Fearless in her crusade, Dutee Chand is an inspiration for millions and the flag bearer towards the path of a liberal, open, and inclusive India.
When Dutee Chand became one of the few pro athletes in the world to openly admit being in a same-sex relationship in May 2019, it took India by storm. A conjectured and orthodox society shoved aside all the affection for the fastest Indian woman and came out with scathing, discriminatory and derogatory flak.
But star sprinter bounced back winning 100m gold medal in the World Summer Universiade Games Napoli 2019. Chand is an inspiration for millions of Indians who have to hide their sexuality from the fear of an apathetic and discriminatory society.
Chand made headlines when she came out earlier in the year, revealing that she’s in a same-sex relationship. Chand was criticized widely, not just by strangers, but by her own family members for coming out and revealing her homosexuality.
“I am having a relationship with a 19-year-old woman from my village [Chaka Gopalpur] for the past five years”, she told reporters from Hyderabad where she was training.
“I have found someone who is my soulmate. I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied.”
But the dynamic and fearless Chand was not bogged down and bounced back stronger than ever against hardships and hypocrisy. Chand received plaudits and support from fans and millennial all over the social media, and rightly so because her fearlessness and courageous step is an inspiration for many who struggle to come out of the closet.
Not just for the sport, Chand should be celebrated for initiating a breakthrough in a society reluctant to shed inhibitions and discrimination in turn for acceptance, endorsement, and acknowledgment of what’s right and natural.
Hardships only made her stronger
Family members, like her own eldest sister, frightened her of imprisonment for her relationship with another woman, and the people of her home state of Odisha called it “humiliating” revelation about their local hero.
One of the villagers said, “It’s humiliating for all of us. We have supported her all the way in her running but we cannot accept this relationship. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman. She should never have talked about it to the whole world. She should stick to running,” as reported by The Guardian.
The declaration, which makes her the first openly homosexual athlete in India, drew plaudits from equality advocates, celebrities but a backlash from her own family.
“Initially, my training was disturbed a lot. My sister has given me a lot of stress,” she said at a recent event in Mumbai. “I couldn’t train properly for 10-15 days after talking about my relationship. But now, I have put that behind me, and am getting back to training for the World University Games in Naples.
“I felt that people might speak ill of me after I spoke about my relationship. I was afraid that it would affect my performance, like what happened in 2014. Fortunately, there has been no such thing. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and Sports Authority of India (SAI) have been supportive. They said it was my private life,” she said after coming out as gay.
In 2014, she was banned from competing against the runners of her own gender by the Athletics Federation of India after failing a hormone test which found she had unusually high testosterone levels, a condition known as “hyperandrogenism.”
Hyperandrogenism caused her body to produce a high level of natural testosterone, and Athletics Federation of India barred her from competing.
Dutee, the 100m national record holder (11.24 seconds), says while her parents have not yet raised any objection to her relationship, her eldest sister has cautioned to not only oust her from the family but also send her to jail.
Focus, determination and commitment
Focus, determination, commitment, and sportsmanship all that we expect from an athlete. Dutee’s statement after her recent exploit sums up what an athlete is all about.
“This is my personal matter. I am sure everything will be fine in a month or two. On the international level, there are several athletes (who are in a same-sex relationship).
To live, everybody needs a partner who understands your heart. We like each other so we decided to live together. She gives me motivation for my sport. My focus on sports will be intact,” she said.
“Problem will come and go in future, nobody can take guarantee of that. But I think there won’t be any problem. If it won’t happen, I’ll be able to focus more on my training. My focus is on Olympics 2020 (to be held in Tokyo). I am training to qualify and participate in the Olympics,” she added.
Chand decided to dedicate this victory and her medal to the people of her state, those people, who she claims, stood by her side, always.
Chand’s gesture of dedicating her accomplishments to the very people who disregarded her for her sexuality, her choices well portrays her nature as a human being.
It is not only their work on the field that makes them a great athlete but it’s also the things they do off it.
Can only comeback stronger
Despite facing such challenges, the champion in Chand shined bright like the sun. She bagged 100m gold medal at ongoing World Universiade Games 2019, first Indian to do so.
“Pull me down, I will come back stronger,” she wrote in another tweet.
With all these hardships, Dutee Chand isn’t shying away from coming out and supporting the LGBTQ rights. Cosmopolitan India’s digital cover features the Indian speedster .
Dressed in all-black athletic active-wear, Dutee Chand is also draped with a rainbow-colored cape. The same colours as the rainbow, and of pride, as June is International Pride month. “India’s Shining Star and First Openly-Gay Athlete,” the caption reads.
Dutee Chand’s coming out, irrespective of the circumstances, was a landmark in India. It opens up a new chapter in the country’s evolution – of acceptance and acknowledgement – its not wrong to be gay – its wrong to discriminate and categorize a person based on their sexuality.
Celebrated public figures coming out in the open is encouraging for the country’s fight to put the issues of LGBT rights in the open. Dutee Chand is one of the foremost flag bearers towards the path of a more liberal, open and new India.
By: Arjun Goel, Sports Writer, DKODING Media