Dutee Chand – the name that defies all stereotypes.
A trailblazer athlete, this ace Indian sprinter has been scripting history in the international sports scene since 2012. Known as the golden girl of India, her remarkable tale of triumph and glory inspires the new generation of sportspersons. Lauded for her professional achievements globally, her home truths have been the centre of undue attention. Humiliated and slammed for her personal “choices”, India’s first openly gay sportsperson, Chand’s life has always been under a microscope. This is her story of coming out in a rather conservative society where being gay is a subject of ridicule and mockery.
Early on in her career, Chand fell victim to “Hyperandrogenism”, a clinical condition subjecting her to controversies and ostracization. Her body produced higher levels of testosterone naturally that placed her in the same category as her male counterparts in view of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It kept her out of fields and tracks. Unfazed, she successfully moved the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS) against the IAAF rules on Hyperandrogenism and fought to set aside the ruling with the verdict, in her racing event categories. Look at her and you know that behind those plain jane looks are nerves of steel. She exudes the confidence that highlights her magnificent grit and determination rather than her poverty-stricken childhood or endless struggles. While the world marvels at Chand’s sheer training manic, I am amazed at her grace and pride with which she led her personal battle.
Born to weaver parents in a remote Indian village, her childhood was a long and arduous journey of hardships. With six siblings in the family, Chand spent a large part of her childhood in the coastal town. Her global accolades have always put her on a great run professionally. Her personal space was happy too. Romance was brewing. Gay love was building castles of hope. She met a young girl from her village in 2017 and fell in love with her. Chand found her soulmate and resolved to settle down with her. Suddenly, India’s ace sprinter’s same-sex relationship was under the scrutiny lens. Shunned by her family members, Chand faced community backlash. Despite global icon status, the village labelled her relationship as immoral and unethical. Threatened by her sister of public shaming, Chand chose to share her story of homosexuality with the world, at large in 2019.
It was never going to be easy, and most certainly not if your root rests in rural India. Here, the social fabric is highly ignorant and intolerant towards homosexuality. Identifying anything other than heterosexual is a challenge. Regressive mindsets, cultural shackles, religion fuelled hypocrisy and smokescreen of prejudice makes most LGBT people reconcile with the fact that they need “correctional sex”, more than anything. A lot of them choose to step back because they are taught to believe that homosexuality is a disorder. That they must learn to set things right by conforming to societal norms.
Precious lives spend their life alienated, vulnerable and unaware with a deep sense of internal homophobia too. Poignant tales of millions who never come out of the closet for the fear of being rejected or killed in the name of honour is their fate in this part of the world. Hence, they continue to live on dictated terms. And perish long before they are gone. In times as these, we need queer queens like Chand.
Defying all odds, when Chand chose to stand up for love, she set historical milestones in the Indian LGBTQ movement. Praised for her courage by the world at large, the announcement became symbolic against the social code of the country. It inspired young people and immensely helped the ones struggling with their sexual orientation. It pushed homosexuality closer to being accepted as a norm rather than an oddity. Chand set a precedent and proved that wearing homosexuality on your sleeve, after all, is liberating. It was brave because it questioned centuries of deep-seated cultural taboos.
Perhaps greater acceptance will follow as more and more local heroes like Chand come out. You do not seek approval or acceptance. Choosing love and not orientation or gender identity is the highest form of freedom that is rightfully yours. Love, respect, dignity and freedom are things that matter, and breaking barriers that boxes us in is an act of bravery.
That’s Dutee Chand, India’s pride on the fast track.
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