The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has served a notice on the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in response to a petition filed by former Indian middle-distance runner Santhi Soundarajan.
Ten years ago Santhi was stripped of her Doha Asian Games silver medal (800m) and banned from competing in all events after she failed a gender test. However, in a grave breach of protocol, she is yet to receive a copy of the gender test report despite repeated requests. An athlete is entitled to a copy of the report.
In March this year, Santhi wrote to the NCSC, saying she was subjected to a "humiliating and unscientific" gender test shortly after her second-place finish at the 2006 Games.
Santhi, who comes from a poor Dalit family, has been working as a coach at the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) facility in Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu, for the past two years. In her complaint to the NCSC, Santhi also alleged that she has been facing discrimination on grounds of caste at her workplace.
The NCSC has decided to investigate allegations of injustice levelled by Santhi and sought a response in the matter from the secretary of the Department of Sports within 30 days.
"I sent out separate RTI queries in March this year addressed to the Athletics Federation of India, SAI and Indian Olympic Association seeking my gender test report, but was turned away and denied any information," Santhi, 35, told ESPN. "That athletes like Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand are competing in the international arena despite facing a similar predicament as mine offers me hope. But it also serves as a reminder that I'm not as fortunate."
In 2015, the Switzerland-headquartered Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the International Association of Athletics Federations' hyperandrogenism regulations for two years, stating that there was no convincing scientific evidence to support the claim that women with elevated testosterone levels hold a performance advantage over others.
Santhi's battle for justice has been a protracted and painful one. As the sole breadwinner of her family, which includes aged parents and four younger siblings, she has been struggling to make ends meet.
From working at a brick kiln till about four years ago to her current contractual coach job, she says she enjoys little sense of freedom or security. Apart from the restoration of her medal, she is also seeking a permanent job.
"The inhuman manner in which the gender tests were conducted and being denied the report are a clear violation," said gender activist M Gopi Shankar, who has been working closely with Santhi. "The government should voice its support for its athletes. Santhi deserves to have her medal back and lead a life of dignity."