Perhaps of all the brutalities heaped upon us as Indians, the most alarming is that we do not even recognise when acts of human rights violations occur anymore.
What has happened to beleaguered athlete Pinki Pramanik is appalling beyond belief. But it started many years before her recent manhandling by Kolkata policemen or the leaking of her medical examination video or even in 2004 when a news item appeared in Telegraph of her being under investigation when a home- made pistol was discovered in her sports kit.
The violation occurred when Pinki, a talented sportsperson, faced with crippling poverty, had to compromise her own natural identity to fit into a societal norm.
We do not know if Pinki, born a male, had to acquire the sexual identity of a female sportsperson to get ahead in her career or whether, born as a female, she underwent treatment to acquire male hormones that enabled her to run faster and win more medals or if born as cross-gender she set aside her own lonely confusions and triumphed against all odds.
The truth is somewhere there and is for doctors and courts to decide, hopefully without the grubby interventions of the police and sports authorities.
Pinki’s violations must have begun way earlier, growing up as a child in a poor village and realising she was an outsider in so many ways — an outsider in gender stereotypes, an outsider in means and resources and an outsider in training and equipment.
That someone in these circumstances had the courage and commitment to still go ahead and win gold in international sports events is nothing short of miraculous.
Many years ago I read a news item about another sportsperson who, under a similar inquiry, had killed herself by jumping into her village well in Goa.
For a while I had toyed with the idea of tracking down the story, as it moved me beyond words as I imagined the pain, the loneliness and shame experienced by that young person.
And then other stories caught my attention and that one faded to the back of my heart.
Pinki’s ordeal has once again reminded me of the striking absence of any kind of human rights we respect in our country.
But this is not unexpected. I guess in a place where there are so many other more seemingly pressing needs to be attended to, like hunger, disease and inequity, human rights — as Arundhati Roy so brilliantly depicted in her first novel — are the God of small things.
When a building’s on fire, no one has time to save the piano notes or the art easel or the personal diaries. You grab what you can and run with your life. Who has the time for so-called niceties when lives are at stake?
We live in a country where human rights are a casualty of our backwardness. The right to privacy, dignity, personal freedom and expression are victims of this unrelenting need for daily survival.
In such a scenario, people like Pinki are sacrificial lambs. Only a fraction of them survive to even merit public attention and even less survive that scrutiny.
The ones that do deserve more than sports medals. They deserve recognition for their human courage.
I hope Pinki survives her latest ordeal. If only as counter to all the other casualties of human rights violations that jumped into that well.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer