17 April 1981 |
Kathakkurichi, Pudukkottai District
|Residence||Kathakkurichi, Pudukkottai District|
|Alma mater||NIS, Sports Authority of India(SAI),Bangalore|
|Height||1.70 m (5 ft 7 in)|
|Weight||64 kg (141 lb)|
|Event(s)||800 metres, 1500 metres|
|Achievements and titles|
|Personal best(s)||800m: 1:55.45
National record 3000m: 10:44.65
World Peace Sports Festival Ambassador -2003, Korea
Santhi Soundarajan (also spelled Shanthi Soundararajan,Tamil: சாந்தி சௌந்திரராஜன், born April 1981) is an Indian track and field athlete. She is the winner of 11 international medals for India and around 50 medals for her home state Tamil Nadu. Soundarajan is the first Tamil woman to win a medal at Asian Games. She competes in the middle distance track events. She was stripped of a silver medal won at the 2006 Asian Games after failing a gender verification test, disputing her eligibility to participate in the women's competition.
Early life and career
Santhi Soundarajan was born in 1981 in the village of Kathakkurichi in Pudukkottai District of Tamil Nadu, India. Soundarajan is from the lowest caste in India, the Dalits, who were previously known as the untouchables. Soundarajan grew up in a 20-by-5 hut across the road from the new home she lives in now. There was no bathroom or outhouse, no running water or electricity. Her mother and father had to go to another town to work in a brickyard, where they earned the equivalent of $4 a week. While they were gone, Santhi, the oldest, was in charge of taking care of her four siblings. Sometimes, Soundarajan's grandfather, an accomplished runner, helped while her parents were away. When she was 13, he taught her to run on an open stretch of dirt outside the hut and bought her a pair of shoes.
At her first competition, in eighth grade, Soundarajan won a tin cup; she collected 13 more at interschool competitions. The sports coach at a nearby high school took note of her performances and recruited her. The school paid her tuition and provided her with a uniform and hot lunches. It was the first time Soundarajan had ever eaten three meals a day.
After high school, Soundarajan got a scholarship from a Arts college in Pudukkottai, the nearest town. and the following year, Soundarajan transferred to a college in Chennai, the state's capital, seven hours away. In 2005 she attended the Asian Athletics Championships in South Korea, where she won a silver medal. In 2006, she was chosen to represent India at the Asian Games (run by the Olympic Council of Asia). In the 800 meters, Soundarajan took the silver in 2 minutes, 3.16 seconds, beating Viktoriya Yalovtseva of Kazakhstan by 0.03. This win lead to Soundarajan becoming embroiled in an ongoing, unresolved debate over what makes an athlete female enough to compete as a woman.
Soundarajan holds the national record for the women’s 3000 metres steeplechase clocking 10:44.65 seconds. At a national meet in Bangalore in July 2005 she won the 800m, 1,500m and 3000m. She won the silver medal in 800 m at the 2005 Asian Championships in Incheon, South Korea.
Asian Games controversy
Soundarajan won a silver medal in the women's 800m race at the 2006 Asian Games held in Doha, Qatar clocking 2 minutes, 3.16 seconds.  However, she underwent a sex test shortly afterwards, and the results indicated that she "does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman". Soon after the results of the sex test came out, she was stripped of her silver medal.
Media articles later reported that Soundarajan might have been born with an intersexed condition known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). Five days after the news report, Soundarajan says, she received a call from Lalit Bhanot, a former joint secretary of the Indian Olympic Association. Bhanot spoke to Soundarajan in English. "He told Santhi she can't do sports anymore,'. When she asked why, she was told: It's been confirmed, Santhi cannot compete in sports." (When asked recently about what he told Soundarajan during the call, Bhanot replied: "How can I remember? Whatever instructions I was given by the IAAF was what I did." He says Soundarajan was notified about her test results, although "whether it was by fax, post or mail, I cannot say."And that was the end of Santhi's sports life.
Soundarajan returned to her village in humiliation and promptly fell into serious depression. Months later, she tried to kill herself by ingesting a type of poison used by veterinarians. A friend found her vomiting uncontrollably and brought her to a hospital. "Everyone looked down on me," she says. "Everyone was looking at me in this new way: Is she a man? Is she a transvestite? It's very hurtful. It ruined my life and my family's life."
While such sex tests are not compulsory for competitors, the International Association of Athletics Federations can request that contenders take such tests at any time, and include intensive evaluation by a gynaecologist, a geneticist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, and an internal medicine specialist. According to her coach, P. Nagarajan, her upbringing in impoverished rural India, where she reportedly only started eating proper meals in 2004, could be a reason behind the test result.
