Each generation has its heroes that inspire millions. Few of them, such as the late Milkha Singh or PT Usha, become legends in their lifetime. But some, like Dutee Chand, go beyond being simple heroes or a part of the folklore. Sundeep Misra’s Fiercely Female follows the life of the sprinter through the triumphs where she rose from abject poverty, overcame hurdles to become a world-class athlete, as well as the trials when she failed a hyperandrogenism test and was accused of being a ‘man’. In 2014, a leaked medical report revealed that Dutee’s body produced a higher level of testosterone and, as a result, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Hyperandrogenism Regulations stopped her from competing. Unlike other athletes before her, Dutee’s decision to fight back by not undergoing any hormonal treatment to reduce her naturally produced testosterone is what separates her from the rest and makes her a true sports icon.
Born in 1996 in a family that often went without food for days, Dutee began running after watching her elder sister Saraswati run on the banks of River Brahmani. At times, her father would sit at the local grocer’s store until closing time to request food that his family could eat. Dutee’s mother would serve endless cups of tea before meals to kill appetite. Saraswati knew that sports could be her family’s ticket out of poverty. Only when the national level athlete got a job as a constable in Odisha Police in 2003 would the Chands stop worrying about money. By that time, Dutee was winning laurels in school for running, and Saraswati ensured her sister got the much-needed discipline and regime at the Sports Hostel in Bhubaneswar. A few months later, Dutee broke the national record for 100 mt by clocking 12 seconds.
Despite Dutee’s innate potential, a series of coaches asked her to focus on running middle-distance instead of sprinting. Dutee left coaching centres to practise independently. Her tenacity and self-belief transformed her into a world-class athlete. These also held her in good stead when she took on outfits such as the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) and the IAAF at the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Much like how it had dealt with Santhi Soundarajan—the 800 mt 2006 Doha Asian Games silver medalist stripped of her medal because she failed a gender test—who ended up working in a brick kiln, the AFI refused to support Dutee. Fiercely Female offers a ringside seat to one of the most critical battles undertaken by an athlete.
Dutee challenged the sexist ruling that stopped her from competing as a woman because of hyperandrogenism but at the same time, celebrated swimmer Michael Phelps’ genetic advantages gave him an edge over his competitors. It’s heartening to know that SAI’s Director Jiji Thomson and then Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal stood by Dutee. After winning the case, Dutee went on to win two silver medals in the 2018 Asian Games and, in 2019, became the first openly gay athlete in India.
Although one feels the title is a tad reductionistic, it gives excellent insight into the heart and soul of one of the finest athletes of her generation. Misra’s writing takes you right into the middle of the action. It also sheds light on the precarious state of athletics in India. While the media continues to focus its attention on Dutee’s same-sex relationship, the sprinter chooses to concentrate on preparing for the greatest race of her life at the Tokyo Olympics.
Fiercely Female: The Dutee Chand Story
By: Sundeep Misra
Price: Rs 399