The two silver medals Dutee Chand has won in the ongoing Asian Games have more than the weight of gold. For the Indian athlete, whose career was nearly destroyed by one of athletics’ most polarising and vicious controversies, this is a precious victory.
Till 2014, Chand was on the track to success, even if she had insurmountable odds stacked against her. She was the girl from a large, impoverished family in Odisha’s Jajpur district, who ran like the wind by the banks of the river in her village. She found a coach who had spotted her talent and honed her for the big league. She was on her marks, about to lunge for the finishing line when rumours about her gender — was she a man or a woman? — yanked her off the racing track. Humiliating tests and medical procedures, some carried out without her consent or without informing her, ended up in the diktat: Chand’s high levels of testosterone were “abnormal” for women and she could run no longer. She was forced off the Indian squad for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Chand had two options: Surgery and hormone therapy to reduce her naturally occurring testosterone levels or the end to athletics. There were two things she was certain of: That she was a woman, and a world-class athlete. She said she would let go of neither identity. Her epic battle at the Court of Arbitration for Sport challenged the hyperandrogenism guidelines which ban women athletes with elevated levels of testosterone from competing in track and field events. The new rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations say that women with such high levels will not be barred from the 100m and 200m races, where Chand competes. As significantly, her successful challenge has emboldened other athletes to fight to retain autonomy and control over their natural body — without forsaking the right to compete in longer races. It also has implications for the larger debate over sex and gender, and the individual’s right to decide her identity.