While World Celebrates Caitlyn Jenner, We Let The Dignity of Our Own Athlete Being Ripped Off

Richa Verma

July 19th, 2015

She is the daughter of a daily labourer construction worker.
Her foot were on ground but she wanted to gallop into the sky.
She didn’t have money to buy shoes, but her legs yearned to fly.
She won India most laurels, put India on the world map.
Until one day, she was stripped off her dignity. She is Santhi Soundarajan.

Recently, the media has been abuzz with the story of Bruce Jenner’s journey from an Olympic icon to a transgender woman. She is grateful that she can be just herself now, after being untrue to her identity for 65 years of her life. She has the support of her fans, whose visit to her website, CaitlynJenner.com caused her site to crash! She has featured on the front page of Vanity Fair, which has covered her story.

While accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage award and the ESPYs, she was upfront about her pain at discovering firsthand the difficulties of so many members of the Trans community who try to be themselves. “The last few weeks have been a whirlwind…. They (transgender) are being bullied, they’re getting beaten up, they’re being murdered, they’re committing suicide”.

We do not have to go far to see how discriminatory gender treatment has wrecked the career and life of our own Olympic player, Santhi Soundararajan. In 2006, her privates were examined, and her gender questioned, she was labeled as a man and stripped of the 800, silver at the Asian Games.

Nobody in India stood up for her human dignity or against the country’s shame in the international forum and we watched silently when her diginity was being reaped off and we even enjoyed the media circus around it.
Being the daughter of a daily construction worker, she now survives on a frugal Rs 200 a day, the wage of a woman labourer in Tamil Nadu. The sports authorities offer jobs to her periodically, only to throw her out at the end of the contracts.

“All I want is a job,” says 34 year-old Soundarajan, wondering how she would support her parents in her native village. For ten years, she has been trying desperately to secure a permanent sports job, and requesting for the allocation of prize money. When she wrote to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in New Delhi, she got this ruthless reply.

“…it is informed that since the medal has not been restored to you, the Ministry cannot give cash Award for the medal,” it said. “This Ministry does not provide jobs or recommend particular spokespersons for jobs in Central/State Government offices”

“I did not get the kind of support Caster Semenya did”, says Santhi. Why did the words of Lalit Bhanot of India’s Amateur Athletic Federation in 2009, that India would take up Soundararajan’s case fallen on deaf ears? Being raised as a woman, she wants to be recognized as a woman. Who are we to deny her that right? Will we let the government be apathetic towards her predicament or are we capable enough of learning from South Africa?

In 2009, Caster Semenya also failed a gender test which showed that she has an “inter gender condition”. The winner of 800 m gold at the world championships in Berlin in August, 2009, she was banned for eleven months. Her country endorsed her. With campaigns backing Semenya, the International Association of Athletics Federation not only cleared her name, they even agreed to let her keep her 800 metre world title, the medal and the prize money. She was the flag-bearer of South Africa in the London Olympics, 2012.

Unfortunately, this is a story which is in stark contrast to that of Santhi’s.The question Santhi is asking is- Who is the world to assign her a gender? She is not “transgender” she has lived as a woman, she wants to be recognised as one. Who are we to deny that. When South Africa could fight for the right to dignity of their national representation in an international stage, what stopped India and Indians from doing so.

What will it take for the government to get her back her lost dignity and India – her glory. Now it depends on we Indians either to rally behind her to restore her lost dignity or to shun her so that the worst might happen and we have another bright star fading into oblivion and committing suicide.

If anyone can help Santhi Soundarajan in getting a job that suits her career profile, please write to us at [email protected]

With inputs from Harrish Iyer

Image Courtesy: Mid-day

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