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She’s-a-he & rape slur on sprinter

- Framed, former golden girl cries

Pinki Pramanik, an Asian Games gold medallist from Purulia who was for a while hailed as the next P.T. Usha, has been accused of gender fraud and rape by the woman she had been living with for two years.

Police picked up Pinki, 26, from her Chinar Park home on Thursday morning and pressed charges of impersonation, rape, physical assault and intimidation after she refused to subject herself to a medical examination at Barasat District Hospital. She was arrested in the evening.

“Pinki poses as a woman but is actually a man…. She would assault me regularly and raped me several times. She promised to marry me,” said the 30-year-old complainant, a mother of one who moved in with the athlete in 2010 after being estranged from her husband.

For Pinki, who had anchored the Indian women’s 4x400 metres relay team to a gold medal in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha and silver in the Commonwealth Games in Sydney the same year, this isn’t the first instance of her facing a police investigation.

In 2004, she had been arrested for alleged illegal possession of a single-shot, improvised pistol during a trip to Krishnagar in Nadia. The charge wasn’t proved. This time, the Eastern Railway employee is battling a bizarre charge that could potentially lead to her being stripped of all her medals, if convicted.

Pinki, the third of five daughters of a poverty-stricken marginal farmer in Bagmundi, contested the allegation. “I have been framed. The lady (who has brought the allegation) had asked for Rs 3 lakh but I refused to give her the money. I underwent medical tests several times during my career as an athlete and I don’t think further tests are necessary,” she said after stepping out of the Barasat hospital.

Father Durga Pramanik was aghast at questions being raised about his daughter’s gender. “There is no doubt she’s a girl. This is a conspiracy against her,” he said.

Rajiv Kumar, the commissioner of Bidhannagar city police, said a medical examination was the only way to find the truth. “She was detained on the basis of a complaint lodged with Baguiati police station. The complainant said the athlete raped her several times in the past two years. Pinki refused a medical test today but we will appeal in court on Friday to order one.”

Doctors said apart from a physical examination, psychological tests would be conducted to confirm Pinki’s gender.

Kamal Maitra, the secretary of the West Bengal Athletics Association, stood by the sprinter. “Had she been a male, she would have been found out in various international meets,” he said.

Her bosses at Eastern Railway said they were trying to find out whether Pinki underwent gender determination tests during recruitment. “Certain categories of staff need to undergo tests. Whether Pinki had to go through them is being looked into,” a senior official said.

Pinki, a ticket examiner, had got the railway job before she turned 18. In a country short on athletics talent with the potential to make a splash in the international circuit, she was looked at as a prodigy capable of emulating the exploits of sprint queen P.T. Usha.

Sports official Debashish Banerjee, who had accompanied the Indian contingent to the 2006 Asian Games in Doha as an observer and the Asian Championships in Jordan as manager, said athletes were generally not subjected to gender tests unless someone cast doubts.

“Nobody has ever officially complained to organisers of sports meets about Pinki being a man,” said Banerjee, currently the vice-president of the West Bengal Athletics Association.

A recent gender controversy in world athletics involved South African runner Caster Semenya, who won the 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships. On July 6, 2010, the International Amateur Athletics Federation confirmed that Semenya had been cleared to continue competing as a woman.

The earliest known instance of a champion athlete lying about gender is of Stanislawa Walasiewicz a.k.a. Stella Walsh, a Polish athlete who won gold in the women's 100 metres at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. After her death in 1980, she was discovered to have had partially developed male genitalia.

In India, middle-distance runner Santhi Soundarajan, who won silver in the 800 metres at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, failed a gender test and was stripped of the medal.

Doctors said chromosome and hormonal disorders could lead to a person having both partial male and female organs, termed “intersex”.

“In some cases, male and female chromosomes are present in a person. The genital is a combination of testis and ovary. There is also secretion of both and male and female hormones,” said Gautam Khastgir, an expert in reproductive medicine.

There are also instances of “male organs”, though present, not functioning because of deficiency in certain enzymes. “Male organs can develop in female athletes who take anabolic steroids,” Khastgir said.

If someone undergoes a sex-change operation, imbalance in hormone administration during the process can lead to a condition where both organs are partially developed. Baidyanath Chakraborty, the director of the Institute of Reproductive Medicine, Calcutta, said: “Hyperactivity in the adrenal gland can also lead to such defects.”

Pinki’s insistence that she had faced — and cleared — gender tests during her years in competition couldn’t be confirmed. Another unanswered question is why the woman she had allegedly raped “several times” over two years chose to go to the police now.

“The woman used to live with her husband as a tenant in the house adjacent to Pinki’s till 2010. She has a daughter from her marriage,” said neighbour Chandan Bej.

Pinki has been a resident of Chinar Park since 2009, when she bought the two-storey house.