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Caught between the sexes

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) sacked Swati earlier this month after her medical reports failed to prove that she is a female, reports Jaya Shroff.

delhi Updated: Nov 28, 2007 04:16 IST
Jaya Shroff

People get sacked for different reasons, but Swati’s (name changed) case is particularly unique.

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) sacked her earlier this month after her medical reports failed to prove that she was a female.

Swati was brought up as a girl and though the complete absence of menstruation caused her mother some worry, it did not really bother them. It was only when she started training as a constable with the CISF that doctors discovered she did not have a uterus or fully-developed female sex organs.

The case was referred to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), where Swati’s genetic sex was defined as “46XY” (consistent with male as opposed to the XX of female).

“The CISF unfairly sacked her saying she had applied as a “female” while her sex was male, but it was not her fault as she was not aware about her condition,” says the doctor treating Swati in the department of endocrinology, AIIMS. “We get at least a dozen such cases each year,” he said.

“There is a complete absence of sex education in India. It is only when one reaches puberty that one begins to realise the difference in male and female bodies. So how can we expect poor Swati to realise what her problem was? And by the time she consulted a doctor, her sex was established as female, having appeared for higher secondary examinations as a female,” said her doctor.

Born to poor parents in Singipur village in the Ganjam district of Orissa, her family did not realise she had under-developed genitals.

“This situation is not uncommon as we have patients coming to us as late as 13-14 years, but at that age it is difficult for the parents to come to terms with the real gender of the child. A child born to poor parents is often not brought to hospitals because of shame and social taboo,” said Dr Yogesh Sarin, professor and head of Paediatric Surgery at the Maulana Azad Medical College.

“Swati is basically a man with genetic chromosome XY, just that the effective testosterone that gives the shape of a penis is not active. It is a matter of multiple surgeries after which she can lead a normal life,” says Sarin.

Swati now wants to adopt a clear gender and undergo surgery to become a man to get her CISF job back as a man.

“Two years post-surgery, Swati should be given a fair chance to compete as a man at the CISF. Terminating her on grounds of gender ambiguity is completely unfair,” said Sarin. “If that does not happen, eunuchs may force her to become part of their community,” worries her treating doctor.

Swati's story is similar to that of athlete Santhi Soundarajan who was stripped of her medal at Asian Games in Qatar after failing the medical test. She now leads a life in oblivion and also tried to commit suicide in September.