A recent petition named #Justice for Shanthi Soundarajan caught my attention while browsing the internet today. If you’re wondering who this lady is, let me give you a brief sports history lesson. Shanthi Soundarajan is a track and field athlete from Tamil Nadu. At the age of 18, she has already represented the nation in various important competitions like the Asian Games and has successfully pocketed 11 medals for India at these international games. As someone who represented the country, we can only imagine how many accolades she would’ve won for her own state, Tamil Nadu.
And yet, back in 2006, at the Doha Asian Games, she ‘failed’ a gender test and was stripped off all her medals and achievements. She was diagnosed with a condition called hyperandrogenism, as The News Minute reports. Her dreams of participating in the Rio Olympics were dashed, and she has been left quite bereft and without support.
If you aren’t aware of what a ‘gender test’ means, here it is: a test done to verify if the athlete is a male or a female based on their testosterone levels and other hormones that would define them to be of particular sex. (And FYI: ‘gender’ is not a substitute for ‘sex’. ‘Gender’ is a socio-cultural term, while ‘sex’ is scientific/ biological, used when the biological distinction is predominant. Read more here)
The problem is there have also been issues raised about how scientific/ unscientific these gender tests are.
You might think this is a one-off case — but that’s only because you don’t remember the abject plight and humiliation of Dutee Chand, who today is representing India at the Rio Olympics.
Back in 2014, she too ‘failed’ the gender verification test at the cost of ‘extraordinary performance’ and ‘her stride being too impressive’ (as reported by The New York Times) as the officials stated. Really? Do I have to spell out how atrocious this reasoning sounds? And the tests themselves are as humiliating as one can imagine. The females are sent to a private hospital to get chromosome analysis, M.R.I and a gynaecological test that involves measuring and palpating the clitoris, vagina and labia. Apart from that breast size and pubic hair are also measured.
Incidentally, coming from a small village in Punjab, Chand was unaware of what testosterone even meant. As an aside: I wonder what good education is doing for the rest of us anyway. A website topendsports.com writes that the tests were initially introduced to prevent male athletes from entering female athletic events. Now which self loving individual will want to make that mistake and go through this horrific and humiliating experience of getting ‘checked’?
Now, let me give these ‘world class’ sports authorities the benefit of the doubt for just a second. I will put forth a case here: when a female athlete is reported to have more male hormones, I believe that they think she is ‘too good’ to be competing in the women’s category. Yea? But if according to their ‘standards’ she is more male than female, what if instead of barring the athlete from competing at all, she should compete with male athletes? Can we do that? In this race of trying to divide performance and sex, are official authorities themselves portraying an unhealthy picture of gender? A woman cannot be too muscular, a woman cannot take long strides, a woman cannot run as fast. These are the kind of messages an international federation is sending out. How is it okay? How is it okay to doubt someone’s potential, achievement, success, on the basis of ‘too good’? What is education teaching us? Is it dividing more than uniting?
The point is that Dutee Chand managed to fight — very publicly, with lawyers at her side — the system, and get the ruling overturned. It’s no small feat that she is competing at Rio, for her country.
Does that not set a precedent for Shanthi Soundarajan … someone from an under-privileged background, who lived big dreams of being a world-class athlete, and pushed herself to the max to achieve them, only to have them come crashing down — What about justice for her? It’s a pretty shocking state of affairs, and it looks like the one hope she has to restore her on her path and give her some support is: the petition gains traction, and possibly attention at the highest levels.
Watch her entreaty here:( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qm_XpajQ8tE)
And sign the petition here: (http://thappad.in/petition/shanti/)
Feature Image Courtesy: indiatimes.com