Less than a week since budding Indian shooter Khush Seerat Kaur passed away, another Indian shooter died by suicide on Wednesday in Kolkata. Konica Layak (26), originally a resident of Dhanbad city of Jharkhand, was staying in a hostel in the Bally locality of Kolkata.
According to reports, Konica hanged herself in the hostel. Police are still investigating her death and what may have caused it.
Konica has won four gold and silver medals at the state level. She made headlines when, despite having been selected to the national team, she could not participate in a national tournament due to the lack of a rifle, which she could not afford to purchase.
Actor and philanthropist Sonu Sood, on March 10, tweeted that he would gift a rifle to Konica. On March 24, he sent her a German rifle worth Rs 2.70 lakh. Sood also spoke to her on a video call, in which he said that she should now practice diligently.
Konica has been training at the Joydeep Karmakar Shooting Academy, under the eponymous shooter. The 2012 London Olympian told The Bridge that the manner in which Konica passed away is still not known to him, but that unfounded accounts are doing the rounds, even though police are yet to pinpoint a cause.
It is learned that Konica had gone to attend a wedding of one of her hostel mates in Chittaranjan on December 13 and returned to her hostel on December 14.
Karmakar says she was very friendly in nature and doing quite well. "She even volunteered during the Viswakarma Puja celebrations in the academy," he says. Konica, he adds, had missed training for a week to attend the wedding – something Karmakar learned of yesterday, he says.
After Konica's story made news, Karmakar contacted her, asking her to train under him. He had also waived off the admission charges for her in his academy.
In August this year, in a tournament held in Ahmedabad, Kanika was found guilty of tampering with the shooting target and disqualified from the tournament. "After coming back from the tournament she told me about the incident, and I knew she was clearly not at fault. Kanika further told me that she was coerced to sign a paper admitting her mistake. Such an allegation of cheating would be huge, which could have taken a toll on her. We never knew what transpired from it," says Karmakar.
Fourth death in as many months
Konica is the fourth shooter to have died by suicide in the last four months. A few days ago, 17-year-old shooter Khush Seerat Kaur from Punjab shot herself to death with her licensed pistol. Khush Seerat had participated in the Junior World Championships for India in October. Before her, Hunardeep Singh Sohal of Punjab and Namanveer Singh Brar of Mohali also died by suicide.
"We will definitely have to identify if it's the conditioning in sports or particularly shooting that has led to four suicides in the last four months," says Karmakar.
When asked about whether financial constraints and unavailability of equipment are taking a toll on athletes, Karmakar cites his own experience. "If you compare the advantages the shooters have right now, it is ten-fold compared to those days when we used to participate. It was very difficult to import guns in our days with all the taxes added to it. But today, national-level shooters can import guns free of taxes and there have been a plethora of support mechanisms that have been formed to help athletes with financial constraints. So it would be wrong to say that shooters are left with no other choice," he adds.
If you know someone at risk of suicide, we request you to reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of numbers you can call to speak in confidence.