- India’s champion sprinter Dutee Chand is facing backlash from her village because she came out as gay.
- Chand became the country’s first openly gay athlete last month when she disclosed she was in relationship with a woman from her tiny village of Chaka Gopalpur.
- The sprinter’s mother told the Indian Express that she cannot let Chand marry a woman, and her sister alleged that her coming out was part of a conspiracy theory to break up their family.
- A villager also told The Guardian: “She should never have talked about it to the whole world. She should stick to running.”
- The backlash has forced Chand’s partner to move to a different village.
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India’s fastest woman has been disowned by her village after announcing that she is in a same-sex relationship.
Dutee Chand, who currently holds India’s 100-meter sprint record, became the country’s first openly gay athlete when she told the Indian Express a woman from her village is “my soulmate” last month.
Now the people of the tiny village of Chaka Gopalpur, located in the eastern Odisha state, have turned against the 23-year-old champion sprinter.
‘I am with her as long as she is with sports, not beyond that’
Chand’s mother Akhuji told the Express last month: “I had been supporting her all along for her special interest in sports. We feel proud when she brings laurels for the state as well as the country.”
“But I can not allow her if she wants to marry the girl,” Akhuji Chand said. “We belong to a traditional Odia weaver community which does not permit such things.
“How can we face our relatives and the society? I am with her as long as she is with sports, not beyond that,” the mother said.
Dutee Chand’s elder sister, Saraswati, also alleged to the Express that the sprinter’s public announcement of her same-sex relationship was part of a “conspiracy” hatched by Chand’s coaches to end the sprinter’s relationship with her family, so they can “swindle her property and prize money.”
“It is a conspiracy to swindle her property and prize money,” Saraswati Chand said. “Her godfather and coaches are blackmailing her. She has snapped ties with our family after coming under their influence.”
“They have hatched the conspiracy and trapped the girl’s parents to usurp her property. There is threat to her life and property,” she added.
Dutee Chand told the Times of India earlier this month she opened up about her sexuality because her sister threatened to expose her relationship.
‘She should stick to running’
Chand used to be her village’s greatest pride. Born into a poor family of nine, Chand’s journey to the Olympics began by training on the banks of the Brahmani River, according to the Times.
But when she came out, Gopalpur was humiliated, fellow villager Prashant Behra told The Guardian.
“She should never have talked about it to the whole world,” he said. “She should stick to running.”
Now Chand’s supporters fear for her safety. Though India’s Supreme Court decriminalized gay sex in a landmark ruling last year, the LGBT community still faces discrimination – especially in rural areas.
The backlash from Chaka Gopalpur village already forced Chand’s partner to leave for another village, which was not identified, The Guardian reported.
In May, residents of a different village in Odisha state tied a 19-year-old woman to a tree, and beat her for being in a lesbian relationship.
Payoshni Mitra, Chand’s former adviser who now works as an athlete’s rights activist, told The Guardian the re-election of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also emboldens mobs to attack minorities, including the LGBT community.
“However, while it could be dangerous to be openly gay, one cannot live in fear of the consequences – and Dutee’s coming out gives us that message,” he said.
Though she did not want to make her private life public, Chand said coming out was the right choice.
“Now that I have done it, I’m at peace,” she told Times of India last month.