“We can’t choose who we fall in love with."
Sprinter Dutee Chand, also India's first openly gay athlete, spread a message of acceptance and love as she spoke at length about her relationship and the obstacles she faced before she came out in the open at "We the Women" summit held at Bengaluru. The event, hosted by journalist Barkha Dutt and curated by Sharda Ugra, saw Chand narrate her ordeal of being gay, and how she finally had the strength to make the news public.
"If we lived in a city, we would have quietly lived in a hostel or had a house together. But since we lived in the village with our parents, I had no choice I told my mother about it. She was not convinced. My sister too turned hostile. In fact, my sister started blackmailing me. The Supreme Court had just decriminalised homosexuality. So, I decided to come out and open up about my same-sex relationship. It was easier for me as I am a celebrity. But for my partner who lives in my hometown, it was hard to face the world," Chand said.
“The heart chooses the life partner. It does not choose a man or woman. The one I chose is a woman. I never regarded it as a crime," she continued amid rousing applause.
Chand also went on to relive the harrowing experience after the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) had stated that she was ineligible to compete as a female athlete in 2014 due to the high testosterone levels in her body.
After winning two gold medals at the Asian Junior Athletics Championships in the 200m and 4x400m relays, Dutee Chand was asked to undergo a test, the results of which left her devastated. "I thought it was a routine dope test. I did not know about the gender test. I read in Odia newspapers about it. They said I was not a girl. I was shocked. Many advised medical remedies. But someone advised me to fight it legally. I appealed and the case went on for two years."
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The Court of Arbitration for Sport eventually ruled in her favour, as she set a precedent for others. Chand has since then helped other athletes who have faced similar incidents, and can relate to the anger that they feel. “Indian and Bangladeshi athletes have much smaller frames than Western athletes, but they were telling me that I am too masculine? I had to fight it,” recalls Chand.
The sprinter now is looking at establishing a training academy to help the nation win more medals in the sport. "I am a human, who was born in this country. Dutee Chand is a brand today. I want to set up a training academy and win more medals for the country. Nobody is on the planet to live forever. So, give your everything. Youngsters should choose a career and life partner of their choice. And think of doing something for the country too. Jo darr gaya, woh marr gaya na?"