Dutee Chand is not only the 23-year athlete, who holds the record as India’s fastest sprinter, she recently sent the media into a tizzy when she came out publicly as homosexual, declaring her love for her same-sex partner, who is engaged to her.
How Dutee Chand is India’s LGBT trailblazer…
This is not the first time Dutee Chand has been the focus of a controversy. Earlier she had to face a lot of issues because of her hyperandrogenism, a condition in which the glands produce excessive testosterone.
The Washingon Post writes: Dutee Chand, made headlines in 2015 for successfully fighting to be allowed to compete against women despite a condition that naturally produces high testosterone levels, said she has been in a same-sex relationship for five years. Chand, a member of the national track and field team who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, has an elevated testosterone level caused by a condition known as hyperandrogenism.
A year after she became the first Indian sprinter to reach the final at a global athletics event, Chand was banned from competition by the Athletics Federation of India in 2014 after tests showed that her natural testosterone level was above those set for women by the International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body of track and field.
She was banned for a year and told that she could return to the national team if she lowered her testosterone level. She refused and alleged in an appeal before the Court of Arbitration for Sport that the policy was discriminatory.
The court struck down the rule in 2015, saying that science had not determined natural testosterone’s role in athletics. Chand began competing again and won silver medals in the 100- and 200-meter races at the Asian Games last year.
Dutee Chand had to go through a lot of humiliation and gender sex verification before she could make it to the Olympics at Rio, just like South African athlete Caster Semenya who won the gold in the 800 m final in Rio.
Dutee Chand faced backlash from her family and her village for coming out
She has faced immense backlash from her native village, Chaka Gopalpur situated in East Odisha. Dutee Chand’s family members are also against her. Her mother has clearly refused to support her sexual orientation and said that her sports career was fully supported by her family, however a same-sex relationship or marriage was against the Odiya culture and the traditional weaver community they belong to. They would never accept her. Furthermore, she questioned how would they face their friends and relatives if Dutee were to marry a girl?
Dutee Chand’s sister’s theory
Dutee’s sister has suggested that she is being blackmailed by her coach and certain friends of hers, and that her coming out was a “conspiracy” against her and her family and they want to deprive Dutee of her earnings, awards and accolades. Even as her village disowned her, no locals came to her support and are of the opinion that she should have focussed on her sports career and not taken such a step like coming out.
Indian society is still not inclusive
India as a country is quite conservative; even though Article 377 was decriminalised on 6th September 2018 in a historic ruling by the Supreme Court of India, it has hardly received any reception in the rural areas of the country.
Dutee’s partner was forced to leave the village and shift to another adjoining village in fear of backlash.
It’s been a struggle for Dutee
Dutee Chand participated in the 18th Asian Games, Jakarta, Indonesia where she made the world record in fastest 100 metre sprint by an Indian female athlete in the previous year of 2018 itself. Coming from a poor weaving family, Chand has seen hard days ever since she started running at the age of 10. Her father spent the entire month weaving two handloom sarees, from which his earning was a bare minimum Rs 200, on which the entire family, consisting of five daughters and a son, lived in a single room. She was persuaded by her elder sister, Saraswati to take up sprinting, following her footsteps. Unfortunately, her equation with Saraswati has soured post her coming out. Her village has disowned her following the “public humiliation” she brought to them by coming out.
Good news is that in the face of all the negativity, Dutee and her partner are optimistic about their future and having a comfortable married life together.
Dutee is not disappointed or hurt by her parents’ demeanour or the behaviour of her village natives. She says alternative sexualities are a new concept for most villages in the rural areas of the country and they will take their time to accept the duo and eventually come around.
Dutee had emerged as the LGBTQ icon in India
The decriminalisation of Article 377 has brought about a huge outpour of emotions among the Indian LGBTQ community. They have celebrated wholeheartedly, yet they are much further away from receiving any recognition in the mainstream society. Being LGBTQ is still considered a taboo.
Indeed, Dutee has faced backlash from the ones closest to her, however she has emerged as an LGBTQ icon within a short time span, receiving an overwhelming amount of support from the entire Indian LGBTQ community and its allies. They are even concerned about her safety, given the fact that the people belonging to minority religions and sexualities are much more likely to face attack from conservatives and may be victims of hate crime. Media journalists are portraying her in a positive light, welcoming her bold and brave step of coming out. Social media websites like Facebook are seeing an outpouring of support for Dutee Chand from her fans and followers.
Her coming out as a LGBTQ public figure is definitely a significant moment in Indian history and will surely lead to more such instances of coming out and people being more open about their sexuality, hence embracing their real identity with pride.
She has become the first Indian sprinter to win gold at a global event in 100m
And all those critics who had been saying that Dutee should have concentrated on her sport instead of talking about her sexuality, she silenced them all. She became the first Indian ever to win gold in the 100m race at a global meet when she finished first in the event at the World Universiade in Napoli on July 10, 2019. The Universiade is an international multi-sport event organised by the International University Sports Federation.
After her win she tweeted: Pull me down, I will come back stronger!
She said the gold medal was an answer to her family and her critics who did not stand by her when she came out. Way to go Dutee.