42 days ago, the bodies of two tribal hockey players were found hanging from a tree in Simdega district of Jharkhand. It was immediately considered an open and shut case by the police, who claimed that the girls committed suicide because they were in a homosexual relationship.
23-year-old Sunandini Bage was from Lachhada village of Sundergarh district of Odisha, while Sharddha Soreng, 14, was a resident of Bansjore village in Simdega district of Jharkhand. Both of them were promising hockey players. They had participated in a competition held in Delhi this January, and their sporting skills even got them the opportunity to meet Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan.
Their bodies were found hanging from a tree at Arani village in Simdega, 30 kilometers away from Sharddha’s house. The post mortem report says that they died by hanging.
While many media outlets from Jharkhand and Odisha did report the incident, none followed it up. A week after the incident took place, a fact-finding team from Ranchi travelled to both the states between August 17 and 22, to look into the ground reality of the story.
Following a lot of investigation, the team has to say that the incident has major “irregularities”, and that it cannot be a simple case of suicide.
What Are The Irregularities?
The Logical Indian spoke to Taramani Sahu, a social activist who led the team, to understand the irregularities in the case.
“To begin with, when a person commits suicide by hanging, they tie the two ends of the rope to an object and form a loop with the middle of the rope to wear around the neck. In this case, the girls were hanging from the two ends of the same rope, the middle portion of which was tied to the tree. In fact, one of the girls’ feet were touching the ground, which would not have been possible if she had hanged herself. These automatically created some suspicion in our mind,” Sahu says.
When Sahu and her team spoke to the police, they immediately claimed that this was a case of suicide, which the girls committed because they were in a relationship.
“The police officer made it sound like homosexuality is a crime. Just imagine such an attitude coming from those who are supposed to protect the law. However, even if it was a suicide, the police, by law, are supposed investigate the matter. Even if they were in a relationship, why would they kill themselves? The police’s reluctance and indifference shook me,” says a distressed Sahu.
The police further told Sahu and her team that Sharddha’s family ill-treated her, and that her father had three wives, although it’s not legal in their religion. They immediately went to Sharddha’s village to look into the matter.
“It was a risky affair for us. The villagers were enraged when we asked them about the three wives. We later visited her house and found out that the police were indeed lying,” Sahu says.
Police further told the team that Sharddha had attempted suicide once before by jumping into the well. Sahu, however, says that their investigation revealed that Sharddha was a good swimmer, and the incident that the police quoted was false. In fact, Sharddha had jumped into the well to save a girl who fell into it and was about to drown. Sharddha would bathe in the well regularly
The Sequence Of Events
The Logical Indian learnt from Sahu about the sequence of events that led to the deaths.
While Sharddha lived with her parents in her village, Sunandini was staying with her coach Merry Poorty in Odisha. Poorty, in fact, coached both Sharddha and Sunandini.
Poorty and her daughter told Sahu that Sunandini suspiciously left their house around 4 in the morning of August 10. Late at night, Poorty’s daughter received a message on her phone from Sunandini’s number, which read: “I have made a grave mistake and I am sorry about it. Please meet me (at a specified destination), but do not come alone. Bring two-three other people along with you.”
And in between the time when Sunandini left the house and when the message was received, Poorty’s daughter travelled for two-three hours to Sunandini’s house, returned her luggage to the parents and said that Sunandini was not going to return to the Poortys’ home anymore.
“When we asked Merry Poorty what they did after they received the message, she claimed they did nothing because they did not consider it serious enough. They kept insisting that Sunandini was very happy with them, and they had no idea why she would leave. However, none of them cared about her leaving, and neither did they bother about the message,” Sahu says.
“A former roommate of Sunandini, Pushpa Lohar, a student of class 10, who also learnt hockey under Poorty, was presented as a witness to police. She is the one who claimed that Sharddha and Sunandini committed suicide because they were in a relationship,” Sahu adds.
Apparently, Poorty claimed that her daughter Sonam and Sunandini were close friends, and Sonam returned Sunandini’s luggage because she was angry she left.
“Some people told us that a night before the incident, they saw a Bolero with a few men near the area where the bodies were found. Also, we spoke to Poorty’s neighbours, and most of them told us that Poorty was rude and impolite and not at all well liked in the area,” says Sahu.
On August 11, Sharddha left her house in the morning to go to school. She never returned. Hours later, the bodies were found hanging from a tree.
Sahu adds, “We are not definitely claiming that Poorty murdered the girls. All we are asking for is proper investigation into the case. We are demanding that the police take some action. This cannot be an open and shut case with all these glaring inconsistencies.”
What Is Sharddha’s Father Saying?
The Logical Indian also spoke to Sharddha’s father Rajesh Soreng, who says, “My daughter and Sunandini were murdered, and we have been pressured into saying that they committed suicide. I know my daughter and I loved her a lot. She was always smiling, was very helpful and extremely talented. She was an all-rounder – good in her studies, excellent in sports and other extracurricular activities.”
“The police are ignoring the case. My daughter and Sunandini were not in a relationship. They were very close and Sharddha addressed Sunandini as “Didi”. Sunandini had come to our house and we all loved her. And even if they had been in a relationship, who forced them to commit suicide? I would never do that,” he adds.
Talking about his daughter, Soreng tried to keep calm but could hardly hold back his sorrow.
“My daughter was a very good human being. Every time I scolded her, like a father does, she would be silent for a while. Within minutes, she would come to me and make me laugh. I could never remain angry with Sharddha for long. She did not kill herself, she was murdered and I am sure Poorty and her people are involved. If the police go on ignoring the case, we will take further steps. We have filed a public petition. We will soon block the roads and protest until something is done. We want justice,” Soreng says.
Despite several attempts, we could not reach Merry Poorty for a statement.
This incident is almost a replica of the Badaun gang-rape and murder incident, which was shown in the recent and much talked about film Article 15. In both the cases, police inaction happens to be the biggest concern.
The Logical Indian hopes that the truth comes to the fore, and urges police to do their duty as scores of people depend on them for justice.