Indian athlete Pinki Pramanik was released from jail Tuesday after obtaining bail in the rape case lodged against her by her live-in partner, who has also claimed Pramanik is a man. Upon her release, Pramanik told reporters that she is being framed.
Regardless of the merit of the allegations against her, the athlete has been victimized by a callous legal system and a prurient public -- not unlike other athletes around the world who have faced questions about their gender, as GlobalPost reported earlier.
Her alleged crime -- rape -- has been shuttled to the side, as the judicial system, the media and the public focus instead on the charges that she is actually, or genetically, or physically a man (the point has never really been made clear). This marks a double insensitivity, both to gender and rape, since it not only proposes a simplistic idea of masculinity, but also that only conventional penetration classifies as rape.
But that's hardly the worst of it.
As an editorial in the Times of India puts it (belatedly):
"The list of systematic violations of her rights by the police is a long one: being kept initially in a male prison; being handled and then sexually harassed by male police officers; the filming and then leaking of an alleged MMS of her in the hospital undergoing a gender test that, by many accounts, was forced on her as part of the conditions of her bail without an order from a magistrate. It is a welcome first step that the West Bengal Human Rights Commission, the Cyber Crimes Bureau and the Kolkata high court have demanded and initiated inquiries into these rights abuses."
Yet Pramanik's ordeal is far from over. Not only will her rape case no doubt drag on for months or years -- indeed, unless her partner drops the charges, the courts could take decades deciding her fate. But also her gender is still being considered a matter of public concern, without regard for doctor-patient confidentiality. Numerous Indian papers, for example, are already reporting that Pramanik's gender test has revealed that she has male XY chromosomes, though doctors have said that she also has female characteristics and that it is unclear whether she is anatomically capable of rape (by India's limiting legal definition).
As the BBC reports, investigators from the West Bengal women's commission found that Pramanik was already traumatized by the ordeal:
"They have mentioned Pinki as a male in the documents. She was being harassed by policemen repeatedly. How can the police decide whether Pinki is a male when the medical report is yet to come? When we met her, she was crying inconsolably," the BBC quotes commission chairperson Sunanda Mukherjee as saying.
Sexuality rights activist Gautam Bhan argues:
Yet we must also stop and ask why these rights abuses occurred. Pinki's case is a marker of a more fundamental struggle that we as a society have with the body. We, as a society, allow bodies thought to be different or of lesser value (at times marked by sexual or gender difference but equally with caste or religion) to be publicly stripped, examined, probed, debated, para-ded, marked and judged. Examples abound: two finger tests to check the sexual character of a woman who has made a rape accusation; repeated cases of sexual assault of hijras with impunity in police custody; dalit women and men who are stripped naked and publicly paraded as punishment in cities and villages across India; or the bodies of young Muslim men suspected of "terror" that are fair game for police torture. These bodies hold no real right to dignity, safety and privacy. The initial question that the country asked of Pinki was not who she is but "what" she is - a public spectacle that reduced her to an object to be classified as per the needs of law.
Sadly, Pramanik's case will by no means be the last.