Santhi Soundarajan

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Santhi Soundarajan
Personal information
Nationality Indian
Born (1981-04-17) 17 April 1981 (age 35)
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)
Sport Running
Event(s) 800 metres, 1500 metres
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 800m: 1:55.45
1500m: 4:11.66
National record 3000m: 10:44.65
World Peace Sports Festival Ambassador -2003, Korea,[1] All India Inter University Record Holder: 800Mtrs-2:07.68 Secs.

Santhi Soundarajan (also spelled Shanthi Soundararajan,Tamil: சாந்தி சௌந்திரராஜன், born April 1981) is an Indian track and field athlete. She is the winner of 12 international medals for India and around 50 medals for her home state of Tamil Nadu. Soundarajan is the first Tamil woman to win a medal at the Asian Games.[2] She competes in middle distance track events. She was stripped of a silver medal won at the 2006 Asian Games after failing a sex verification test which disputed her eligibility to participate in the women's competition.[3]

Early life and career[edit]

Soundarajan was born in 1981 in the village of Kathakkurichi in the Pudukkottai District of Tamil Nadu, India. Soundarajan grew up in a 20-by-5 foot hut across the road from the new home she lives in now. There was no bathroom or outhouse, nor was there running water or electricity. She is one of five children of brick-kiln labourers in a rural village in southern Tamil Nadu state; she overcame malnutrition as a child to become a middle-distance runner. Her family could not even afford a television and watched Soundarajan's Doha race at a neighbour's house.[4] Her mother and father had to go to another town to work in a brickyard, where they earned the American equivalent of $4 a week. While they were gone, Soundarajan, 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 trophy; she collected 13 more in 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 an Arts college in Pudukkottai, the nearest town. and the following year, Soundarajan transferred to a college in Chennai, the state's capital, which was 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 seconds. This win lead to Soundarajan becoming embroiled in an ongoing, unresolved debate over what makes an athlete female enough to compete as a woman.[5]

On 2004 Soundarajan was awarded 1 lakh cash from then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa[6]

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[edit]

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. [7] However, she underwent a sex test shortly afterwards, and the results indicated that she "does not possess the sexual characteristics of a woman".[8] 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 gynecologist, a geneticist, an endocrinologist, a psychologist, and an internal medicine specialist. Reports initially suggested that her upbringing in impoverished rural India, where she reportedly only started eating proper meals in 2004, could be a factor behind the test result.[9] In a 2016 video petition, Santhi Soundarajan disclosed that she has been told she has androgen insensitivity syndrome.[10]

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." [11][12][13] Soon after the results of the sex test came out, she was stripped of her silver medal.[14]

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.[15][16]

Later life[edit]

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 68 (trainees) and none of them is charged any fee.[17]

Soundarajan's application to the state-run railways for a job before the games was turned down because the athlete failed a medical test.[4]

In September 2007, Soundarajan was reported to have attempted suicide, reportedly by consuming a veterinary drug at her residence.[13] 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 a 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.[18]

Soundarajan was admitted to the NIS athletic coach diploma course in Bangalore in 2013.[19] Soundarajan was one of the 24 coaches in athletics, out of the 108 students who attended the course in eight disciplines. on 30 April 2014 she became a qualified athletics coach, being awarded the NIS diploma certificate at the Sports Authority of India graduation ceremony in Bangalore.[20][21] Soundarajan doesn't have a permanent job at that time. 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”.[22][23]

In December 2014,[24] with the help of gender activist Gopi Shankar Soundarajan 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 in New Delhi to present a request for assistance securing a permanent job as an athletics coach, and in restoring her 800m silver medal from the 2006 Doha Asian Games.[25]

Radhakrishnan, a political heavyweight from Tamil Nadu, in turn, wrote to Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to release a cash award to Soundarajan, but the Ministry’s response was unfavorable: she was informed through a letter that since the medal has not been restored to her, the Ministry cannot give a Rs 10 lakh cash award for the medal. Also, the Ministry does not provide or recommend jobs in central/state government offices.[26]

"My legacy will remain not with my medals but with the determination and hope to overcome my past torment and my present struggles, I want to live my dream through my students."[2]

— Santhi Soundarajan

Soundarajan told the BBC Tamil Service that the Indian authorities had not fought her case after she was stripped off her silver medal at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.[3][27]

On 29 July 2015, the Madras High Court directed the State government to consider Soundarajan’s plea for relaxation in educational qualifications and help her become a coach at the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDATN). As per the notification issued by the Youth Welfare and Sports Development in April 2015, an applicant contesting for the post of the coach should have an education qualification of a bachelor's degree and Soundarajan did not have one. Justice D. Hariparanthaman directed the Secretary of the Youth Welfare and Sports Development to “consider her claim for the post of coach by granting requisite relaxation as a special case”, in the light of the documents produced by her in the sports area and pass appropriate orders within six weeks.[28]

