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Rashmi Rocket Explores The Unfair Practice Of ‘Gender Testing’ On Female Athletes!

Taapsee Pannu’s Rashmi Rocket highlights 'gender testing', a hormone test to check if the female athlete (esp if she excels) is a woman & not a man!  

‘Rashmi Rocket’ highlights  ‘gender testing’–a term many of us have never heard before. This testing identifies women athletes whose hormonal levels (testosterone) are different than normal hormonal levels.

We have had cases of many talented Indian athletes like Dutee Chand who have been humiliated and subjected to gender testing. Some were even removed from tournaments.

In the movie, Rashmi, a talented athlete, has to go through gender-testing to prove she’s a woman!

Taapsee Pannu plays the role of a small town girl named Rashmi who dreams of making her country proud someday. She is talented and diligently trains hard to become an athlete. She goes on to win several medals for the country until one day there is a shocking and unexpected turn of events.

She is asked to prove that she is a woman and has to undergo the unfair gender-testing (a gender identification test). Rashmi is traumatized and dejected but with the support of her mother played by Supriya Pathak and her lawyer played by Abhishek Banerjee, she gathers herself together and fights for herself.

She files a court petition for human rights violations. Her lawyer plays a pivotal role in the movie as well as he fights for her and the other athletes who are put through such unfortunate experiences shattering their dreams and degrading their self-respect.

So what exactly is gender testing?

Sports in the beginning was previously categorised on the basis of gender, then on the basis of stamina, and finally skills. There were categories for weight and for age so that there was fair play.

Gender testing began in the 1966 European Athletics Championships. There  were suspicions that few of the best women athletes from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were actually men. It was unbelievable for people that women could actually compete in sports against men and also excel.

In Olympics, gender testing was introduced in the year 1968. At first, gender testing was done in the form of physical examinations and subsequently into chromosome testing and testosterone levels testing.

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This testing identifies women athletes whose hormonal levels are different in comparison to the normal hormonal levels. High testosterone levels in women can be caused by various medical conditions like PCOS or Hirsutism.

The Olympics have predominantly been a man’s game in the past.  Women participated for the first time in Olympics in the 1900 Games in Paris. Of a total of 997 athletes, 22 women competed in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism and golf. After this there were separate categories for men and women in sports.

Why is gender testing in sports problematic?

There are studies that have shown a relationship between testosterone levels and physical performance in men. However there are no studies yet that prove this relationship in women. It is therefore a very questionable practice.

Judging women on the basis of their hormonal level and questioning their gender is shameful and degrading. It brings women in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons while the general public demean them and often isolate them. They are socially scrutinised and people start commenting on their gender. There are many who say, “We didn’t know you were a man”.

Their future prospects including their career and marriage prospects are jeopardised. This often pushes them into severe depression and sometimes suicide. Imagine the trauma that a woman goes through when she lives her whole life as a female and is suddenly told she is not woman enough to participate. There are many athletes whose medals were revoked after gender testing.

Indian middle-distance runner Santhi Soundarajan, who won the silver medal in 800 m at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, failed the sex verification test and subsequently stripped of her medal. Dutee Chand was dropped from the 2014 Commonwealth Games at the last minute after the Athletic Federation of India stated that hyperandrogenism made her ineligible to compete as a female athlete. Dutee Chand took a case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won an interim judgment in mid-2015. In  2016, Chand qualified to compete in the 100 metres race at the Summer Olympics.

Although hormonal imbalance is a disorder there is absolutely no study that proves that it enhances a woman’s physical capabilities like those of men. This is also still a topic of debate in the medical fraternity. These tests have been criticised by geneticists and others in the medical community. Gender verification tests are expensive, insensitive and potentially inaccurate. They are discriminatory and demeaning for women who have hormonal imbalances due to medical conditions.

There are absolutely no such tests for male athletes and very little research is available on their chromosomes or hormonal profiles.

Ironically, even Taapsee who plays Rashmi was trolled for ‘looking like a man.’

Just a few days back before the launch of the trailer Taapsee Pannu was trolled by netizens saying she looked manly in a picture she put up on social media. It is sad that women are still expected to look a certain way and conform to society’s standards of being a woman.

The reasons for high testosterone levels in women and hormonal imbalances are very complex and are often caused by medical conditions. Gender testing has widely been in the scanner and has been challenged by medical experts, academicians and also on humanitarian grounds.

The best athletes are the by-product of years of hard work, endurance and talent.

Let’s hope Rashmi Rocket does the subject of ‘gender testing’ justice and becomes the voice of many female athletes who’ve been subjected to this!

Image source: Still from Rashmi Rocket

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