Shanti Soundarajan was fleet of foot. Her feet earned her a silver medal at the Doha Asiad in 2006. Today, her blistered hands struggle to eke out a living at a brick kiln in Kathakuruchi village of Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district.
Soundarajan’s is a cautionary tale for athletes like Pinki Pramanik. It is also a comment on the fate of men and women pursuing a sport other than cricket in India.Failing a gender test, Soundarajan, 31, was stripped of her medals and her name was struck off the records. Painful as it was, she has come to terms with that loss. All she wants now is a chance to live with dignity. Perhaps a government job, or a chance to return to the track and field, if only as a coach.
After her plight was highlighted by television channels — contrasting her case with that of a South African athlete in a similar quandary who received the full backing of her nation — some organisations have come forward to help.
Former athlete Ashwini Nachappa has called her up. “She asked me to send my resume, maybe for a job,” Soundarajan said hopefully.
Public-sector giant GAIL also promised her Rs. 1 lakh. In a press release, GAIL however, said, “The relief was purely on humanitarian grounds and has no reflection on the issues of the case.”
With her earnings of R200 a day — the wage, incidentally, of a woman labourer — Soundarajan supports a family of six, comprising her parents and siblings. Her cash prize for the Asiad medal, Rs. 15 lakh, was spent on her sister’s wedding and her brother’s education.
“After winning laurels for the country, it is shocking that my daughter is being treated this way,” said Soundarajan’s mother Manimeghalai.