On 27 September 2016 the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) served a notice on the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in response to a petition filed by Soundarajan. The NCSC investigated allegations of injustice and sought a response in the matter from the secretary of the Department of Sports within 30 days.[29][30]

On 16 October 2016 Soundarajan was informed that the State government decided to appoint her as a permanent athletic coach under Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu Sports Minister K. Pandiarajan said the State will plead her case with the International Court of Arbitration for Sport. he also stated that the Tamil Nadu Government will write to SAI, Indian Olympic Association and Athletics Federation of India to take up Soundarajan’s case in that forum.[31]

Soundarajan received her appointment order for a permanent athletic coach under SDAT on 20 December 2016 from Tamil Nadu Sports Minister K. Pandiarajan at the Fort St. George, India[32]

On January 3 2017 Gopi Shankar Madurai who is closely working with Santhi[33] said she will file a human rights violation case against Athletic Federation of India and Indian Olympic Association at Madras High Court or the Apex of India.[34][35]

On February 16 2017 The National Human Rights Commission of India rejected Santhi's complaint claims it's too late to accept it.[36]

Achievements and honours[edit]

Soundarajan has won 12 international medals and 50 national medals, including:

Year Award Honouring body Notes
2016 Young Inspirational Women Leader Award[37] World Women Leadership Congress (WWLC) Awarded for her contributions towards increasing the participation of young Tamil girls in Athletics.[38]
Year Title Honouring body Notes
2017 Living Phoenix[39][40] Kurukshetra (college festival) by College of Engineering, Guindy,Anna University.[41] Conferred on her for Santhi's remarkable contributions in the field of Athletics.[42]

IAAF policy and support for other athletes[edit]

Soundarajan's case has been contrasted[43] with that of 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. Semenya's 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. Soundarajan supported Semenya, fearing that Semenya would face the same humiliation that she did.[44][45][46]

Soundarajan also extended her support to Dutee Chand 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.[47]

Welcoming the Court of Arbitration for Sport's ruling in favour of Chand on 27 July 2015 for suspending gender test, the landmark ruling has also fuelled Soundarajan's hopes of regaining the silver medal and the Rs 10-lakh prize money from the central government which was withheld after the gender test row.[48][49]

In this regard, it is notable that the IAAF policy, suspended as a result of Chand's case, did not prevent Soundarajan from competing. Kalra, Kulshreshtha and Unnikrishnan, writing in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2012, stated that "Chromosomal sex, used to disqualify Santhi in 2010, is not mentioned at all in the current guidelines."[43] Immediately prior to the 2016 Olympic Games and in response to sex verification controversies, Genel, Simpson and de la Chapelle in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated "One of the fundamental recommendations published almost 25 years ago ... that athletes born with a disorder of sex development and raised as females be allowed to compete as women remains appropriate".[50]

After Rio Olympics Caster Semenya surprised Santhi by sending a message of love, gratitude and support on twitter.[51]

In popular culture[edit]

In 2006, Amitabh Bachchan raised a question on Soundarajan in the show Kaun Banega Crorepati 2 he hosted.[citation needed]

The character of Valli in the Tamil film Ethir Neechal is a tribute to Soundarajan[52][53]

On August 2016 Thappad an online platform and mobile application made a video as part of an online campaign that is asking for Soundarajan's name to be included in the official records again and that the government should give her a permanent job to rebuild her life.[10][54][55]

Put Chutney online comedy group under Culture Machine Media Pvt Ltd made a video in Tamil, to explain the significance of her struggle to residents of Tamil Nadu.[56]

See also[edit]


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  9. ^ S. Sen (20 December 2006) "AFI to investigate Santhi case, uneven diet cited as possible reason" The Raw Story
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  11. ^ Saner, Emine (30 July 2008). "The gender trap". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
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  16. ^ "Shanti fails Doha gender test". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. 18 December 2006. 
  17. ^ "India athlete makes plea for Semenya". CNN. 14 September 2009. 
  18. ^ "Santhi turns to coaching after suicide attempt". Taipei Times. 11 June 2009. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 
  19. ^ "Financial aid for Santhi". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 11 July 2013. 
  20. ^ "Graduation day at SAI South Centre". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 1 May 2014. 
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  45. ^ "Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews -". Time. 1 September 2009. 
  46. ^ "al jazeera". Retrieved 2016-08-02. 
  47. ^ Gopalkrishnan, Krithika (2014-07-19). "Santhi Urges Establishment to Help Sidelined Dutee". The New Indian Express. Retrieved 2016-08-02. 
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  50. ^ Genel M; Simpson J; de la Chapelle A (August 4, 2016). "The olympic games and athletic sex assignment". JAMA. 316: 1359. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.11850. ISSN 0098-7484. 
  51. ^ Gopi Shankar Madurai (2016-12-29). "Why India Must Not Fail Santhi Soundarajan". Swarajya (magazine). ,India. 
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