• Santhi Soundarajan: India’s Caitlyn Jenner Minus the Open-Armed Welcome

    By Binjal Shah

    When Gay marriage rights were sanctioned in America, the rainbows managed to pierce the skies of India too. When Bruce Jenner transitioned, we were surprisingly civil about Calling Her Caitlyn. Yet, somehow we choose to observe our own countrymen through a harsher, more rigid lens than we do the westerners. This is one such story, of a woman who failed be greeted by the same open arms as the Caitlyns and the Lavernes, by us hypocrites. This is the story of Santhi Soundarajan, and how we denied her of her right to live life the way that comes to her naturally.


    An Indian track and field sportswoman who was on top of the world on winning the 800 silver at the Asian Games in 2006, and dedicated her win to her home state. However, she came under suspicion for not being biologically female. In a traumatised humiliating series of events, her privates were examined, she was declared a man, although she has spent her entire life as a woman, and  she was stripped off her all her laurels- her 11 international and 50 domestic medals.

    The daughter of a laborer in Tamil Nadu, she had humble beginnings but ambitious dreams. Not many people get within tasting distance of their deepest desires, but Santhi was too close to achieving everything she had hoped for. And suddenly, everything was snatched away from her grasp due to a biological characteristic she had no control over. And in turn, she was thrown back not just to the starting line, but to a point way beyond that.

    Today, this athlete that once had the brightest future, earns Rs. 200 a month, and has been turned out completely by the sports authority of India. She has been pleading with them to allow her some sort of an association with them, by maybe securing a permanent sports job with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, in order to use her skills to support her parents in her native village. But all her talent, her shining profile pales in comparison to her natural condition.

    “All I want is a job,” she says, to TheLogical Indian.  She wrote to the Ministry in New Delhi, only to have receive this as an answer -“…it is informed that since the medal has not been restored to you, the Ministry cannot give cash Award for the medal,” it said. “This Ministry does not provide jobs or recommend particular spokespersons for jobs in Central/State Government offices”


    In fact, Lalit Bhanot of India’s Amateur Athletic Federation in 2009, had pledged to take up her case and bring her to justice, that India would take up Soundararajan’s case, but that commitment disappeared in the face of either lack of resolve or the lack of interest.


    Today, even as Santhi struggles with Minimum wages as a daily laborer when she instead deserves to be sweating it out on an international stage, we watch on as she lives a life without acceptance, credit and respect – we watch on by as she is treated almost as if she isn’t even human.


    Image credit: Mid-day