Sunandini and Sharddha with Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan in January this year.
Ranchi: It has been 42 days since the bodies of two tribal hockey players —one hails from Jharkhand and other from Odisha –were found hanging from a tree in Simdega district of Jharkhand. The scene and the immediate story surrounding the incident is a replica of what was depicted in the recent, much talked about film, Article 15, which depicts the plight of the downtrodden in India. It is also similar to the reaction of the authorities shown in the film, in this case, too, it is being considered an open and shut case by the police with the theory being floated that the girls were in a homosexual relationship and hence committed suicide due to social fear.
The two promising hockey players—Sharddha Soreng and Sunandini Bage, who had participated at a competition held in the national capital Delhi this January and had even got the opportunity to meet Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan due to their sporting skills, were found hanging from a tree just eight months later, on August 11.
Sharddha,14, was a resident of Bansjore village in Simdega district of Jharkhand, while 23-year-old Sunandini was from Lachhada village of Sundergarh district of Odisha. The bodies were found hanging at Arani village in Simdega, 30 kilometers away from Sharddha’s house.
When the incident had taken place, most media outlets, from Jharkhand to Odisha, had reported it, but none followed up the story. After a week of the incident, a fact-finding team from Ranchi, which was watching the developments closely, traveled to the two states between August 17 to 22 to find out the ground reality.
A social activist told the team that “when she went to the school, we were told that she was a brilliant student and good hockey player. No complaint of being addicted to anything. School authorities even said that whatever medals and trophies school has, most were won by Sharddha. She had fainted because of lack of blood in her body, which is a common problem among girls. And her neighbours told me that Sharddha had jumped into a well to save a mentally retarded child. She was a good swimmer too.”
Taramani Sahu, a social activist, who led the fact-finding team told eNewsroom: As we were only getting news reports about the incident, we first met Investigative Officer (IO) of the case. To our surprise, the first thing he said was that it was a suicide case. When we asked how he was so sure, he replied that a girl who used to stay with Sunandini, Pushpa Lohar, said that as they were in a homosexual relationship, they committed suicide.”
Besides being from the tribal community, both the players had one other thing in common – their amateur coach was Merry Poorty, a native of Odisha. Poorty’s house was in the village adjacent to Sunandini's. The 23-year-old hockey player has been staying at Poorty’s house since two years.
Watch what the women who brought down the bodies of the two girls have to say:
Sharddha and Sunandini knew each other after the hockey tournament in Delhi, where they had played for the same team. Soon after the tournament, Poorty approached Sharddha’s family, offering to coach her and also admit her in a school in Odisha. But even after living for months with Poorty, Sharddha was not admitted to any school.
Sunandini used to stay with Puspha Lohar, a class 10 student, and learn hockey skills under Poorty. Lohar now claims that the deceased girls were in a homosexual relationship and hence committed suicide. And in quite a filmy manner, this former roommate of Sunandini, is now a witness for the police.
“When we further questioned the police officer, that the post-mortem report had not yet come and he should wait for it before considering it a case of suicide, he said that the report will be the same,” said Taramani.
The fact-finding team said it found "many irregularities" in Poorty's and police’s theory. Sharddha’s actual age, according to her school documents, is 14 years, but her autopsy report says it is 18. Sharddha has also been accused of being an addict and had once fainted in school. And that she had tried to commit suicide earlier by jumping into a well.
“But when we went to her school, we were told that she was a brilliant student and good hockey player. No complaint of being addictive to anything. School authorities even said that whatever medals and trophies school has, most were won by Sharddha. She had fainted because of lack of blood in her body, which is a common problem among girls. And her neighbours told me that Sharddha had jumped to a well to save a mentally retarded child. She was a good swimmer too,” said the social activist.
Taramani added that the "most significant fact in the incident was that Sonam Poorty, daughter of the coach, had taken Sunandini’s luggage to her parents’ house on August 10 itself, a day before the bodies were recovered, and told her parents that she would not return. But, the police did not investigate all these major points at all.”.
Poorty’s family also claimed that Sunandini had left their house at 4 a.m in the morning on August 10, without telling anyone, but the family did not report to the police that she was missing.
The fact-finding team members also mentioned that as now homosexuality was not a crime in India, so suicide allegations by the young girls because of this, should be properly investigated. Recently, the team released their report.
The day after the bodies were found hanging from the tree, Sharddha’s father, Rajesh Soreng, lodged an FIR against unknown people, that his daughter has been murdered. But police has yet to act on it. Now, a public petition by Bansjore villagers has been sent to Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Raghubar Da,s and Director General of Police, Jharkhand.
“On August 12, when I had lodged FIR, it was against unknown people. But now I am sure that my daughter and Sunandini have been murdered by Poorty and people of her group. The Arani villagers had also seen a vehicle approaching the two girls, when they were last seen near the incident spot, So, there is a lot police has to answer,” alleged Rajesh.
While speaking to eNewsroom, Poorty claimed, “Both parents of the girls were aware about their relationships, but they did not stop them.” She mentioned the same points to push her case, “Sharddha had fainted in her school and even hospitalised. I was not aware about anything what was going on between them.” On her daughter handing over Sunandini’s luggage a day ahead of the bodies being found hanging, the coach said, “Sonam was very close to Sunandini and when she left home without telling her, she got angry and did so.”
However, when contacted, the Superintendent of Police, Simdega Sanjeev Kumar, told eNewsroom, “So we have not found anything fishy in the case. But as it is still open, we welcome any new information about the case.”