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Akansha Sabharwal: An athlete battling for life due to alleged domestic abuse

Once a promising fencer and sprinter, Akansha’s life has now turned into a quest for survival.

Akansha Sabharwal: An athlete battling for life due to alleged domestic abuse
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As a student, Akansha turned out for Jammu University in épée, a fencing discipline. Her life has now taken a dramatic turn. (Photo credit: @fence_123 and @liftsbyrahul)

By

Rahul Kargal

Updated: 10 July 2024 4:33 AM GMT

In early 2019, Akansha Sabharwal stood atop a podium. With multiple sprint medals wrapped around her neck, the then student at the University of Jammu was beaming with joy. She also represented the university in épée, a fencing discipline, medaling again.

A gifted and versatile athlete, she practiced yoga and participated in multiple National Cadet Corps (NCC) initiatives.

“Enjoy your life as u r taking in ur last breath of survival,” she had said in a 2018 Instagram post.

Cut to 2024 and Akansha now lies on a hospital bed, gasping for breath and battling for her life.

A marriage gone sour

“In May this year, I was in Mumbai when I got a call from my father,” said Rahul Sabharwal, Akansha’s elder brother.

To his utter disbelief, he was told that his beloved sister had ‘done something to herself’ and was hospitalized.

Recalling those torrid moments in a conversation with The Bridge, Rahul shared how trouble began to brew from the moment his younger sister got married.

“She got married in November 2020. She was 24 at the time. Right away, her in-laws began troubling her. Demanding gold for her husband and his sisters on every occasion,” he alleged.

Dowry-demands aside, Akansha was also supposedly subject to harassment, ridicule and abuse at the hands of her in-laws.

“In August 2022, the mother-in-law struck Akansha resulting in loss of speech due to shock,” Rahul recalled.

It took multiple visits to a psychiatrist, all facilitated by his parents, for Akansha to regain her speech.

With no maid in the house, Akansha was treated as one, tasked with cleaning her in-laws’ palatial two-floor house and cooking for the family. And this would continue even when she got pregnant.

Left to right: Akansha, third from left, pictured with her university fencing team. In 2019, Akansha, third from left, won 100m and 4x100m medals at an inter-university meet. A prolific athlete, she is pictured (second from left) holding aloft a trophy. (Photo credit: @fence_123 | Sourced via @liftsbyrahul)

Little respite

Despite possessing a master’s degree in physical education, Akansha wasn’t supposedly allowed to take up a job at the outset.

“She never had any money with her, even to take an auto and come to visit her parents,” Rahul said.

More misfortune would come in the form of a road accident that Akansha was involved in which resulted in a ligament-tear injury to her shoulder. With none of her in-laws, including her two sisters-in-laws, willing to attend to her, the Sabharwals rushed to offer aid and nurture their daughter back to good health.

While most women would have walked away from an abusive marriage of this nature, Akansha persisted, hopeful that things would get better.

“She stayed for her daughter’s sake,” Rahul said, referring to Prisha, his niece, now a little over two-years of age.

Matters, however, only took a turn for the worse.

Suspected foul play

On the 23rd of May this year, when Akansha’s family rushed to the hospital, they were shell-shocked to find her in an unresponsive state.

“She hung herself,” claimed her husband, much to her parent’s disbelief.

That their daughter, a former athlete, could take the extreme step, just did not seem realistic.

A couple of days later, they began smelling a rat when doctors treating Akansha said that the hyoid bone inside the vocal cord was uninjured, suggesting that a hanging incident may not have occurred.

“The ligature marks disappeared in 2-3 days. Slowly we realized that it was not a suicide attempt. They've done something to her,” claimed Rahul.

Their suspicions were further fueled when inconsistent narratives emerged from every member of the in-law’s household.

The Sabharwals wasted no time in heading to the cops.

Left to right: Akansha, pictured with her mother and brother Rahul, in happier times.

"When she came home, should would be fine but when she went back to her in-law's house, she would be stressed about what they're going to do to her," Rahul said to The Bridge.

Claims of a botched up investigation

According to Rahul, the in-laws were in touch with the police already.

“Even before we went to the police, the in-laws had already made preparations for an anticipatory bail and were in cahoots with the police.”

And despite his family insisting that this was a clear case of abetment of suicide under section 306 of the IPC, the police purportedly disregarded the claim.

Instead, the first information report (FIR) filed displays Section 309 - Attempt to commit suicide; Section 504 intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace; Section 503 - criminal intimidation and threat to cause injury and Section 498A - Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.

With an advocate in tow, the Sabharwals are now contesting the bail application of the in-laws. And after repeated pleas to the Jammu DIG, the police are now supposedly investigating the abetment angle.

The Bridge made repeated calls to Akansha’s husband, an employee at a private sector bank in Jammu, but received no answer.

A grim prognosis

Amidst the ongoing investigation and the legal battle, Akansha is waging a war of her own at the Government Medical College and Hospital in Jammu.

With fists clenched and eyes wide open, she lies in an unresponsive comatose state - a literal vegetative condition.

The prognosis, meanwhile, is that of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a type of brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen supply to the brain.

While the doctors paint a rather grim picture, the Sabharwals are optimistic.

“She was initially on the ventilator but now she’s off it. So, we are positive that she will one day wake up and talk,” said Rahul, a professional strength and conditioning trainer, who has now moved back to Jammu to support his grieving family.

Meanwhile, Prisha, Akansha’s little toddler, oblivious of the gravity of the situation, longs for her mother.

As for Akansha’s parents, a retired defense civilian father and a doting homemaker mother, all roads on a daily basis now lead to the hospital.

Their anguish, peppered with anger, is immense.

And as they buckle up for a long and arduous road ahead, they search for answers - how could a talented athlete, a ‘happy kid’, be pushed down a dark abyss with consequences that could perhaps now last a lifetime.

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