Wed, Aug 15, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Coach of marathon boy hero arrested for torture

THE GUARDIAN , NEW DELHI

The coach of a six-year-old Indian boy who entered the record books last year when he ran 40 miles (64km) in seven hours was arrested on Monday and charged with torturing the child.

Biranchi Das, a fitness fanatic who runs a judo school in the eastern Indian city of Bhubaneshwar, was taken into police custody and faces allegations that he tied up and beat Budhia Singh, who had become an Indian hero.

Budhia's mother, Sukanti Singh, says she found scars on her son's body when he returned home after living with the coach for more than two years.

Despite having spent a year defending Das from government attempts to stop the boy, Budhia's mother went on the radio yesterday saying that her son had been "beaten" and "mistreated."

"Biranchi was beating him up regularly," the mother said. "He even once tied Budhia up from a ceiling fan and threw hot water on his body."

Das denied the allegations, alleging that the charges were "a conspiracy against me hatched by the state government's child welfare department."

The coach's arrest is the latest twist in a saga that has gripped India since a government order declared the child's record-breaking 40-mile run last year to be "torture." Budhia was promptly banned from competitive running.

Doctors said the boy was being run into the ground.

The medics said: "If the boy continues to run for long distances it may aggravate his condition and result in renal failure."

Das's response was that Budhia could "not be explained by science."

The child endurance runner became a popular hero. His face filled newspaper front pages and at dawn camera crews would follow Budhia through the leafy, dusty streets of Bhubaneshwar as he pounded the tarmac in shorts with an old tire tied to his waist by a rope.

Das, his coach, would cycle alongside and encourage him.

The publicity ensured a spate of copycat child athletes, many of whom collapsed in agony.

The pressure from the state and child activists led officials to stop Budhia from attempting a 480km "walkathon" from Bhubaneshwar to Calcutta in West Bengal, to the dismay of locals who had turned up in their thousands to cheer the boy wonder.

Many say that money is at the root of the allegations against Das. Budhia was born in a slum; his father was a beggar and a drinker and his mother worked as a maid, washing dishes in other people's homes.

Budhia was sold off before he was one by his impoverished and illiterate mother for 800 rupees (US$20).

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