THIRUVANANTHAPURA (TIP): A promising 17-year-old rowing athlete, training with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Alappuzha, died early on May 7, hours after she consumed poisonous fruit following harassment by seniors at her hostel.
The rower – identified as Aparna Ramabhadran from Aryad in Alappuzha district – had, along with three other rowers in the centre, entered into an apparent suicide pact on Wednesday. Aparna had participated in the 35th Junior National Rowing Championship in Lucknow in 2014.
Three other rowers, all aged 17, are in hospital with the condition of one reported as critical. Unconfirmed reports said one of the three girls was a National Games gold-winning rowing athlete.
Amid a flurry of investigations and announcements of monetary relief, the relatives of the rowers have raised the pitch of their protest claiming that the girls were victims of relentless “physical and mental” harassment by trainers and seniors in the sports centre. The girls had consumed “othalanga” (Cerbera odollam), a locally found poisonous fruit, at about 3 pm on Wednesday and were found unconscious in a hostel room at 7 pm.
They were taken to the Alappuzha Medical College Hospital. A suicide note was recovered from the hostel. Alappuzha North Police have registered a case of unnatural death.
Ernakulam Range IG M R Ajithkumar said a Crime Branch DySP will head the investigation into the incident. The police said the girls – all rowing athletes undergoing training in the SAI water sport centre at Punnamada – were traumatised after their hostel warden and senior inmates, who “found out” that they had consumed beer, confronted them.
“According to statements given by the girls late on Wednesday, their action was the result of mental trauma over the incident. But at the moment, the investigation is not directed at any individual,” M K Ramesan, sub-inspector, Alappuzha North, told Deccan Herald.
In the suicide note, the girls are learnt to have named the seniors who harassed them over a “minor mistake”. One of Aparna’s relatives said the girls were repeatedly harassed and were also forced to wash seniors’ clothes.
In New Delhi, Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal promised the ‘strictest possible action’ if any official from SAI is found guilty of aiding or abetting the attempted suicide by four female trainees at the SAI Centre in Alappuzha, leading to the death of one of the girls.
“The young girl who has died was a very promising sportsperson. It is a big loss to the country in general and Sports Authority of India and sports fraternity in particular. I convey my condolences to the bereaved family. We will give all possible help to the bereaved family,” Sonowal said in a statement. “While the law will take its own course, at this stage I would only like to say that if anyone from Sports Authority of India is found guilty in connection with this tragic incident, strictest possible action will be taken against him or her.” SAI Director General Injeti Srinivas, who was intimated about the incident on Wednesday night, and has left for Kerala, called it shocking. “I will first look into the medical treatment of the three girls in the ICU, meet with the parents and convey the highest assurances to them of doing justice in every manner and extending all possible support,” he said.