Dutee Chand, India’s fastest sprinter, came out last month, revealing her 'soulmate' was a 20-year-old woman from her village in Bhubaneshwar. Since then, the 23-year-old has faced a barrage of criticism from her family and her village. But the 100 m record holder and winner of two silver medals at the 2018 Asian Games is not giving up hope. "I don’t expect the villagers to understand my situation and support me at this point. However, I’m positive, once they get better understanding of this, they will for sure," she told Anuradha SenGupta in the CNN-NEWS18 interview show, Off-Centre.
The sprinter also said that she would like to join politics after her sporting career ends.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Your disclosure has created a ruckus. People are thinking and talking about it. How are you coping with it all?
People are just making a ruckus. It is a democracy and we can choose to live our lives the way we want to. Most people keep this kind of relationship private. I was forced to disclose it because my sister threatened to expose me in the media. So I decided to reveal it myself. This is not a crime. Whatever I have done, I have done for myself. This is who I am and this is who I want to be. This is what makes me happy.
You have so much clarity of thought on this matter especially compared to many who are unable to be so clear or brave. How did you achieve that?
I’ve had to struggle since childhood. My father is a cloth weaver. We struggled to make ends meet. This made me tougher than most. I was embroiled in a controversy during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. However, I fought back and won. This made me stronger than before. People will always keep saying things. Some positive, some negative. If we keep thinking about it, life is going to be difficult. We cannot get ahead if we keep letting these things scare us.
In 2014, your entire village, family, coach supported you in your battle against the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). In 2019, you don’t have the same support from them, do you?
Since it concerned sports, the state government offered me complete support. People at home and in my village wanted me to win medals. Now however, as far as my personal life is concerned, things are far more controversial than I intended them to be. So I haven’t received the same support this time. I have had to stand up for myself. I have received a lot of flak. But I believe this mindset too can be challenged and those who want to understand will understand anyway.
How has the sports federation reacted to this announcement about your personal life?
Apart from my immediate family, everybody including my relatives, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Odisha state government have been supportive. They understand that it’s a personal matter and have asked me to live my life the way I want to, as it has nothing to do with sports. They want me to focus on training and not to let this become stressful.
So this won’t have an impact on your sporting career or the support that you get from the system?
If I get this kind of support, my mind will be fresh and I will be able to focus better. I am receiving support at this point in time. Initially, they couldn’t understand me but their perceptions have changed. They have even saved me from mental harassment.
Last year the Supreme Court in a historic judgment decriminalised homosexuality. Until then being LGBTQ was a criminal offence. Did this verdict help your decision to come out?
I would like to thank the Supreme Court for making a monumental judgment on this issue. This made me confident as I believed no one would harm me or out me in jail if I came out of the closet.
What do you do next? What is next on your calendar?
Right now, I’m focussed on training for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I’m only 23 and I still have a good six years ahead of me. Hence, I’m going to focus on training and winning a medal for my country. I want to start an academy and help underprivileged children. After my sporting career is over, I’d like to enter politics and help the nation.
Which party would you like to join?
I haven’t thought about that yet. But I will consider the party that’s doing good work at that time.