Last month, Dutee Chand made history when she became India’s first openly gay athlete and while India has recently decriminalized same sex relationships after striking down a colonial era law. Cultural attitudes regarding LGBTI people in India have yet to evolve.

Dutee Chand, considered India’s fastest sprinter received overwhelming support worldwide for her brave act in coming out and sharing her love for her partner. However, Chand’s supporters are fearing for her safety after her coming out prompted backlash in her home village of Chaka Gopalpur. In an interview with the Indian Express, Chand’s mother, Akhuji expressed her opinions…

“I had been supporting her all along for her special interest in sports but … we belong to a traditional weaver community, which does not permit such things. How can we face our relatives and society?”

Another villager also shared…

“It’s humiliating for all of us. We have supported her all the way in her running but we cannot accept this relationship. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman. She should never have talked about it to the whole world. She should stick to running.”

India currently has very few public LGBTI role models and is still living in the past in terms of LGBTI acceptance and equality, while striking down the colonial era law was a good first step. There is still much work to be done. Chand responded to the backlash…

“They have been telling me to marry a man and have children. That’s the only tradition they know.” She says. “But everyone I know in the city where I studied supports me. I don’t know if my family and village will come round. I will have to wait and see.”

The backlash appears to have caught Chand off guard and her partner has since left the village over fears of their safety following the hostile remarks. Many of Chand’s supporters are worried about her safety in the current conservative climate. With reports of extremist mobs having attacked gay and lesbian people who have been caught engaging in any kind of relationship. Payoshani Mitra, an athlete’s rights activist who works with Chand shared her perspective on the situation…

“With the return of the rightwing Bharatiya Janata party to power, a series of attacks on minorities, including sexual minorities, are being reported. “ She says. “However, while it could be dangerous to be openly gay, one cannot live in fear of the consequences – and Dutee’s coming out gives us that message.”

The backlash itself has not deterred Chand from living her life as India’s fastest woman and first openly gay athlete…

“I am not a child who blindly does what her parents say,” she said. “I am grown up. I will spend my life with who I want, but I will also fulfil my responsibility to my family.

“They don’t know anything different from what tradition tells them so I am not angry with them,” she says. “That doesn’t mean to say I am not going to follow my heart. I can’t spend my life worrying about others. No one can live without love.”

By Dirk Smith