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Dutee Chand once again proves to be a true inspiration for LGBTQ+ community by celebrating the traditional Odia Sabitri Puja with her partner.
Dutee Chand has once again set precedent for Indian LGBTQ+ community by celebrating ‘Sabitri’, a traditional Odia festival celebrated by married women. The festival is celebrated by married women by fasting and praying for long and prosperous lives of their husbands. It is based on the mythology of Savitri and Satyavan. In a since deleted Facebook post, Dutee marked the festival with her long-time partner in the capital city of Bhubaneswar. Dutee has always remained close to her roots despite her international success.
Chand came out in 2019 after being blackmailed by her sister about her identity. In a country, where even the most elite and upper-caste men hesitate to talk about their sexuality, Chand, a tribal woman from a impoverished and self-made background decided to not bow down to familial and societal pressure and revealed her sexuality. She felt that even though she was scared of the public reaction and the impact on her professional career, the truth needed to be told and that she could not hide her identity anymore.
Her celebrating a festival, traditionally celebrated by married heterosexual women is nothing short of revolutionary, especially for queer people in small towns and villages who have been forced to relinquish their religious practices by the ‘religious leaders’.
Dutee was born in a small village near Jajpur town of Odisha. The villagers who are predominantly weavers have supported her athletics journey but have turned against her after her coming out. In June 2019, she declared her five year long relationship with her same-sex partner. By doing so she became the first Indian athlete and one of the first Indian celebrities to publically talk about her sexuality. Her sister has repeatedly encouraged the government to take action against her but the state government as well as the sports authority have refused to sanction her for her personal life choices.
Following her coming out, she has been shunned by her parents, her villagers who once took pride in her achievement have criticised her publically and called her an “embarrassment”.
In a country where religious reasoning is constantly used to back up regressive practices and force people into a heterosexual mould, celebrating religious events that validates your relationship is incredibly brave and empowering. This is not the only festival she participated recently; she also celebrated ‘Rajo’, another traditional Odia festival that rejoices about menstruating women. She has constantly defied societal norms and stood up for her beliefs.
Even before her coming out, she has been subjected to discrimination over her sexuality in 2014 when she was just 18 years old for her high testosterone level or ‘hyperandrogenism’ similar to South-African athlete Caster Semenya but unlike her SA peer, she was fortunate to have won her case in the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).
She has called out the sexism in the sports industry and the disproportionate tests that female athletes are subjected to. In an interview, she pointed out, “There are no rules for men but for women there are so many tests: Why is your hormone count so high? How much is your body fat? But every human body cannot be the same, can it?”
Dutee refuses to let her sexuality be the sole point of discussion about her; she has repeatedly proved to be a feminist and queer icon. During the lockdown she drove 70Km to her village to distribute 1000 food packets to the villagers who had previously shunned her. She also gave 15 days ration to 50 needy families. In an interview, her coach revealed that she has been supporting two young aspiring female athletes from her village and paying for their travel, training and even letting them train with her coach. Recently she also criticised a popular Odia movie poster for leashing women and commoditising them and demanded it to be changed.
Her incredibly humble beginnings and refusal to be anything but proud of her identity both sexual and religious has garnered a lot of love from youths of smaller towns and villages. However she has also being mocked for her bad English and some even criticised her for going to a temple even after coming out. She has never engaged with such criticism and expects people to have their opinions about her, “That doesn’t mean to say I am not going to follow my heart. I can’t spend my life worrying about others. No one can live without love.” She said.
After becoming the fastest Indian woman in 2019, the Athletics Federation of India has recently nominated her for the prestigious Arjuna Awards. She was also recently appointed as the Deputy Manager at the Odisha Mining Corporation by the Govt. of Odisha.
The 24 year old who started training for sports without proper running shoes and a diet of only rice and sabzi in order to secure a meagre govt job, is now a global LGBTQ+ trailblazer and the pride of India.
Her story and her celebrating traditional festivals and choosing to hold on to her beliefs is inspirational to all the other closeted vulnerable queer youths who are scared of choosing between their faith and their identity. It’s not just about celebrating ‘Sabitri’ but choosing to defy the hetero-normative traditions of the society and establishing hope for countless religious queer people across the country.
This pride month we salute her bravery, her impeccable sense of justice, refusal to give in to rules and above all her talent and her relentless effort to bring glory to the country.
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Asefa writes about the lives of women in smaller towns of India. Her interest include
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