Santhi Soundarajan support to Caster Semenya
Though there was much outrage and anger amongst the sporting fraternity over the callous attitude of the sports administrators while dealing with “gender issues” and society in general that treats its out-of-favour sporting heroes with disdain and disregard, nothing came of it. Contrast this with Caster Semenya of South Africa, also a middle-distance runner, who nearly lost the gold she won at the 2009 Berlin World Championship after she failed a similar gender test. But her nation rallied around her to safeguard her dignity, her rights and position in world sports. She was also her country’s flag-bearer at the London Olympics 2012.
Santhi Soundarajan supported Semenya, the South African track star whose gender has sparked an international athletics controversy. Soundarajan feared that Semenya would face the same "humiliation" that she did if the South African failed a gender test.
Santhi Soundarajan support to Dutee Chand
Soundarajan extended her support to Dutee and said the youngster should not be victimized. She also expressed her dismay at the lack of sensitivity in the handling of the Dutee Chand issue, fearing that the young athlete’s future may have now been jeopardized. Soundarajan demanded that all steps be taken to ensure the 18-year-old’s return to the track.
In popular culture
A documentary Y can’t I run? is a complete story of Santhi Soundarajan.
In January 2007, the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi awarded Soundarajan a television set and a cash prize of Rs. 1.5 million for her Doha Games effort, despite the fallout of Soundarajan failing a gender test. Soundarajan spent her reward money on her students; there are an average of 65 (trainees) and none of them is charged any fee.
In September 2007, Soundarajan was reported to have attempted suicide, reportedly by consuming a veterinary drug at her residence. The attempt was blamed on gender, economic, and sports pressure in India. Two months later, Soundarajan took up coaching, starting a training academy at her home district of Pudukkottai, and became an temporary athletics coach with the regional government. By 2009, her academy had 68 students and her students had won the first and third positions in the Chennai marathon. As per reports Santhi Soundarajan worked as a daily-wager in a brick kiln and earns Rs 200 per day.
In July 2012, the Union government stepped in to spread a protective arm around her. She was admitted to the course in Bangalore in 2013 with the sports ministry funding her education. Soundarajan was one of the 24 coaches in athletics, out of the 108 students who attended the course in eight disciplines. Santhi Soundararajan's dream of becoming a qualified athletics coach came true on 30 April 2014 when she was awarded the NIS diploma certificate at the Sports Authority of India graduation ceremony in Bangalore. Soundarajan doesn't have a permanent job now. Commenting on Soundarajan's situation, Olympic shooter Anjali Bhagwat, who termed the incident as "shameful," said “The athlete should be given at least a central or state government job for her financial stability, in lieu of what Santhi has done for the country,”.
Santhi met Pon. Radhakrishnan, Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Minister of State for Information Technology and Broadcasting, and Union Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on 16 December 2014 in New Delhi to present her request. She urged the authorities to help her to get a permanent job as an athletics coach and to restore her 800m silver medal from the 2006 Doha Asian Games.
Radhakrishnan, a political heavyweight from Tamil Nadu, in turn, wrote to Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to release the cash award to Santhi. But the Ministry’s response to her request for the release of prize money and a permanent job under sports quota has dealt a massive blow to Santhi’s receding hopes. Santhi has been informed through a letter that since the medal has not been restored to her, the Ministry cannot give Rs 10 lakh cash award for the medal. Also, the Ministry does not provide or recommend jobs in central/state government offices.
Soundarajan has won 11 international medals and 50 national medals, including:
- Silver Medal - 2006 Asian Games - 800 meters
- Gold Medal – 2005 Asian Indoor Games – 4x400 relay
- Gold Medal – 2005 Asian Indoor Games –800 meters
- Gold Medal - 2006 Asian Indoor Games – 1500 meters
- Gold Medal - 2006 Asian Indoor Games – 4x400 relay
- Gold Medal - 2003 International Peace Sports Festival - 5000 meters
- Silver Medal - 2005 Asian Athletics Championships
- Silver Medal - 2004 Asian Grand Prix, Bangalore - 800 meters
- Silver Medal - 2004 Asian Grand Prix, Pune - 800 meters
- Silver Medal - 2003 International Peace Sports Festival - 800 meters
- Bronze Medal - 2003 International Peace Sports Festival – 400 meters
- India strike it rich in track and field events, The Hindu, 9 December 2006
- "Indian athlete fails gender test". BBC News. 18 December 2006. Retrieved 20 August 2009.
- "Indian silver medalist female runner at Asian Games fails gender test". International Herald Tribune. 18 December 2006.
- Saner, Emine (30 July 2008). "The gender trap". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2009.
- "The sad story of Santhi Soundarajan". The Times of India. 9 January 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2009.
- "Sex-test failure attempts suicide". Fox Sports. 6 September 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2009.
- S. Sen (20 December 2006) "AFI to investigate Santhi case, uneven diet cited as possible reason" The Raw Story
- "Cities / Madurai : Madurai comes out of the closet". The Hindu. 30 July 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
- "Santhi turns to coaching after suicide attempt". Taipei Times. 11 June 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009.
- "Asiad medallist labours at brick kiln". 24 July 2012.