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Suicide or murder? No transparency over tribal hockey players' deaths

An incident, similar to the one depicted in the film Article 15, took place recently and the police seems to be in a hurry to shut the case.

Suicide or murder? No transparency over tribal hockey players deaths
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By

Shahnawaz Akhtar

Published: 25 Sep 2019 6:26 AM GMT

It has been 42 days since two tribal hockey players’ bodies—one hails from Jharkhand and other from Odisha – were found hanging from a tree in Simdega district of Jharkhand. The scene and the immediate story surrounding the incident is an exact replica of what was depicted in the recent, much talked about film, Article 15, which showcased the plight of the downtrodden in India. And similar to what the reaction of the authorities was shown in the film, in this case, too, it is being considered as an open and shut case by the police with the theory being that the girls were in a same-sex relationship and hence committed suicide due to social fear.

The two promising hockey players—Sharddha Soreng and Sunandini Bage, who had participated at a competition held in national capital Delhi this January and had even got the opportunity to meet the Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan due to their sporting skills, were found hanging from a tree just eight months later on August 11.

14-year-old Sharddha was a resident of Bansjore village in Simdega district of Jharkhand, while 23-year-old Sunandini was from Lachhada village of Sundergarh district of Odisha. The bodies of the girls were found hanging at Arani village, in Simdega, 30 kilometres away from Sharddha’s house.

When the incident had taken place, most media outlets, from Jharkhand to Odisha had reported it, but none followed up the story. After a week of the incident, a fact-finding team from Ranchi, which was watching its developments closely, travelled the two states- between August 17 to 22 to know the ground reality.

“But when we went to the school, we were told that she was a brilliant student and a good hockey player. There was no complaint about her being an addict. School authorities even said that whatever medals and trophies school has, most were won by Sharddha. She had fainted because of the lack of blood in her body, which is a common problem among girls. And her neighbours told me that Sharddha had jumped to a well to save a mentally challenged child. She was a good swimmer, too,” said the social activist.

“As we were only getting news reports about the incident, so we first met Investigative Officer (IO) of the case. To our surprise, first thing he said that it was a suicide case. When we asked how he is so sure, he replied that a girl who used to stay with Sunandini, Pushpa Lohar said this that as they were in same-sex relationship so they committed suicide,” Taramani Sahu, a social activist who led the fact-finding team told eNewsroom.

Besides being from the tribal community, both the players had one other thing in common – their amateur coach Merry Poorty, a native of Odisha. Poorty’s house was in the adjacent village of Sunandini. The 23-year-old hockey player was staying at Poorty’s house for two years.

Watch what the women who brought down the bodies of the two girls have to say:

https://youtu.be/8W5N0PlCHzk

Sharddha and Sunandini knew each other after the hockey tournament in Delhi, where they had played for the same team. Soon after the tournament, Poorty approached Sharddha’s family that she will coach her and also admit her at a school in Odisha. But even after living to months with Poorty, Sharddha was not admitted to any school.

Sunandini used to stay with Puspha Lohar, a class-ten student and learnt hockey skills under the coaching of Poorty. Lohar now claims that the deceased girls were in a homosexual relationship and hence committed suicide. And in quite a filmy manner, this former roommate of Sunandini is now a witness for the police.

“When we further questioned the police officer, that the post-mortem report has not yet come and he should wait for it, before considering it is a case of suicide, he answered, that the report will be the same,” said Taramani.

The fact-finding team has found so many irregularities in the Poorty and Police’s theory. Sharddha’s actual age, according to her school documents, is 14 years, but autopsy report says it is 18. Sharddha was also accused of being an addict. And that once she had fainted in her school. She had also tried to commit suicide earlier by jumping into a well near to her house.

“And the most significant fact in the incident was, Sonam Poorty, daughter of the coach had taken Sunandini’s luggage to her parents’ house on August 10 itself, a day before bodies getting recovered, and told her parents that she would not return. But, police did not investigate all these major points at all,” Taranmani added.

Poorty’s family also claimed that Sunandini had left their house 4 am in the morning on August 10, without telling anyone, but the family did not report to the police about she being missing.

The fact-finding team members also mentioned that as now homosexuality is not a crime in India, so suicide allegations by young girls because of this, should be properly investigated. Recently, the team has released their report.

The very next day after the bodies were found hanging from the tree, Sharddha’s father, Rajesh Soreng, lodged an FIR against unknown people, that his daughter has been murdered. But the police are yet to act on it. Now, a public petition by Bansjore villagers has been sent to Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das and Director General of Police, Jharkhand.

“On August 12, when I had lodged FIR, it was against unknown people. But now I am sure that my daughter and Sunandini has been murdered by Poorty and people of her group. The Arani villagers had also seen a vehicle approaching the two girls when the girls have last seen near the incident spot, So there is a lot of police has to answer,” said Rajesh.

While speaking to eNewsroom, Poorty claimed, “Both parents of the girls were aware of their relationships, but they did not stop them.” She mentioned the same points to put her case, “Sharddha had fainted in her school and even hospitalized. I was not aware of anything that was going on between them.” On her daughter handing over Sunandini’s luggage a day ahead of bodies being found, the coach defended, “Sonam was very close to Sunandini, and when she left home without telling her, she got angry and did so.”

However, when contacted Superintendent of Police, Simdega Sanjeev Kumar, he told eNewsroom, “So we have not found anything fishy in the case. But as it is still open, so we welcome any new information about the case.”

This article was originally published on enewsroom.in

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