In 2012, Soumyajit Ghosh became the youngest player to qualify for the London Olympics. For the young lad from Siliguri, West Bengal, it was more about breaking the stereotypes that usually come associated with the state to burst into the forefront and grab the limelight. Not since the commendable exploits of Mouma Das had West Bengal seen such a prodigious talent in the sport. Of course, it was all worth celebrating.
The very next year in 2013, he became the youngest national champion at the age of 19. To make things even sweeter, the title came after a particularly arduous struggle against the legendary Achanta Sharath Kamal- a name that is universally agreed upon as the best India has ever produced in the field. There seemed to be no stopping this young Bengali lad as he began charting a journey on greatness.
Sure, the dreams of winning an Olympic medal seemed to be too far at the moment. After all, in a sport dominated by the Chinese, where progenies are honed from an age as early as 5, it is difficult for one player to suddenly break that kind of systematic domination. Despite all of this, Table Tennis has since emerged as a competitive sport in the country and, inarguably, Soumyajit Ghosh was the name that heralded the coming of a new generation – a generation ready to take over from the likes of Achanta Sharath Kamal.
After all, how long can the sport be about just one man.
The Commonwealth Games would have proved to be among Ghosh’s biggest tests so far had all things gone according to plan. The hype was real and the expectations were completely plausible. The Indian team had started out as one of the favourites to bag a truckload of medals in all the events due to a resounding success that the sport enjoyed the previous year. ITTF Challenges were won, top 50 ranks were achieved – Soumyajit Ghosh was at the center of it all. In fact, such was the cohesiveness of the team that was announced that Achanta Sharath Kamal went so far as to dub it “India’s best team so far.”
But the happy ending seemed to elude the paddler who, at one point of time, had been the go-to guy for helping India out of tight spots. For a man of Ghosh’s calibre, all it took was an allegation of sexual assault for him to be provisionally suspended from the team bound for Gold Coast. India, thankfully, did not skip a step as Ghosh was replaced by Sanil Shetty and the Team title was lifted nevertheless. But for this man, this integral cog in the wheel of Indian tennis- the fight seems to be over.
Rape Charge slammed on Soumyajit Ghosh ahead of #CommonwealthGames.
A teenager from Barasat filed an FIR against the #tabletennis star which puts his chances at taking part in the @GC2018 . The idea is to suspend him immediately until charges are proved to be false. pic.twitter.com/2IdMbbEqPP
— The Bridge (@TheBridge_IN) March 22, 2018
Sexual assault is a serious offence and it is one that should not be taken lightly. In this case, the Table Tennis Federation of India had been completely clear when it came to taking a stand against what could be proven as a heinous crime.
Ghosh was suspended pending further investigations and conclusions.
It might be noted here that TTFI had particularly faced heat owing to the fact that so far, the incident and the consequent accusation had just been allegations. The question which had been frequently asked was whether it was worth hampering India’s chances at an important tournament without specific proof of the athlete’s misdemeanors.
Certain groups, particularly the Men’s Rights Activists within the Indian sports fandom pointed out instances of false allegations which had culminated in ruining lives. Where was Soumyajit’s voice in all of this? While he maintained his innocence, it incensed people that he was being treated as being guilty by default.
Firstly, given the systematic harassment that the “fairer sex” (the term itself is another product of sexism, it must be added) have been subjected to over the years, the TTFI must be commended on their approach of working on the assumption that the allegations are, in fact, not mere allegations. Drawing upon a section of the UNESCO Code of Sports Ethics, it says that organisations and Federations have the responsibility,
“To ensure that safeguards are in place within the context of an overall framework of support and protection for children, young people and women, both to protect the above groups from sexual harassment and abuse and to prevent the exploitation of children, particularly those who demonstrate precocious ability.”
It further adds that it is important enough to bear an open mind and entertain the idea that illegal behaviour of this sort can come from any faction- be it an athlete, coach or a member of the support staff associated with said federation. No one person should be above the law irrespective of how talented a player he or she is and this seemed to be the politically correct and conducive approach by the Federation.
Additionally, under 11(a) of the TTFI constitution, “If a member refuses or neglects to comply with any provisions or the rules or is guilty of such conduct as the Committee/Board deems or considers likely to endanger the harmony or affect the character, stability or interest of the Federation, such a member or player may be liable to expulsion or suspension for such period as the committee may fix.”
The question, however, still remains.
What happens to Soumyajit in lieu of all this?
The allegations were by an 18-year old. Friends of the paddler recall that the couple in question had been frequently seen together at gatherings where, invariably, Soumyajit had introduced the woman in question as his fiancee. Based on these accounts, it might be safe to conclude that the two shared a meaningful relationship which was definitely on the course of turning into a long term commitment- or at least, so it appeared. After the allegations of assault came to light courtesy of a strongly worded FIR by the woman in question, Ghosh had a rather surprising story to tell.
‘For the past one year, she has been taking money from me. I’have receipts of more than Rs 1 lakh that I have paid her. I also have the documents to prove that I have borne the expenditure of medical treatment of one of her relatives at a private hospital in Kolkata,” he was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.
‘I introduced her as my fiancee publicly after I received the Arjuna award in 2016. But I got tired of her blackmailing me only for money.’
Without providing any judgements on the guilt or innocence of Soumyajit, let us consider the statements objectively. If, as he says, documented proof of his innocence indeed exists, it should be fairly easy to prove it, thus turning this brush with the law as an unfortunate saga of missed opportunities for a very talented player.
If the converse, however, is found to be true and Ghosh is indeed convicted of the charges of assault, forced miscarriage and emotional abuse as have been named in the FIR, this horrific incident would once again point to why it is important to never put a human being on a pedestal.
From Stanley Kubrick to Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood and David Bowie in pop-culture, the garb of a “Hero” has been opaque enough to cover horrific instances of abuse of power and that is not something that needs to be encouraged in the already murky waters of Indian sport.
Through all this, however, there is just one tiny twinge of regret.
The man who would have carried Indian Table Tennis, the man who was already riding on the success of becoming the third Indian to win an ITTF Event in 2017, the man who his compatriot Sathiyan Gnanasekaran once referred to as his inspiration to better his own game- his legacy would be brought to a halt.
There would be no more hero-worship, no reason to celebrate his talents in the game. The chapter of Soumyajit Ghosh in Indian Table Tennis would reach a premature end.