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Pranita Mehta was sitting on the rock at Kumta beach in Gokarna on the morning of May 29 when a snap tide swept her away to a watery grave. But the final-year National Law University student from Jodhpur hit the headlines when the drowning was labelled as a ‘selfie death’ with news reports claiming the 21-year-old slipped from the rock while clicking herself.
“She didn’t even have her phone with her. None of us did because we kept them safe in a bag, a feet away. I still have her phone with me,” said Pratyushi Mehta, Pranita’s friend who saw her fighting for her life for nearly an hour.
Today, Pranita’s family, friends and many on social media are outraged at the misleading label used to tar their tragedy. Her friends have already used the social networking website Reddit to tell “the real story” of Pranita’s death, forcing almost all news organisations to remove the original version and some to even apologise to the family.
Recalling her final moments around 10 am at the popular tourist destination in north Karnataka, Pranita’s friends said the group of five were sitting on 10-ft-high rock when the wave swept away three in front, including Pranita, Gaurav and Sazal. The next wave bought the last two back, but Pranita was pushed further out. Her frantic friends shouted for help and even threw a sling bag and a tree trunk to rescue her, but in vain.
“Pranita lost her spectacles the moment she slipped and couldn’t see what we were throwing at her,” said Pratyushi, who was part of that group. She then quickly called the police and their hotel manager. “We had no clue who to call. We found two other people in the area, but they couldn’t understand what we were trying to convey in Hindi,” she added.
Finally, the friends managed to gather 20-25 people from a village nearby, but Pranita was nowhere to be found. “Some fishermen got a boat and went looking for her. By 12.45 pm, her body was brought to the beach,” said Pratyushi.
It was in the evening that Pratyushi received a screenshot on her phone of a news report that first came up with the ‘selfie death’ tag. “I was shocked. It said she had slipped from the lighthouse while a clicking a photo. The lighthouse was 100 metres away from where we were, and no one was clicking a picture,” she said.
“We are stunned at the reports. Pranita was the nicest person I’ve ever met in my life. She was also the brightest and got a job with one of the best law firms in the country. She loved to travel and has travelled the world representing our college in moot-court competitions,” said Janaki Arun, another friend. “We have been in touch with all media organisations and have tweeted to government officials to take an action against such false reporting,” she added.
Pranita’s father Sunil Mehta, a radiologist, says he is so angry at the “false reports” that he plans to sue some newspapers and TV channels. “There were only five witnesses. My daughter, who is dead, and four of her friends. No one spoke to them while reporting on my daughter’s demise. The lighthouse is 100 metres behind the waterline. I will prove it in court. We are in the process of filing a criminal defamation case,” he said.
Mehta said his daughter was a “sensible girl” and would “never do anything reckless like taking a selfie while standing on a rock”. “Everybody is making a mockery of us and judging my daughter. She doesn’t deserve this,” he said.
“I don’t know how the media started to report that it was a selfie death. No one spoke to us about this,” said Sub Inspector Govinda from Karwar district, who is in charge of the case.
Pranita’s friends also claimed that there was no danger sign at the tourist spot to warn them of flash tides — the beach is a 1-km-trek from nearest village. “We read about about the place on the Internet. We asked locals for the way, too, but no one warned us about the danger,” said Pratyushi.
“Everyone knows it’s a dangerous area. Unfortunately, there’s no warning sign,” said SI Govinda.