People and Society, Sports

Dutee Chand: Breaks Hurdles and Taboos Against Odds

In a society where stigma and dogma run rampant, conformity to social mores is the norm. Choosing to stand out is such an atmosphere is akin to sticking out like a sore thumb. But at times, it takes courage to stand your ground and chase your dreams. The story of Indian sportsperson and athlete Dutee Chand is one such story.

Dutee Chand burst onto the national sports scene in the year 2012 where she clocked an impressive 11.8seconds in the track and field event of 100m sprint at the national level in the Under-18 category.

Dutee Chand

Born into an impoverished family in rural Orissa on 3 February 1996 the journey to become an athlete definitely was not easy. Considering the socio-economic reality of the time the women in rural areas did not have the access to individual freedoms and the journey into the professional arena had just begun for women in urban areas. To persevere despite the social fabric of the community, takes courage. The story of the Phogat sisters depicted in the movie Dangal strikes a resemblance to the struggles Dutee Chand might have faced.

One of the common features among sportsperson who have made it big in sports other than cricket and to a certain extent badminton in recent years, many of them had to fight the system as well. Lack of infrastructure and training equipment are a major hurdle even today. To overcome such difficulties and claiming a name in the field of athletics is no mean feat.

After her initial successes on the national stage, she made her mark on the world and blazed a trail creating new records on the way. At the Asian Athletics Champions in 2013 at Pune, she clinched the bronze in the Women’s 200 metres event. In the same year, she wrote her name in history, by becoming the first Indian to reach a global athletics 100 metres final at the 2013 World Youth Championships. She continued her reign at the national level winning the 100m event and 200m event in 11.73 seconds and a career best 23.73 seconds respectively.

2014 was shaping up to be a year where she could take giant strides in the sporting arena. Dutee Chand was a part of the Indian contingent at Glasgow Commonwealth Games. However, at the eleventh hour she was dropped from the Indian contingent after the Athletic Federation of India stated she had a medical condition labelled ‘hyperandrogenism’.

Forced to be away from the field!

‘Hyperandrogenism’ to the layman is just a fancy term. What does ‘hyperandrogenism’ mean? It is a medical condition characterized by high levels of androgens in females. To make it clear, it is not doping. In simpler terms, it means that a female has higher natural levels of testosterone. As per the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regulations, hyperandrogenism was supposed to give the athletes afflicted with the medical condition a perceived advantage over the rest of their competitors.

In accordance with regulations, she was barred from competing in any championships and tournaments. The suspension brought her professional career to a screeching halt. It also adversely affected her personal life as well.

Former athlete Santhi Soundarajan came out in support of Dutee Chand and chastised the administrative bodies for handling the issue without any sensitivity and made a request to allow Dutee back on to the track. Also, she made a statement on how the insensitivity shown by the officials in the handling of the issue would affect Dutee’s social life.

“They have tested her at the last minute, humiliated her and broken her heart,” she told The Hindu. “All sorts of things have been written about her. Now, if she re-enters the sports field, things will not be normal. Even if she takes treatment, people will kill her with their suspicious gaze.”

Santhi felt the matter could have been dealt with discreetly. “That things became public, is wrong. Would they have done it if it was their daughter?” she asked. “Who is responsible for her future now? The job and the money are secondary problems. Think about how much she would have suffered. She is not from a wealthy or powerful family; just another ordinary family.

“Even if she gets help from the State association, can she stay in peace in her village? She will find it tough to get married.”[17]

— Santhi Soundarajan about Dutee Chand

Withstanding a professional setback and holding her composure facing a trying period of social interaction, she was fighting an appeal against her suspension in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). She was facing a legal battle against both the Athletic Federation of India and the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF). The judgement handed out by CAS in her case in considered to be a landmark judgement as it suspended the IAAF policy on hyperandrogenism paving the way for her to make a comeback in the sport.   

Recalling the trauma, she underwent talking to a BBC journalist after the judgement she said, “I lost all my honour in the landmark gender case.” Going a bit deeper into the details she reflected on the ordeal and ostracization she had to go through in the wake of her suspension and during her battle for her career. “I know people started suspecting whether I was a woman or a man. All the honour I earned- I lost,” Chand said.

Continuing on she said, “My friends used to start asking what’s wrong with me, and started to avoid me. In training centres, where girls used to share rooms, I was kept separately.”

After her harrowing older, Dutee returned to the sporting the arena making up for her lost time. And as a testament to her passion and courage, she was back on course creating new records.

She created a host of records on her return. Dutee Chand announced her return to the sport by breaking the national record held by Rachita Mistry for 16 long years after clocking a time of 11.33 seconds. In the same year, she once again, had her name etched in history by becoming the third Indian woman to participate in the Woman’s 100 metres at the Olympics in 2016.

Accolades kept coming her way. Clawing her way back into the world of sport, she won two bronze medals at the Asian Athletics Championships in 2017 in the Women’s 100 metres and Women’s 4 x 100 metre relay respectively. Last year, she made an indelible mark on Indian sporting history bagging two silver medals. One in the Women’s 100m ending a 32 year drought at the Asian games after PT Usha last won it in 1986 and the other in Women’s 200 metre event.

Recently she hit the headlines for the turmoil in her personal life. She opened up about her sexuality and her personal life of being in a relationship with another woman after facing harassment and blackmail from her family members.

As has been the template of her of life, she has once again stood her ground and blazed a new trail becoming the first Indian sportsperson to come out as ‘gay’. Dutee Chand slowly but surely is turning out to be an icon.

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