A young athlete died and her three teenaged room-mates were battling for life in an apparent suicide pact at a government-run facility in Kerala, police said on Thursday, the latest controversy to rock the country’s sports administration.
With the preliminary investigation hinting at ragging as the trigger for the suicide bid at the hostel of the Sports Authority of India’s water-training centre in Alappuzha, the union sports ministry has ordered a probe.
The girls were found unconscious in their room on Wednesday night and taken to the hospital. Aparna Ramachandran, 15, died early Thursday, police said. One of the hospitalised girls won a gold at the recent National Games.
“I am deeply aggrieved by the incident in Kerala… If anyone from Sports Authority of India is found guilty, strictest possible action will be taken,” sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal told reporters in Delhi.
Police investigatin the SAI campus where the athletes trained. (PTI Photo)
The SAI described the incident as the “worst” in its history. In 2014, the country’s top sports body was hit by a scandal when gymnasts training for the Incheon Asian Games had accused a coach of sexual harassment.
Alappuzha Medical College authorities said the girls – undergoing training in kayaking and canoeing -- ate a poisonous fruit cerbera odollam. Its plant is often referred to as the “suicide tree” due to its toxicity.
A suicide note allegedly signed by them said their “small mistakes” were blown up by the seniors, police said.
Family members of Aparna said the girls were “under pressure”. “They were physically and mentally harassed. Aparna suffered injuries when the coach thrashed her with an oar,” a family member said.
I was very upset when I heard about this. This shouldnt happen again: Mary Kom on Alappuzha incident pic.twitter.com/gzz6WtBAGU— ANI (@ANI_news) May 7, 2015
The girls’ parents had complained about the harassment, another of Aparna’s relative, K Brawen, said. “Those who complained were punished more,” he said. Aparna came from a humble family. Her father was a part-time cook with a houseboat, he said.
Late in the evening, the medical college said in a statement that the condition of the one of the girls remained highly critical.
The hostel warden, however, said the girls were caught drinking. Coach Paulose P Thomas pulled up the trainees for partying in the hostel and had threatened to inform their parents, SAI sources said. They might have taken the “extreme step” fearing further action, hostel warden K Ragini said.
The SAI centre at Alappuzha has 62 students and offers training in rowing, kayaking and canoeing.
People protesting at the sports authority of India's office in Alapuzzha. (PTI Photo)
The issue also figured in the Lok Sabha on Thursday with members demanding a probe into the attempted suicide.
CPM-M MP MB Rajesh said the shocking incident should be an eye-opener and government should seriously look into the conditions in sports hostels including those run by SAI.
The sports fraternity also expressed shock at the incident and called for a detailed probe.
Ashwini Nachappa, a former athlete and founding member of Clean Sports India -- a movement for corruption-free sports in India -- termed the incident as extremely unfortunate and said that it should be investigated properly.
The state human rights commission also suo motu registered a case.
(With agency inputs)