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Goa’s Pinki Pramanik

Pratima Gaonkar. Driven to suicide by media & state apathy. How many of us remember her?

You’ve heard of Pinki Pramanik. This is Pratima Gaonkar’s story.

Pinki Pramanik may not know of fellow athlete, Pratima Gaonkar. Pratima, once called “Goa’s PT Usha”, is long dead. She committed suicide in 2001.

The 19-year-old Pratima jumped into a deep well in her neighbourhood, because she could not cope up with the same ordeal which Pinki Pramanik has been living through for the past few weeks.

Being a woman is tough enough in India. Being called a woman-man was something Pratima could not come to terms with.

Those close to Pratima claimed to the media at the time that she committed suicide because a coach had stumbled upon the secret of her sexuality and had allegedly even started blackmailing her. For the record, the coach has denied the charge.

The stories of Pinki and Pratima are startlingly similar.

Both were ace track and field athletes. Both were 400 metre sprint specialists. Both represented the country in the 4X400 race, albeit at different times. Both were subject to blackmail. And most importantly, while Pinki was accused of being ‘male’ and raping her girlfriend (the accusation has been retracted by Pinki’s girlfriend, stating that she was pressurised to accuse her by former national athlete Avtar Singh, owing to a rift over monetary transactions between him and Pinki), circumstantially Pratima’s ‘controversial’ sexuality led to her suicide.

But the stories about the two athletes do not end with their sexuality. The bizarre manner in which the respective State apparatus’ as well as the media, in Goa in 2001 and West Bengal in 2012, handled the two cases, leaves much to be desired.

While a video of Pinki undergoing a gender determination test went viral thanks to the ample voyeuristic appeal it commanded, for Pratima, it was the police who virtually ‘raped’ her identity after her death. And the media ran riot with it. “Two inches of penis” was how a leading English newspaper described the dead athlete’s predicament at the time.

At a press conference addressed by a senior Superintendent of Police, the officer revealed the contents of the dead athlete’s post mortem with the panache of a butcher. The post mortem conducted by Dr Avinash Pujari had revealed that Pratima had a male organ measuring half an inch, while female organs like ovaries, uterus and vagina were missing. The report also said that her breasts were not fully developed.

According to her mother, Jayashri, Pratima had been wracked with worry in the days running up to her suicide and had had a tiff with her coach on the phone.

“He was demanding Rs 50,000 from her. She had been crying on the phone when she got off it”, Jayashri told the police in her statement.

“She had got some money from the prizes she had won. Pratima wanted to undergo surgery to get over her ‘gender problem’”, she told the media. At the time of her suicide, Pratima was on her way to the peak of her power. She had broken all state track and field records, knocked down some records at the zonal and national athletics meets, and had even helped India win a 400X4 meter relay in the Sultanate of Brunei. An Olympic medal was next on her menu.

Murlidharan, her coach from Kerala, however vehemently denied the allegation, claiming that rather than the blackmail he had been accused of, he had on the contrary helped Pratima financially from time to time.

“She did not even have a track suit to wear when she came to the hostel and I helped her”, he recalls.

In her statement to the police, Pratima’s mother even went to the extent of saying that the coach was blackmailing her daughter, because he had come to know about the athlete’s “abnormal” sexuality. And in a fresh development, Pinki Pramanik’s girlfriend, who had first accused her of rape, has now said that the husband of a member of parliament had asked her to take naked photos of the athlete in order to blackmail her.

Pinki Pramanik’s saga will drag on a few more days. Perhaps a few weeks, until the story’s sexiness is spent. It took Goa barely a few months to get over Pratima.

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