Star sprinter Dutee Chand has sweet recollection of a special WhatsApp message she received from her partner, a girl from her home town she has known for over two years, this Valentine’s Day.
“I was in Hyderabad. She sent me a WhatsApp message saying there is a matter of the heart, which I wanted to tell you about. I asked her what it was, and she said she was in love with me. So she proposed to me on Valentine’s Day,” Dutee, 23, told The Sunday Express after a training session at the Kalinga Stadium here on Saturday.
The two had grown close towards the end of 2017 when Dutee, who was nursing a wrist injury, had moved from her training base in Hyderabad to Bhubaneswar. Her partner too, moved to the state capital from her village, Chaka Gopalpur, to help the star athlete with household chores.
The national 100 m record holder said that while she had developed feelings for her “soulmate”, she didn’t want to make the first proclamation of love.
“Before last year’s Asian Games, she had done a puja for me. That was when I started to like her a lot. But I was not sure about her feelings for me. Moreover, I didn’t want to take the first step since I am a star and a celebrity and if I tell her I love her, she could feel the pressure to say yes. I was waiting for her to express her love for me,” Dutee said.
In her first detailed interview after opening up about being in a same-sex relationship to The Sunday Express last weekend, Dutee spoke about the delight of receiving overwhelming support for her announcement.
“I have been getting hundreds of phone calls. I knew it would make news, but didn’t realise the extent to which people would discuss it, tweet about it, and want to talk to me about it. I just saw a positive comment by (actress and writer) Twinkle Khanna. You had informed me about (American talk show host) Ellen (DeGeneres) tweeting about me, and (former India hockey captain) Viren Rasquinha writing (in The Indian Express) in my support,” she told this correspondent.
DeGeneres, a global gay rights icon with a staggering 77.7 million followers on Twitter, tweeted on Tuesday: “She’s the 100 m record holder and the first openly gay sportsperson in India. I guess she knows a thing or two about being first. I’m so proud of her.”
Dutee came out first to The Sunday Express on May 19. Rasquinha wrote in this paper on May 23 about his “immense pride” at Dutee’s announcement, a “watershed moment in Indian sport”.
Dutee also spoke about a past relationship with a boy. Back in 2014, she said, the boy she had been seeing for five years, had walked away from her after she was banned under the hyperandrogenism guidelines, which put a cap on the testosterone level of female athletes. She had struggled to deal with the break-up, Dutee said.
“In 2009, I was in Class 8 and I was in the (sports) hostel. At that time a boy had proposed to me. I was in a relationship with him for five years. But in 2014 when I was banned because of the testosterone rules, which existed back then and people started saying that ‘she is a boy and not a girl’, it affected our relationship. Slowly he started avoiding me. I got the message. But from that time onwards I have been very lonely,” Dutee said.
Over the past month, Dutee’s elder sister Saraswati, whom she has fallen out with, has been threatening to tell people about her same-sex relationship. The constant blackmail affected her track-and-field career. But her coach, N Ramesh, and a few fellow athletes stood by her.
“Yes, my mind was disturbed. My coach Ramesh is like a father to me. I told my coach about the blackmailing. Sir told me not to worry,” she said.
Other sprinters too, have been supportive. “In 2018, some of the athletes I train with knew about it. I had started wearing a ring. Around the time of the Asian Games last year, my partner and I had exchanged rings. It was not an official ceremony or anything. We just went to a temple and did puja and we exchanged rings. So some athletes saw the ring and asked me why I am wearing the ring and I told them about it. I didn’t tell too many people, but I told some of the sprinters,” Dutee said.