Santhi Soundarajan, the Tamil Nadu athlete, finally had some semblance of justice last year after a decade of struggle, when she was given a permanent post with the State Sports Development Authority.
However, her battle to restore the medals and the dignity stripped from her after failing a ‘gender test’ in the 2006 Asian Games, is still ongoing. And in a blow to the same, her complaint to the National Human Rights Commission for the human rights violations she was subjected to, back in 2006, has been dismissed yet again.
The complaint is against Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and Indian Olympic Association (IOA). This was also the third time Santhi approached the apex human rights body.
Santhi received a response from the NHRC in January saying that her complaint was not entertainable as per Section 36(2) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. The quoted section reads: “The Commission or the State Commission shall not inquire into any matter after the expiry of one year from the date on which the act constituting violation of human rights is alleged to have been committed.”
It essentially means that the act which violated Santhi’s human rights – the gender test – was conducted more than a year ago from when the complaint was filed, which is why the NHRC rejected it.
However, Gopi Shankar, an activist from Madurai and the first intersex person to contest an Assembly election, says that this stand is inconsistent with NHRC’s responses to the previous complaints – one filed by him and one by Santhi.
Gopi filed a complaint as a third party in 2016, which was admitted by the NHRC. The NHRC also responded saying that the complaint had been “transmitted to the concerned authority for such action as deemed appropriate” and this authority should react within eight weeks and also inform the complainant about it.
“But we don’t know who these ‘concerned authorities’ are. The complaint was then dismissed,” Gopi informs.
In 2015, when Santhi had filed the complaint the response she received was: “The complaint is addressed to other authority with only copy sent to this Commission. The authority is expected to take appropriate action in this matter. Hence, no action is called for.”
“When the NHRC admitted the complaints twice before, rejecting it under Section 36(2) doesn’t make sense. It shows they can peruse it but have chosen not to,” Gopi alleges.
In 2006, Santhi was made to undergo a ‘gender test’ in Doha where she was participating in the Asian Games and was diagnosed with hyperadrogenism, a condition which causes excess testosterone in the body.
Until now however, Santhi has not received the medical reports of this test, Gopi claims. In March 2016, Santhi and Gopi had both filed separate RTI’s to AFI asking for the test reports to be provided to Santhi. TNM has copies of the responses received to both.
In response to the RTI by Gopi, the medical reports were refused by AFI on the grounds of “medical confidentiality.” In response to the same request for Santhi, the reply says that the reports cannot be sent via post due to “fear of tempering in transit.” It adds however that Santhi can come to the AFI office in person to “see/receive a copy” after she establishes her identity.
“At that time, Santhi didn’t even have a permanent job. How can they expect her to afford flying out to Delhi? Besides, why should she even have to file an RTI to access her own medical reports?” Gopi argues.
AFI President Adille Summariwala however, has maintained that they have provided a copy of the report to her. “She is lying if she says she has not got the medical report. On February 24, 2011, on a reply to her RTI application, the AFI have given her the photostat copy of the test report given by the OCA (Olympic Council of Asia),” he told PTI in January.
He also put the onus to take further action on the IOA, saying that the AFI had done whatever they could.
Gopi alleges that Santhi was made to stand nude for half a day for the ‘gender test’ in 2006, not knowing the language the doctors spoke or what tests she was undergoing. After the test results came out, Santhi was stripped of all her medals.
And even though the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the International Association of Athletics Federations' rules for hyperandrogenism in 2015, Santhi has still not received her medals. She has previously written to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) as well as National Commission for Women.
Responding to the NCSC, the Sports Ministry stated, “…it is for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to take the decision in the matter. However, legal advice will be sought on the matter and action will be taken accordingly.” The reply came on December 13, 2016, nine months after Santhi wrote to the NCSC.