Athlete Dutee Chand is a youth icon for reasons more than one. Not only does she hold the record as India’s fastest sprinter at the age of 25 but also owns her sexuality with pride and elan. She recently sent the media into a tizzy when she came out publicly as homosexual, declaring her love for her same-sex partner to who she is engaged.
She has not only been an inspiration for women athletes in the country but also for all the LGBTQ people who are struggling with their identity. Her story is motivating and empowering.
Why Dutee Chand is India’s LGBT Trailblazer
This is not that there has been a media frenzy around athlete Dutee Chand. In the past too, she found herself in the eye of a storm because of her hyperandrogenism, a condition in which the glands produce excessive testosterone.
The Washington Post wrote: Dutee Chand, who 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, Dutee 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 appealed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, calling the policy was discriminatory.
The court struck down the rule in 2015, saying that science had not determined natural testosterone’s role in athletics. She began competing again. Sprinter Dutee Chand participated in the 18th Asian Games, Jakarta, Indonesia, where she made the world record in the fastest 100-meter sprint by an Indian female athlete in 2018. And brought home two silver medals in the 100- and 200-meter races.
Dutee Chand had to go through a lot of humiliation and gender 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
Dutee Chand has faced immense backlash for coming out from her family and people in her native village, Chaka Gopalpur in East Odisha. Her mother has clearly refused to support her sexual orientation and said that while the family fully supported her sports career, 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 they would 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, claiming 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. Most are of the opinion that she should have focussed on her sports career and not taken such a step as coming out of the closet.
Indian society is still not inclusive
A lot of the backlash that Dutee has received stems from the fact that Indian society is still primarily conservative. Even though Article 377 was decriminalized on September 6, 2018, in a historic ruling by the Supreme Court of India, the judgment has hardly succeeded in changing social prejudices, especially in the rural areas of the country.
Dutee’s partner was forced to leave and shift to an adjoining village in fear of backlash. This kind of ostracization being faced by a well-known sports personality and her partner is sure to have been disheartening for LGBTQ women of India.
Related Reading: What Are The Legal Rights Of The LGBTQ Community In India?
It’s been a struggle for Dutee
Coming from a poor weaver family, Dutee 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 barely Rs 200, on which the entire family, consisting of five daughters and a son, survived.
She was persuaded by her elder sister, Saraswati to follow her footsteps and take up sprinting. Unfortunately, her equation with Saraswati has soured post her coming out. The good news is that in the face of all the negativity, Dutee and her partner are optimistic about their future and having a comfortable life together.
Dutee is not disappointed or hurt by her parents’ demeanor or the behavior 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 decriminalization of Article 377 has brought about a huge outpour of emotions among the Indian LGBTQ community. They have celebrated wholeheartedly, yet they are far from gaining acceptance by society at large. Being homosexual or queer is still considered taboo.
In face of these challenges, when a public figure comes out and embraces their sexuality publicly, they’re bound to become an icon for the entire community. It has been no different for Dutee Chand. She has received overwhelming support from the entire Indian LGBTQ community and its allies.
They are even concerned about Dutee Chand’s safety, given the fact that the people belonging to religious and sexual minorities are vulnerable to attacks and hate crimes. Media too has been portraying her in a positive light, welcoming her bold and brave step of coming out. Social media platforms like Facebook are seeing an outpouring of support for Dutee Chand from her fans and followers.
Her coming out as an LGBTQ public figure is definitely a significant moment for sexual minorities in India and will surely inspire change.
She has become the first Indian sprinter to win gold at a global event in 100m
Athlete Dutee Chand has silenced all those critics who had been saying that she should have concentrated on her sport instead of talking about her sexuality. 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 organized 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 critics who did not stand by her when she came out. Way to go Dutee!
Dutee Chand is called the Indian sprint queen. She is an inspiration to women and LGBTQ people all over the country.
Dutee Chand was born on February 6, 1996 in Jajpur, Odisha.
Dutee received the Arjuna award in August 2020.