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Criminalized Because of One’s Sex? – Hida Viloria

On June 14th, Indian gold medal winner Pinki Pramanik was arrested following accusations of rape and “being male” by her live-in partner.  She was suspended from her job, detained in a male ward, and an MMS of one of her mandatory gender-verification tests, in which she was completely nude, went viral.

Ranjit Sur, of the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights, stated, “The Human Rights Commission of West Bengal have already agreed that Pramanik’s human rights have been violated.”

After 21 days in a male ward, Pramanik was released on bail when gender tests proved inconclusive, but was charged with rape on November 12th when subsequent tests revealed she has xy chromosomes. Authorities labeled her male, despite being informed otherwise by one of the members of the medical panel investigating the case.

Members of the medical panel investigating the case are reported to have stated that although Pinki has male chromosomes, the report does not conclude that Pinki is a man, rather that the athlete suffers from DSD.

DSD is the medical term for physical traits known as “intersex,” wherein people are born with chromosomes, gonads, and/or genitals that are considered both male and female, or atypical for either.

Just like South African track star Caster Semenya, who was put on suicide watch after being forced to undergo gender-verification testing in 2009, Pramanik’s experience has deeply affected her.

Intersex people, like all members of the LGBTI community, are targets of discrimination based on our non-adherence to sex and gender norms, but our exclusion from anti-discrimination policy leaves us even more vulnerable.

For example, intersex people were recently included in the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, as a psychological disorder under the stigmatizing label “Disorders of Sex Development” (DSD), despite the de-pathologization of transgender people by the replacement of “Gender Identity Disorder” with “Gender Dysphoria.” The inclusion presumes our physical differences lead to psychological pathology, which is contested by existing psychological research. In addition, we are routinely subjected to harmful, “normalizing” surgeries as infants and minors in an effort to eliminate our benign differences.

Likewise, rather than acknowledge intersex variations, Pramanik is being labeled male in order to enable the rape charge.  In Indian law, only men can be charged with rape, but this happens every day without their being subjected to genital exams and publicly displayed nude photos.  Many have wondered how someone who brought India the honor of four gold medals could be subjected to such treatment.  The answer is simple: society is still uncomfortable with people born outside the standard definitions of “male” and “female.”

While common sense dictates that having an atypical body is not a crime, this is exactly how Pramanik and others have historically been treated.  For example, in 19th century France, Herculine Barbin was brought before the court when her differences were revealed during a medical exam.  She was reclassified as male, forced to live as a man, and committed suicide shortly thereafter.

On 10th December 2012, Human Rights Day, a coalition of intersex leaders and activists including myself brought the human rights abuses of intersex people to the attention of the United Nation’s High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay.  Pramanik’s ordeal is not the first time someone has been put on trial because they are intersex, but we hope it is the last.

About Hida Viloria

Hida Viloria
Hida Viloria is Chairperson of the Organization Intersex International (OII), and the Director of OII-USA. She has a degree with high honors and high distinction in Gender and Sexuality from the University of California, Berkeley, and been educating extensively on the topic of intersex since 1997 as a writer, university lecturer, consultant (International Olympics Committee, UN Human Rights Office), television guest (ABC’s “20/20,” Oprah, and others), and in the documentary films Hermaphrodites Speak, Gendernauts, One in 2000, and Intersexion. She has been published in Ms., The Advocate, The American Journal of Bioethics, CNN.com, and others, and writes about intersex issues in her blog Intersex and Out.

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  1. Hi Holly,
    YES, fantastic to work with you too. I cannot express how wonderful it is to see so many of us intersex human rights activists from around the world coming together to address the UN about the need to end nonconsensual, medically unnecessary infant surgeries, and the many other human rights abuses that intersex people are struggling to end in our quest for equality. 🙂 Hida

  2. Holly Greenberry- Director Intersexuk

    Hida, lovely to work with you. A great open letter you have had published. Thank you for all you do. Hida our collective drive and tenacious factual realities will continue to educate people about the horrendous medical and sometimes civil treatment that people with Intersex bodies receive. Such a great opportunity has risen and will continue to flourish from our Stockholm Forum this week. Great great delegates. Lets us hope this letter and its strong real message, moves people and governments as well as Human and Civil rights Organisations, and that our work with the UN and the European Human Rights Commissioners Office perpetuates this fresh push to change our citizens rights and their countries as well as our countries legislations, for the good of all those that follow and also walk the footsteps we have and do walk.
    Holly Greenberry – Founder & Director, IntersexUK.

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