By Annie Banerji
Indian sprinter Dutee Chand has revealed she is in a same-sex relationship, becoming the first openly gay athlete in the socially conservative country, according to an interview published on Sunday.
Chand, 23, told The Sunday Express she was in a relationship with a woman from her village in eastern Odisha state, saying she got the courage to come out after India's top court scrapped a colonial-era ban on gay sex last year.
"I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with," Chand said in the interview.
She said her current focus was on upcoming international competitions, including the Olympics, but "in the future I would like to settle down with her." Despite slowly changing attitudes, gay sex remains taboo in India.
Chand said nobody had the right to judge her as an athlete because of her sexual orientation, which was a personal decision that should be respected.
"I have always believed that everyone should have the freedom to love. There is no greater emotion than love and it should not be denied," she said.
She did not reveal her partner's identity to save her from "undue attention."
Social media praised Chand for her courage, with prominent Indian LGBTQ rights activist Harish Iyer calling her a "beacon of hope."
"@DuteeChand has paved the path for many, by simply standing up for herself," he said on Twitter.
Like South African Olympic athlete Caster Semenya, Chand has hyperandrogenism — a condition that naturally produces high testosterone levels.
She was previously barred from competing under International Association of Athletics Federations rules and subjected to abuse for being "unfeminine."
But Chand won an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in 2015, paving the way for athletes with hyperandrogenism to compete in 100m and 200m races.
The decision allowed her to run in the 2018 Asian Games, where she won two silver medals.
However, the CAS this month rejected a similar appeal by Semenya against rules requiring middle distance female athletes with a high testosterone level to take medication to reduce it. Chand told local media the ruling made her "very sad."