India’s fastest woman has said she has found a soulmate, a girl from her hometown whom she has known for a few years. Dutee Chand, the 100 m record holder and winner of two silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games, is the first Indian sports star to acknowledge being in a same-sex relationship. Chand, 23, did not identify her partner because she does not want her to become “the centre of undue attention”.
The sprinter is currently training hard to qualify for the World Championships and the Tokyo Olympics next year, so any plans of formalising the relationship have been put off for later.
“I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with. I have always supported the rights of those who want to be in a same-sex relationship. It is an individual person’s choice. Currently, my focus is on the World Championships and the Olympic Games but in the future I would like to settle down with her,” Dutee told The Sunday Express.
She said she had gathered the courage to speak out for the rights of the LGBT community, and about her own same-sex relationship after the Supreme Court’s historic decision to decriminalise Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code last year.
“I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied. The Supreme Court of India has also struck down the old law. I believe nobody has the right to judge me as an athlete because of my decision to be with who I want. It is a personal decision, which should be respected. I will continue to strive to win medals for India at international meets,” Dutee said.
Though India does not recognise LGBT marriages, there is no law that prohibits a symbolic same-sex union. In September last year, the Supreme Court read down the 158-year-old British-era law that criminalised same-sex relations between consenting adults in private, and punished them with jail terms.
“The sexual orientation of each individual in the society must be protected on an even platform for the right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution,” the five-judge Bench ruled.
Dutee said it had been her dream to find someone who would be her partner for life. “I wanted to be with someone who will encourage me to continue being a sportsperson. I have been a sprinter for the past 10 years and I will perhaps continue to run for the next five to seven years. I travel around the world to compete. It is not easy. Mujhe kisi ka sahara bhi chahiye (I need someone who will support me on the personal front),” she said.
The sprinter who was born in Chaka Gopalpur, a village of weavers in Odisha’s Jajpur district, has been a torchbearer in the fight for the eligibility of female athletes in track and field events. Dutee had successfully moved the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) rules on hyperandrogenism, which put a cap on the testosterone levels of women athletes who wanted to compete in track and field events.
In 2014, Dutee was dropped from India’s Commonwealth Games team after officials claimed she fell foul of the testosterone-cap rules. The IAAF withdrew the rules last year, which allowed her to run in the 100 m and 200 m.