Pinki Pramaniks ordeal is a statement on a voyeuristic public culture
Pinki Pramanik,the many-medalled former athlete from West Bengal,is facing a serious allegation that of raping a woman. She has been asked to defend herself,which includes establishing her womanhood. She has gone through two gender-determination tests at different government hospitals,but the results were inconclusive. Male police officers have escorted her and pushed her around. And now,a video clip of her,naked,going through a verification test in a nursing home,has gone viral. Instead of being a straightforward investigation of the charges,the Pramanik affair has become a lurid,disrespectful spectacle,an attack on her selfhood.
Being male or female is not a simple binary,and determining someones sex is not always a matter of assessing their privates. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association,gender verification has long been criticised by geneticists,endocrinologists and others in the medical community. One major problem was unfairly excluding women who had a birth defect involving gonads and external genitalia. This does not give a woman competitive edge (and by that logic,it would make more sense to sort sportspersons by lung volume or height or other genetic advantages). Rather,the shaming,invasive process of determining who she really is only serves to crush her spirit. Indias Santhi Soundarajan,whose silver at the 2006 Asian Games was taken away,was later diagnosed with androgen insensitivity syndrome,which meant she looked female,though her chromosomes said otherwise. The scrutiny,she said,left her physically and mentally broken. Many women athletes,including South Africas Caster Semenya and Brazils Edinanci Silva,have been similarly questioned.
The Pinki Pramanik controversy is not about her sporting credentials,but about whether she is guilty of rape. That question has,however,been played out in highly humiliating public circumstances,her privacy has been shredded. Whether or not she is culpable,those who have created this scandal around her deserve full blame.