Concern in Indian shooting after Konica Layak dies by suicide

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The death by suicide of a young rifle shooter in Kolkata on Wednesday has set off alarm bells in Indian shooting. Police say 26-year-old Konica Layak, originally from Dhanbad in Jharkhand, who was training at Olympian and Arjuna Award winner Joydeep Karmakar's shooting academy was found hanging in her hostel room in Bally, Kolkata.

Layak was an accomplished shooter at the state level, but had made headlines earlier this year when, despite qualifying, she was unable to participate at a national tournament because she was unable to afford a personal rifle. On hearing her predicament, actor and philanthropist Sonu Sood had reached out on social media and come to her aid, sending her an imported rifle.

Following this, she had been contacted by Karmakar who encouraged her to train at his academy, waiving off all costs for the same. "This is shocking news to all of us," Karmakar told ESPN.

Karmakar added that while there was no inkling of what Layak was thinking, she had been irregular with her training over the last few days. Local newspaper reports from Dhanbad suggest that Layak wanted to return home and train in Dhanbad. It is also possible that Layak was under some stress when she had failed to qualify for the Nationals this time after she was disqualified for target manipulation at the GV Malvankar championships in Ahmedabad in November this year.

Layak is the fourth shooter to die by suicide in as many months. Just four days back, 17-year-old Khush Seerat Kaur - who had participated at the 2021 Junior World Championships in Lima, shot herself with her licensed pistol. In October, Hunardeep Singh Sohal, who was a state-level shooter, had ended his life after an injury impacted his shooting career. In September, double trap shooter Namanveer Singh Brar, who had won a bronze medal at the World University Games, had shot himself at his home in Mohali.

The deaths have raised concerns within the shooting community itself. Just a few days back, prior to Layak's demise, Karmakar had presciently told ESPN that more needed to be done to address the mental needs of young shooters. "One case can be an exception but not (then) three. There needs to be more done to address the mental health concerns of young shooters," he said.

According to Karmakar the individual nature of the sport and the mental strain it placed on its exponents made them more vulnerable than other sportspersons. "Shooting is a sport where you don't have burst of emotions. A lot of the challenge in shooting comes in controlling your emotions. And it's not a team sport where if you don't succeed, that disappointment can be shared by many teammates. That's why more needs to be done. Shooting is getting more and more competitive in India. But right now there's nothing that's happening. A lot of shooters are under a lot of stress not just from themselves but from themselves but from their family members as well," he said.

Former Olympic champion Abhinav Bindra also expressed his concerns in a letter to NRAI (National Rifle Association of India) President, Raninder Singh. The news of Layak's death 'startled' Bindra at a personal level, as he went on to emphasize the need to act 'quickly and responsibly'.

'Athletes are also human; are prone to anxiety, depression, and need to be given a safe and conducive atmosphere to pursue excellence,' noted Bindra. He went on to offer the services of the Athlete Mental Wellness and Coach Mental Wellness programs operated by the Abhinav Bindra Foundation.