Indian sprinter Dutee Chand says she hopes to win many more medals for the country and set up an academy for athletes in Odisha in the future.

Im human before anything else Athlete Dutee Chand opens up on love life and sport
news Sports Sunday, November 03, 2019 - 18:49

“We can’t choose who we fall in love with,” says Indian sprinter Dutee Chand, who is also the country’s first openly gay athlete, on Sunday. Having revealed that she is in a relationship with a woman in her hometown in Odisha earlier this year, the 23-year-old sportsperson adds, “I’m lucky that she liked me back. If she hadn’t then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Dutee Chand was speaking in Bengaluru at ‘We the Women’, a summit at hotel Lalit Ashok hosted by journalist Barkha Dutt in association with UN Women. Interviewed by Sharda Ugra, an acclaimed journalist, she spoke about her life and career.

Speaking out about her decision to come out, Dutee says, “If we lived in a city, we would have quietly lived in a hostel or had a house together. But since we lived in the village with our parents, I had no choice but to tell my mother. At first, she was scared because she had never heard of a girl getting married to a girl, and feared the consequences. But I reassured her and told her that it’s not a crime any longer, according to the Supreme Court.”

Her decision to announce that she is in a same-sex relationship, however, was not accepted by some of her family members, including her sister, who allegedly blackmailed her. But Dutee says, this only strengthened her resolve to speak out. “When I was blackmailed by my sister, I decided to come out openly, since I had seen the reports of section 377 being decriminalised. I am proud of who I am,” she says to applause.

She also spoke about her fight at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after she was banned in 2014 from competing as a woman because of high testosterone levels, a condition known as hyperandrogenism. While CAS ruled in her favour, the verdict set a precedent for others. Dutee has since supported other athletes who faced similar cases. When asked if she was afraid to fight, she quips mischievously, “Dar gaya tho mar gaya na?” (If you get scared, you die).

She says that at the time, she was mostly angry at the injustice. “Indian and Bangladeshi athletes have much smaller frames than the Western athletes, but they were telling me that I am too masculine? I had to fight it,” recalls Dutee.

When asked what her personal identity is, after being labelled as an LGBT icon, she says, “I am a human before anything else. As you go through life, people may call you whatever they want, but my parents called me ‘Dutee Chand’, and that’s who I am. It’s a different thing that ‘Dutee Chand’ has now become a brand,” she laughs.

She speaks of how small her dreams were before all the medals, and that she never expected to see such fame. “I wanted to use my running to get me a sports quota for studies, and use it to get a small government job and settle down. I just wanted a small job, and live a small life. But my trainers saw my potential and encouraged me to keep training, to keep going higher. I recognised my capacity when I beat the record at the national level at 11.33 seconds,” she shares.

The athlete cites her family as her main source of strength. When asked how her family has been affected by all the controversy and the fame, she says, “Many times we’ve not had enough money for food. I needed to maintain my diet, and at the time, I saw my mother giving her share up for me. We were managing on the salary of my older sister, as she had a post in the police force at the time, and she got about Rs 5,000. But they constantly supported me,” she says.

With regards to her future, she says she hopes to win as many medals for India as she can. She says she would like to set up a Dutee Chand academy for runners in Odisha, and train others like her, and give support to people who are like her.

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