5,000 others in a demonstration outside the Trinamool Congress headquarters in Tiljala, seeking relief and return of the money he had collected from the depositors.

With him were small traders, farmers, housewives, those belonging to lower middle class families and other minors—all of whom comprise the largest chunk of Saradha Group's victims.

The investor profile of this financial disaster differs significantly from a similar chit fund scam and collapse of the early '80s in West Bengal, involving Sanchayita Investments. While Saradha's deposit base is largely the interiors of Bengal, Sanchayita's was largely the urban middle class, including salaried people, government officials as well as many others who were reasonably well off.

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The selection of agents, a crucial link in the chain, was done very carefully by Saradha. Those picked were generally ones who wielded influence in their locality and in whom people had confidence.

Saifuddin was 15 when he was brought into the company by his father Kazi Rizaul Karim, a Saradha agent who had been working for the company for the past three years. Karim encouraged his son, saying Saradha paid "handsome commission and lucrative gifts".

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