news Sunday, May 10, 2015 - 05:30
  It was 17-year-old Sabitha Santosh who was sent to pluck the fruit of the “Othalanga” that grew in hostel campus of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Alappuzha, Kerala.   The Othalanga tree is not called the “suicide tree” for nothing. Its deadly fruit is used even in pesticide and Sabitha had plucked enough for herself and her three friends who had entered into a suicide pact.   Teresa Jacob, Sabitha Santosh, Shilpa KR, Aparna Ramabhadran – all the 17-year-old junior rowers consumed the fruit on the night of May 6. Aparna succumbed the next day, but the other three are recovering at the Alappuzha Medical College hospital.   Since the incident first came to light, media reports quoted SAI “sources” who said that the girls attempted suicide as Paulose P Thomas, who is the girls’ hostel warden, coach and a former Olympian, had pulled them up for partying in the hostel and had threatened to inform their parents.   However, all four girls have denied this, according to their parents. All of them including Aparna (the day before she died), told their parents that they were subjected to ragging by their seniors which they found “unbearable”. The girls’ parents allege that their daughters are now being made expendable pawns in the power plays of officials of the sports hostel.   “This is SAI’s politics playing out. Everyone has turned against Paulose, their trainer. The Rowing association is behind this allegation against the trainer as they have issues with him.  My daughter told me that harassment from the senior girls was the only reason for taking this extreme step. The mental and physical harassment was unbearable for them. These seniors were six or seven years older than them,” says Reji K S, Shilpa’s father and a SAI alumni.   Teresa Jacob had won gold in the 500m kayak event at the National Games in February this year. Her mother Elikutty brought up Teresa almost single-handedly after her husband’s death.   “She would never trouble me as she knew it was tough being a single parent. Now, lying on the hospital bed she told me her seniors harassed her. The harassment was so bad that they decided to die together. I can’t talk any more, I don’t think I can,” Elikutty wept, sitting outside the ICU of the hospital.     Aparna Ramabhadran’s mother Geetha said that hours before her death, her daughter recounted the “unbearable” harassment from the "chechis" or sisters in the hostel.   “In spite of everything she still called them chechi. She told me that the seniors defamed them, spread stories that she used to hide a boyfriend in the room. My daughter wailed and said that was all false. She told me how they would abuse her and make her wash their clothes.”   Aparna Ramabhadran Shilpa’s mother Beena, also a former student of SAI, accused the police of inaction. “I know that my daughter wouldn’t take this extreme step for a silly reason. Though all the girls say that these seniors are behind it, police is not ready to take action.  When my daughter gave a statement to the magistrate and police I was nearby… she told them everything. She explained the mental torture by her seniors and verbal abuse she suffered.”   Ambalappuzha Judicial First Class Magistrate recorded the statements of the four girls, including Aparna's, at the Alappuzha Medical College on Wednesday.   Superintendent of Police, KK Balachandran maintains that according to preliminary investigation, the girls were reprimanded for consuming beer, causing them to panic. “A few seniors had taunted them for a mistake they committed. It is usual that if children do something wrong, parents, teachers and others older to them will take them to task”, he said.    When asked why no cases have been registered against seniors who the girls allege were behind the harassment, Balachandran said that they still had no names, and none of the victims had named anyone.   The parents also say that there were older issues too, that were being played out now. Reji claims that during the recently concluded National Games, there were a lot of irregularities in rowers’ selection and which he had spoken about in a press conference. “As a result, Shilpa was removed from a camp. Since it is senior girls (who ragged our daughters), they have good connections with the association and I am sure that the association is protecting them,” Reji alleges.   Beena feels that they were also being victimized because they were poor: “It was not just ragging; it was harassment. We are poor and so no one cares about us. When I met my daughter in the ICU, she held my hands and asked my forgiveness. She told me ‘Amma I was not able to bear it’.”   Hours before she died, SAI athlete Aparna bared her heart to her mother
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