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Jharkhand Police's 'Flawed' Investigation into Adivasi Hockey Players' Death Sparks Protest

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Dissatisfied with the police investigation in a case where two promising hockey players hailing from the Adivasi community were found hanging from a tree. The police have been accused of wrapping up the case by allegedly calling it a suicide case triggered by the homosexual relationship that the deceased girls allegedly shared.
A protest march in Simdega demanding justice for Sharddha and Sunandini

A protest march in Simdega demanding justice for Sharddha and Sunandini

Simdega/Ranchi: Hundreds of people hit the streets in Simdega district on Saturday, October 19, chanting slogans like 'Justice has to be served to Shradhha and Sunandini', 'Stop atrocities against women', and 'Arrest the criminals'.

The protesters gathered at Simdega to raise their voice against the lapses in police investigation in the death of two young hockey players of Adivasi origin.

The two young girls, Shradhha Shalini Soreng (14 years old) and Sunandini Bage (23 years old), were found hanging dead from a tree in Arani village of Simdega district, on August 11. The deceased girls were staying with a person called Mary Purty in Rourkela, who had promised to coach them.

Shradhha’s father Rajesh Soreng addressed the gathering. He said, “Before starting the investigation, the police claimed that it was a suicide. The police kept telling us that they met the coach and had found that Shradhha was not a ‘nice’ girl. They had come to know that both the girls were in a homosexual relationship. And hence they were convinced that it was a suicide.”

The police investigating the case had allegedly abused the family verbally several times owing to Shradhha’s “bad” behaviour. They kept telling him, “Aapki beti gandi-gandi kaam karti thi (Your daughter was involved in dirty activities),” thereby hinting at the alleged same-sex relation that the deceased girls had allegedly developed.

Taramani Sahu of NFIW speaks during  the protest:

Sunandini’s mother also shared similar observations. The parents of both the girls, however, maintained that they were not aware of any homosexual relationship that the duo allegedly shared. They also said that they were convinced that their daughters had not committed suicide, but had been murdered and that they suspected involvement of their coach.

eNewsroom had reported earlier how the incident was similar to the story of the movie Article 15. The director of the much-acclaimed movie, Anubhav Sinha, too, had also expressed deep shock over the  incident. However, the Jharkhand police did not budge from their claim of the incident being a suicide.

Mukhiya of the village where the girls were found hanging, Martin Tete, claimed that the police did not wait for any witnesses before taking the bodies down from the tree. He also said that the police did not conduct field investigation after the death. They did not even talk to the people of the village.

Several other people from Shradhha’s and Sunandini’s village accused the police of threatening the victims’ family members and trying to falsely build a case of suicide.

Taramani Sahu of National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), who was part of a civil society fact-finding team that inquired into the incident, addressed the dharna. She said, “The local police had threatened the family members and instructed them to not to talk to the civil society’s inquiry teams.” She also said, “There are several loose ends in the investigation done by the police. Just on the testimony of one girl, Pushpa Lohar (14 years old, who also stays with the coach), the police developed a story of suicide driven by a homosexual relationship. However, eyewitnesses claim that they had seen the girls being followed by a bike and a car.”

Regina Xalxo, one of members of the inquiry team, said that the coach initially refused to talk to them when they went to her place. The coach was not able to share with the team details about her coaching engagements.

James Herenj, of NREGA Watch, mentioned that Simdega police was trying to create a false story of suicide because if they declare it to be a murder, then questions will be raised on their own functioning.

At the end of the dharna, the protesters submitted a memorandum addressed to the governor and to the local administration, which demanded: 

  • Form a Special Investigation Team to conduct fresh and through probe into the death, possibility of murder and inquire the allegations against the coach
  •  Stop character assassination of the victims
  •  Take action against the police officials responsible for the lapses in investigation, for building a false case of suicide and for character assassination of the victims.

The protest was organised by NFIW with several organisations such as Adivasi Women’s Network, Bagaicha, NHRO, NREGA Watch, NAPM and United Milli Forum (organisations associated with Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha).

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