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Not only does Dutee Chand deserve our wholehearted support and applause for coming out and being an LGBT youth icon, but the support she’s receiving is worth cheering!
A few days ago, the ace sprinter from Odisha Dutee Chand announced to the world that she was in a same-sex relationship thereby becoming the first Indian sportsperson to openly declare her gay status.
Though Dutee isn’t the only case, she is one of those few who have dared to publicly acknowledge their sexuality in a society that deems anything other than heterosexuality as unnatural. Other sports-persons who have come out in the open in the past, have not been able to do so without their share of humongous struggle in a world that is mostly homophobic.
After accepting her love for a woman from her village Dutee has been met with severe opposition from her own family. Though she has received support from several sensible and sensitive people across the world, some, mostly those close to her, are still not able to digest the admission of their beloved athlete. She has been criticized and made fun of.
While preparing to give her best shot in the Olympics that is due in 2020, Dutee now has the additional task of braving the social stigma attached with her relationship type and the pressures of an unforgiving family.
In a conservative country like India a woman achieving something exemplary can be equated with many battles won. The fact that they are able to step out of their hide-bound households is an achievement in itself. A supportive environment serves as that much needed lubricant in a struggle that has effort of an iceberg – ninety percent hidden from the eyes of the world. But more often than not, the support that can be a boost in converting the struggle into an achievement becomes a distant dream and at times, and mostly in a society like ours, an unknown concept.
From fighting her way out from a little hamlet Chaka Gopalpur in Odisha to becoming the champion athlete that she is today, the 23 year old is one of those few people for who impossible is nothing. Her records on the track are not the only thing that she should be lauded for.
Back in 2014, the current 100 m national champion fought to be back on the track, moving the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) which had barred her from competing on track, for hyperandrogenism, a condition that boosts testosterone levels. Overcoming severe mental and social trauma, she bounced back to set a new national record after the court passed the judgement in her favour.
After her recent admission one realizes that Dutee has been a pathfinder in many ways. Among others Hollywood’s celebrated talk show host Ellen Degeneres and industrialist Anand Mahindra have extended their support and lauded her for her courage via tweets.
But the most important thing that has happened after her admission is not the support that she is garnering from the famous personalities, but it is the support that she is getting from the common folk. The numbers, though may not be very impressive now, certainly speak of a change in the perception of the society and the growing acceptance of people’s choices. And that has a lot to do with the relentless fight of the LGBTQ community and the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court.
Less than a year ago, the apex court of the country in a land mark verdict struck down portions of section 377 of Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexual sex. On this momentous occasion the Chief Justice of India Deepak Mishra had rightly remarked, “Change mentality, bid adieu to prejudice”. In fact this is where the real challenge lies. Laws can be promulgated, but no law can bring about a social change unless there is a change in the mentalities of people.
Irrespective of what our personal choices are, giving respect to another’s individuality is the need of the times. And as Dutee rightly puts “Being in love is no crime.”
So for the way she has represented our country in sports, for the way she has fought back for her right to compete on track, for being a torch-bearer for the LGBTQ community in a conservative country like ours and simply for being the courageous woman that she is, Dutee Chand deserves kudos not scorn.
Image source: YouTube
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