| Pinki Pramanik
Krishnagar, Nov. 23: Pinki Pramanik, once seen as sprint queen P.T. Usha's successor, was arrested this morning on charges of possessing a single-shot improvised pistol in the latest controversy to embroil a sportsperson in Bengal.
The 17-year-old added a twist to the drama when she claimed she was harassed near Habibpur railway station in Ranaghat, Nadia, by five youths who dragged her to the local panchayat pradhan's office, where the gun was found in her travel kit.
The resident of Bagmundi, in Purulia, was produced in Ranaghat court this morning and remanded in police custody for two days.
Earlier this month, East Bengal footballers Sasthi Duley and Dipankar Roy were arrested for links with a wanted criminal.
Pinki, who comes from a poor background, found early fame on the tracks, though she appears to have fallen foul of her mentors after she went missing from a coaching camp last month. She was part of the gold-winning 1600-m relay team at the junior Asian Track and Field meet in Manila last year. In 2002, she set four junior state records.
Such was her talent that an Eastern Railway officer used his powers to give Pinki a job as a Group-D employee though she was below 18. Pinki, who runs races ranging from 100 to 800 m, told police she found the pistol in a bathroom in the office of the divisional railway manger, Sealdah. A railway spokesman dismissed the claim.
Police said Pinki was returning to her camp at the Sports Authority of India in Salt Lake after a break. Additional superintendent Biswarup Ghosh said she had gone to visit friends in Habibpur, where Saraswati Sarkar, the pradhan of the gram panchayat, detected the pistol in her bag.
'It was the pradhan who informed us and lodged an FIR. We arrested Pramanik on the basis of the pradhan's complaint,' Ghosh said. A mobile phone and about Rs 2,800 in cash were seized from the athlete's bag, he added.
The police have not ruled out the possibility of Pinki's links with Naxalites. 'As the athlete is a resident of Purulia, known for activities by Naxalite guerrillas, we are not ruling out her links with them. But we are wondering why the Naxalites would be interested in a one-chamber improvised pistol. However, we have sent a team to Bagmundi for investigation,' said district police superintendent Benoy Chakraborty.
According to the police, Pinki arrived in Habibpur yesterday morning to visit two friends, Shyamali Biswas and Mallika Biswas, both athletes.
Around 2.30 pm, while returning to the SAI camp, she was surrounded near Habibpur railway station by five youths who allegedly teased her.
'Pramanik told us she slapped one of them. The youths then caught her by the hand and dragged her to local panchayat pradhan of Ramnagar Saraswati Sarkar's office. The youths met the pradhan with Pramanik and lodged a complaint,' an official said.
According to Sarkar, the youths demanded that Pinki ' tall and dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt ' apologise to them. 'I spoke to the girl. She told me she was an athlete staying in the SAI camp and that she was from Bagmundi. She also told me she was a railway employee. But she gradually became aggressive. When I wanted to see her identity card, she refused to take it out in front of the youths. So I asked the youths to wait outside. After they left, I opened her travel bag and found the pistol,' the pradhan said.
Sarkar then called her colleagues who advised her to inform the Ranaghat police station. Pinki was taken to the police station where she was interrogated through the night and arrested this morning.
The youths who were asked by the pradhan to wait outside her office, however, could not be traced. A hunt is on for them.
Police sources said Pinki could not give any satisfactory reply when asked why she had not informed her superiors after finding the pistol in the railway officer's office. 'All her replies were confusing. So we arrested her for possessing a firearm illegally,' said additional SP Ghosh.
'It is nothing but a well-planned conspiracy,' said Pinki's father Durgacharan. 'My daughter did not even carry a knife in her bag, forget about a pistol.'