The condition of the three hospitalised athletes continue to be critical, with two of them on pacemakers, after an apparent suicide bid at a government-run facility in Kerala which killed another athlete, doctors said on Friday.
Doctors at the Alappuzha medical college hospital started a video conference with top doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Science in Delhi to discuss further steps required to save the three athletes.
The state government has considered the air-lifting of the athletes to Delhi to get best medical assistance but doctors warned that it would not be appropriate at this juncture. The state government has offered to bear the treatment expenses, has said that if needed, the government might ask the union health ministry to send an expert team from Delhi.
Sports Authority of India director general I Sreeniwas, who is camping in Alappuzha (150 kms north of Thiruvananthapuram), said the first priority was to save the lives of three girls. State Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala visited the parents and promised all necessary help.
One of the hospitalised girls was a member of the state team which won a gold medal in the National Games which concluded in February.
With the preliminary investigation hinting at ragging as the trigger for the suicide bid at the hostel of the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) water-training centre in Alappuzha, the Union sports ministry has already 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."I am deeply aggrieved by the incident in Kerala… If anyone from SAI is found guilty, strictest possible action will be taken," sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal told reporters in Delhi.
Talking to Hindustan Times, K Brawen, a relative of the deceased girl, said the girls had undergone severe harassment at the centre and parents' repeated pleas fell on deaf ears.
“We have complained about the ill-treatment meted out to athletes by seniors. But nobody listened. Those who complained got punished in return,” he said.
Hailing from a poor family the deceased girl’s father is a part-time cook in a houseboat.
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 -- consumed 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 out of proportion by the seniors, police said.
Aparna's family 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.
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 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.
“Sportsmen need to be empowered. Whoever is responsible should be punished,” said Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, minister of state for ministry of information and broadcasting.
Billiards and snooker player Pankaj Advani said, “In India main focus is not on athlete, we need to streamline things.”
He added that the focus should be on the athlete in our sports policy.
The state human rights commission also took suo motu registered a case.
(With agency inputs)