As 22-year-old Dutee Chand clinched a silver in the 100 metre dash event at the 18th Asian Games on Sunday, social media was flush with pride, with Twitter and Facebook users commenting on how the track athlete has made India proud. While celebrating Chand's victory, it is also important to remember how the sports authorities in India subjected her to the humiliation of undergoing a gender test, following which she had to file a legal battle to reclaim her right to pursue athletics.
In 2014, soon after a successful run at the Asia Junior Athletics Championship at Taipei, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) asked the Athletics Federation of India to test her testosterone levels. According to a report on Vice, 'rumours' about her 'masculine' physique had started doing the rounds of the athletics community.
A New York Times report on her ordeal pointed out how the AFI doctor in Delhi, instead of conducting the routine blood and urine tests, performed an ultrasound on her. Later, they sent a letter to the government's sports authority saying the following: "It has been brought to the notice of the undersigned that there are definite doubts regarding the gender of an Athlete Ms. Dutee Chand." It also pointed out that cases like hers "have brought embarrassment to the fair name of sports in India." It directed the authorities to perform a second 'gender verification test'.
After the test, Chand was diagnosed with 'hyperandrogenism' and the results stated, "her body produced natural levels of testosterone above International Association of Athletics Federations guidelines". Chand was immediately banned from participating in all track events.
The tests left Chand confused and ashamed. She told Hindustan Times, "I was not told by anyone, not even the doctor from SAI who conducted several tests on me, what they were for. I was confused. The papers were calling me a man. How does one turn into a man overnight?"
The IAAF's policy on hyperandrogenism has been widely critiqued and Chand challenged the decision in 2014 at the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). The court ruled in her favour and lifted the ban a year later, but in the meanwhile, Chand had to face discrimination, humiliation and a severe financial crunch.
A report on Mint states that Chand has six siblings and her father is a poor weaver in Odisha's Chaka Gopalpur village. Like several other athletes in the country, Chand took to athletics because of her passion for it and the fact that it would help the family battle the dire financial condition they were in.
Mint reports that when a woman athlete is usually banned under this controversial 'guideline', the options left to her are devastating — quit sports to undergo surgery to reduce the levels of testosterone in her body.
The days following the ban were gruelling and humiliating. She told the BBC that people, who had read the reports about her, began to ask her if she was a man or a woman and she felt that she had lost all the honour she had earned. Chand also missed participating in the 2014 Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games because of the ban.
"My friends used to start asking what's wrong with me, and started to avoid me. In training centres, where girls used to share rooms, I was kept separately," she told BBC.
Though the CAS ruled in favour of Chand in 2015, the threat of a ban hangs heavy on her career. In 2017, the IAAF decided to re-appeal her case and defend their policy on hyperandrogenism with 'new evidence'. While ruling on Chand's case, CAS also suspended IAAF's policy in hyperandrogenism for two years and allowed the organisation to return with more evidence to support their claims. In response, Chand said that she lives on constant fear of being banned.