Sunday 07 March 2021

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Sports | Games

Coach blackmailed Pratima ?


The mystery behind suicide of Pratima Gaonkar, the 18-year old sprinter who won silver for India at the ninth Asian Junior Athletic Championship in Brunei, is slowly getting unfolded with needle of suspicion being pointed at her coach, who was allegedly blackmailing the village girl.

Murlidharan, who was shifted to Sports Authority of India's hostel in Mapusa to train 13 girl inmates including Pratima in September last year, had apparently come to know about Pratima's sexual deformity, which came to light during post-mortem.

Even the police thus initially thought that one of the fastest girl of India, known as 'Goa Express', suddenly committed suicide out of frustration and fear that her 'secret' may become public. But further investigations have revealed that she has been living with the deformity since the age of seven years.

After reaching Goa on 7 October attending Inter-Zonal Athletic Championship in Kanpur, Pratima's body was found in a well behind her house on a hillock in Dabhal, a remote village in Eastern Goa, on 9 October. Her suicide came as a surprise since Pratima was all set to go back to the hostel the same day, to get herself prepared for under-22 nationals held at Chennai on 24 October.

Roshan Lal, the state co-ordinator of SAI, dismisses the story that Pratima committed suicide as she had to undergo sex determination test at National Institute of Sports in Patiala, before leaving for Kanpur. "In that case, she would have never been sent to Kanpur", he points out.

Jayashree, Pratima's 42-year old widow mother, has given statement to the police as well as investigating authorities of SAI that Pratima was upset after she had heated arguments during telephonic conversation with Murlidharan on the night of 8 October.

"He was demanding Rs 50,000 from her", says the widow, who has brought up her three children by doing all kind of odd jobs in the village after her husband expired 11 years ago. While Pratima was the only hope for the family now, she discloses that Murlidharan had once taken Rs 5000, after Pratima was honoured with Rs 11,000 in August for her Brunei success.

Following this, the Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Samiti, Mapusa had honoured her with Rs 5000, besides assurances being given by the state government to honour her with Rs 75,000, Rs one lakh from the local Dabhal panchayat and Rs 50,000 from the SAI.

Pratima's mother claims that after getting the assured amount, her daughter had also decided to undergo surgical treatment, which they could not afford to do earlier due to acute poverty in the house, to overcome her sexual deformity.

Murlidharan, the Keralite coach, however vehemently denies the allegation, claiming that on the contrary he has helped Pratima financially from time to time. "She did not even have a track suite to wear when she came to the hostel and I helped her", he recalls. Surprisingly, the coach however has not visited Pratima's bereaved family till date, after she committed suicide.

Meanwhile, besides state co-ordinator Roshan Lal, SAI assistant director Virendra Bhandarkar has also conducted inquiry into Pratima's mysterious death, submitting both the reports to the director general for further action.

On the other hand, state sports minister Sanjay Bandekar has also written to union sports minister Uma Bharati, demanding thorough and impartial inquiry, while stating that needle of suspicion has been pointed at her coach Murlidharan.

While Pratima's suicide followed by the news of her sexual deformity has sent ripples of shock all over, her colleagues as well as other coaches in the athletic field assert that Pratima was indeed a great star, solely because of her hard work, determination and simplicity. She was considered to be another P. T. Usha in-the-making.

After breaking all the state records as a sprinter at the State School Meet in December last year, she went on winning silver and gold medals at zonal and national meets, followed by bringing silver medal for India at 4x400 relay from Brunei.

Before leaving for Patiala, she had won five gold medals in 100 M, 200 M, 400 M, 4x100 relay and 4x400 relay at the West Zone Meet at Pune in September. Her next target was the Olympics 2003, at the age of 23. is now on Telegram & also Youtube. Kindly subscribe for free & remain updated.

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