Life, as Dutee Chand knew it, did not come to an end on June 27 when she was blood-tested in Bangalore for the first time for hyperandrogenism. The nightmare, with all its disorientation, confusion, and lack of clarity, really hit her when she was told about news reports which said she was not part of the Commonwealth Games squad — a dream she has chased singlemindedly over the past year.
A Sports Authority of India (SAI) test has found that Dutee, a junior woman athlete who specialises in 100 m and 200 m sprints, is “not fit to participate in female events”. Speaking on the bewildering confusion for the first time since she was barred from international competitions, Dutee says she doesn’t know what is happening with her.
“Main bachpan se aisi hi hoon (I have been like this since childhood). I don’t understand why all this is happening suddenly. I don’t know what happened, but they tested me, and now everyone says hormone test mein ‘male’ aa gaya hai,” she told The Indian Express on Thursday, sounding perplexed, and very lost.
No athletics official or doctor has explained hyperandrogenism — excessive production of testosterone in the female body — to her. “I have read about my story in newspapers and seen it on television, but I don’t understand it,” she said plainly.
But the 18-year-old is aware that she faces the biggest challenge of her nascent athletics career. She spoke of how her mother had been hounded by the media at her home in Orissa.
“Paperwaale ghar pahunch gaye, aur Ma se poochha main ladki hun ya ladka,” she said, describing the crude way in which the issue of inter-sex athletes — an umbrella term describing over 100 genetic and non-genetic conditions, and of which hyperandrogenism is a preliminary indication — is discussed in India.
“She told them she had brought me up as a girl, and this had never once come up throughout my school years,” Dutee said. Her mother rang Dutee’s elder sister, a constable in the state police. “She asked Didi if she knew what was happening to her little girl. ‘Why is everyone calling her a boy?’”
When Dutee spoke with her mother, the older woman, unschooled and impoverished, asked, “Sports karne bheja tha, isme ladka kaise ban sakta hai koi?” Dutee said she had told her mother not to listen to the media, and assured her that nothing had changed in her daughter.
But the tension is wracking Dutee. “It is very difficult. Commonwealth was a big event for me. I had trained so hard these last six months, but it was still not enough for me to be able to go,” she said, appearing to betray a still-not-full comprehension of recent events. “I’ve never faced a problem like this. It’s difficult thinking I might never race again, and I can’t be optimistic until everything is okay again.”
Dutee was spurred to take up athletics after someone from the neighbouring village returned home with a medal from the World Police Games, and was immediately smitten. “I have never lost a race since I started training in school,” she said, adding, “I enjoy running in competitions more than I like running in practice. I love stadiums, beating others, people cheering for me.”
At the Bangalore camp, Dutee said, her seniors had rallied around her. “My team captain told me I was a good runner. I thought I was going for the Games.”
Dutee’s roughest day at the camp, in fact, had come after she had a meat preparation which tasted very different from the fish her mother cooks. “I didn’t like that taste, but once they told me it was important for my sport, I never complained again. Desh ke liye jo kahenge, wo karungi. I want to run and win a medal.”
She would also be ready for a possible remedial procedure and treatment, she said, “I will do anything to come back. But I don’t know if they will allow it.”
During the conversation, the teenager that Dutee really is, kept coming out. She loves to hang out with friends from the juniors camp and watching movies, she said. “I also love taking pictures, I am very good,” she giggled.
Right now though, the searing spotlight is trained squarely on her.