Behind mystery death on rail track, an Indian hockey dream cut short

A skillful forward, Jyoti led Haryana to the junior national title in 2014 and 2015, while guiding them to a runners-up place in 2016.

Written by Mihir Vasavda | Sonepat | Published:August 5, 2017 6:09 am
hockey player death, Jyoti Gupta, woman hockey player death, woman hockey player suicide, sonepat suicide, indian express Why should Jyoti commit suicide, asks family; at her home (left) (Express Photo/Gajendra Yadav)

A DOZEN women are discussing justice inside a narrow, dimly lit hallway. Sitting across them, Pramod Gupta, 42, stares blankly at the decaying walls of his two-room home in Sonepat. Hours earlier, he cremated his daughter, India international hockey player Jyoti.

The 20-year-old was found dead on the tracks under mysterious circumstances near the Rewari railway station on Wednesday night. There are no tears. There’s no wailing. “Kaaran janna hai yeh kyun hua, kaise hua (I want to know why this happened, how),” says Gupta. “Can you imagine the plight of a father who found that his daughter’s body was chopped into pieces?”

His wife Babli adds in a firm voice, “Police say it is a suicide. In that case, we need to find out the reason. But there is a missing link somewhere. This isn’t as clear-cut as it looks. Someone’s responsible for my daughter’s death.”

On Wednesday morning, after Jyoti returned from her morning practice session, she told her mother that she needed to visit her college in Rohtak to get her name on the mark-sheet corrected. Pursuing Masters in Arts from Rohtak University, Babli says her daughter’s name on the mark-sheet was spelt ‘Joyti’.

Jyoti was to report for the national camp at Sports Authority of India, Bangalore, on Saturday. “So she was keen on getting this done before leaving. She had breakfast, washed a few utensils, joked around and left. She carried her mobile phone, portable charger and the mark-sheet in a small bag and said she would be back by dinner-time,” Babli says.

At around 5.30 pm, Jyoti called Babli and said she was on her way back. That was the last time Babli spoke to her daughter. When there was no sign of her till 9.30 pm, Babli called Jyoti’s hockey coach Anil Kumar. “I called her mobile a couple of times, but she didn’t answer. When I tried again, some unknown person answered it and said they found the phone with a body near the rail tracks,” says Kumar, a former national-level player.

“Around 15 minutes later, the police called back. The body was found near Rewari and was in such a bad shape that they asked about the colour of the clothes she was wearing that day,” he says. “Red shirt and blue jeans,” says Babli. “She wore that shirt so often, I started threatening her that I would hide it. She would laugh it off.”

Jyoti’s laughter was infectious, they say. A talkative, mischievous girl since childhood, she was seen as the next big thing in women’s hockey. Jyoti was just seven when, inspired by her neighbour Reena, she joined a local academy run by Arjuna Award winning woman player Pritam Rani Siwach. “She just came along one day with me and liked the routine. She was easily the most talented player at our academy,” Reena says.

Jyoti’s father works as a labourer at a small ration shop in Sonepat. Unable to afford even a hockey stick, Siwach decided to support her brightest student. “She was a special talent, we couldn’t let it go waste just because of financial reasons,” says Siwach, who was a part of the women’s team that won the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games gold medal.

Her trust paid off. A skillful forward, Jyoti led Haryana to the junior national title in 2014 and 2015, while guiding them to a runners-up place in 2016. She stood out in every edition, forcing the selectors to include her in the senior team days after she had turned 18. The Northern Railways, too, offered her a job and a place on their team, which she was to join next month.

The titles and the financial rewards that came along meant the Gupta household primarily ran on her income. Not just her family, Jyoti also ensured her academy benefited. “Last year, when she was awarded Rs 7 lakh by the Haryana government for winning the South Asian Games gold medal, she donated Rs 50,000 to the academy. She wanted to donate hockey sticks, too,” says Siwach, adding that Hockey India’s high performance director David John called her on Thursday and said Jyoti was a central figure in the team’s future plans.

Like her family, Jyoti’s close friend and Haryana teammate Neha Goyal does not believe she committed suicide. “Her career was going strong and financially it wasn’t bad, too. There was no reason for her to take such a step. Why would she?” Goyal asks. It’s a question on everyone’s lips. Jyoti’s coach Kumar adds, “She never entered a room for several days if she spotted a lizard. How could she jump in front of a running train?”

On Thursday, the railway police shared CCTV footage linked to the incident. According to Kumar, it showed Jyoti entering Rewari station at 8.03 pm and on the platform at 8.07 pm. Twenty minutes, she was found dead on the railway tracks, some 200m from the platform. “What happened in those 20 minutes, no one knows,” Pramod says. Pramod says police are now going through her call records. “I’ll not forgive those who have done this,” he says. “I haven’t lost my daughter, India has lost a star player.”

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