IT’S been nine months since the Calcutta High Court cleared Pinki Pramanik of rape charges levelled by another woman, but the 29-year-old sprinter says she is still facing discrimination based on assumptions about her gender.
A day after the High Court cleared her name, Pramanik bought a new pair of training shoes. However, she hasn’t been able to take the first step in her comeback — renew her registration with the state association, a basic requirement for any officially sanctioned athletics meet, or get leave to train.
Her employer, Eastern Railway, is yet to respond to her application submitted in January requesting renewal of her registration with the West Bengal Athletics Association (WBAA), and Special Casual Leave to train for competitions.
“I have not received any response to a formal request I had made to the sports officer nearly six months back,” said Pramanik, adding that her job as a Head Travelling Ticket Examiner of the Sealdah Division demands that she is on duty from 2 pm-10 pm.
“Though I have always been treated respectfully at my workplace and have received much support from my colleagues at the Sealdah station during and after the arrest in 2012, I feel discriminated against in my attempts to return to sports. The covert manner in which this discrimination takes place needs to be noted in the way my application has been ignored,” she added.
Jyotsna Mukherjee, the sports officer with Eastern Railway, said the reason for Pramanik’s requests not being considered is because she’s past her prime as an athlete.
“We have three to four girls who are younger than Pinki and are in much better form currently. Even if Pinki wants Special Casual Leave, she must prove that she is capable of being the best in her event among Eastern Railway athletes. She must start representing Purulia district and compete in state-level meets. If her timings are good and meet our standards, we can consider granting leave for training,” Mukherjee said.
But representing the district would still require a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the railways, said WBAA secretary Kamal Maitra.
“She was a registered athlete of Eastern Railway and when she approached me saying she wants to participate again, I told her that she must get a letter from her employer. We are ready to welcome her back as an athlete or even as a coach,” Maitra said.
Pramanik, a Commonwealth Games and Asiad medallist, has harboured ambitions of returning to her pet events — 400m and 800m — but being accused of rape and forced to undertake medical tests set her back further.
Her struggle comes at a time when another Indian athlete Dutee Chand, who is caught in a similar tangle, awaits the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration of Sport’s (CAS) verdict on her eligibility to participate in the women’s category.
“Sports have certain policies that target women and encourage stereotypes about women. In a situation like this, those associated with sports tend to promote a culture of suspicion about any athlete who is slightly different,” Pramanik, who clearly identifies herself as a woman, said.
“I understand that I need to compete at the district level to qualify for higher levels. That is how competitive sport should be. However, as the Sportsperson of the Year of Indian Railways in 2006-2007, I expect to be treated with some respect,” she said.