In a recent movie based on real life hero-turned-rebel Pan Singh Tomar, actor Irrfan Khan, who played the protagonist, says, "Nobody cared when I won medals for India, and now that I have become a rebel, everyone's taking my name". This statement is so true.
No matter what experts say about the fact that the London Olympics provide the best chance for India to decorate its Olympic record book, it is important to refer to the dialogue above and ask how much do we really care about the athletes (and here we are not talking about the glamorous cricketers and tennis players). Yes, we slam our athletes for failing but how much do we celebrate and respect them for giving all that they have and for making sacrifices?
Today, a Times of India report shocked everyone. Santhi Soundarjan, a former Asian Games silver medalist, is working as a daily labourer in a brick kiln. This after she was stripped of her records for failing the gender test in 2008. Following the humiliation and poverty, she even tried to commit suicide.
One can't help but draw comparisons between Santhi and South African athlete Caster Semenya, who faced the same turbulence in 2009. But her country and her countrymen stood behind her and fought along. The result is in front of us. Her position has been reinstated. Her country made a huge statement when they announced her as South Africa's flag bearer at the London Olympics.
One doesn't know if Santhi's case is that strong but the least one can expect from the government and the sports authorities is to take up the matter and at least give her a job that she's suited for. She failed the gender test. Nobody can be blamed for it, not even Santhi.
There is another instance and a very recent one - that of Pinki Pramanik, who incidentally was once Santhi's teammate.
This Asiad gold medallist was recently accused by her alleged live-in partner of being a man and raping her. After a humiliating 25 days in police custody, the court granted her bail.
During those 25 days, she was kept in the ward meant for men and was escorted by policemen instead of female constables. One of the pictures even showed one of the policemen touching her inappropriately while taking her to the hospital. She was forced to take a gender test, the result of which has been submitted in the court. Not to mention she being suspended from her job. And all this before she could be proven guilty.
It enraged many athletes and social activists, who came out in her support. And only after much anger that the government even took notice of the case.
But another baffling piece of information has been shared by Pinki. In a recent interview to Outlook magazine, Pinki revealed she was given testosterone injections during training that made her 'masculine' i.e. which made her grow more hair and deepened her voice.
"I look more male now because, as part of my training to compete in international athletics, I used to be regularly administered testosterone injections," Pramanik said.
"It was called Russian medicine. I was told that it was necessary to take these and I never questioned whether these were legal or not."
Now if that's true, it is very scary. Needless to say it also makes the entire system look very hypocritical. On one hand, we are banning athletes for failing gender tests and doping, and on the other hand, the people, who have the authority, are playing with the genetics of a sportsperson and also ruining their future for temporary success, which also is not guaranteed.
So who is the culprit? To a large extent, we are as a country and as a system.
Do we really know how to treat our non-cricketing sports stars? No. Not after watching the plights of the likes of Santhi and Pinki.
And so do we really deserve heroes? The answer lies within us.