Santhi Soundarajan won a silver in 800 m race in the just concluded 15th Asian Games in Doha, but was humiliated by the gender test that she failed and the subsequent decision of the games authorities to stripe her off the medal. The test is not compulsory, but unfortunately for Santhi it was done on the basis of a complaint from a participant. The test found that Santhi Soundarajan “does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman” and had “more Y chromosomes” than acceptable in a woman!

The frenzied coverage the news received lacked any sensitivity and concern to the athlete and her background. Of the numerous news reports that I’ve accessed, only two reported the matter with care and attention to the details of the controversial test itself. reports the observation of Dr P S M Chandran, Director of Medicine, Sports Authority of India. It’s a compassionate, critical assessment of the whole episode. He says: “It is very, very unfair that you victimize a girl who has failed a gender test, unlike doping. Doping is a deliberate attempt to do some mischief. Being born with some physical, anatomical abnormality is not a sin,”… The complicated gender test is fraught with problems since it doesn’t “take into account differences in genetic make-up, chromosomal variations and genetic abnormalities.”

It’s a long procedure that can take weeks for the final result to come out and involves various tests done on the person by a gynecologist, a hematologist, an endocrinologist and a psychologist.

Santhi, a female by birth, has never undergone any surgeries or therapies to alter her gender. had a balanced assessment of the matter. The chromosomal variations found in the test could be caused by “genetics, intense training, and even poor nutrition like Soundarajan may have experienced growing up in a poverty stricken Indian family.”

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi deserves praise for inviting the athlete and her parents to his chambers and presenting her with the cash award that he had announced, despite the news of the test and its findings. The chief minister was generous enough to present them a huge plasma TV as well, since her poor parents had told that they hadn’t had a TV to watch their daughter’s performance.

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