Published in The Hindu. 25 February 2010

The suspension of 64-year-old Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras from Aligarh Muslim University, where he has been teaching for the past 22 years, has been greeted with mixed reactions here with campus authorities staunchly defending their decision to punish the professor for being a homosexual and human rights activists, online communities and a handful of students decrying this as a violation of his right to privacy.

Dr. Siras, who was Chairman of the Department of Modern Indian Languages at AMU before his suspension, is due to retire this coming September. He was suspended soon after a video showing him having sex with another man surfaced on the campus. Contrary to some reports that several students had broken into Dr. Siras’ home and made the video, university sources say this was the handiwork of a private television channel.

Dr. Siras was suspended under Statute 40(3)(c) of the University Statutes and ordered to vacate the house allotted by the university in Medical Colony, where he had been staying since 2002. Despite their avowed espousal of rules, however, the university authorities seem unperturbed by the ability of the TV channel to break into the home of a professor living on campus.

Rationalising the suspension of Dr. Siras for his homosexuality, AMU public relations officer Rahat Abrar says: “The quarters where he was staying is university property. Further, a teacher has a role of responsibility and should be a figure to be looked up to. AMU has a history of culture and tradition and such things cannot be overlooked.”

Asked whether this was not a violation of Dr. Siras’s privacy, AMU Faculty of Law associate professor Shakeel Samdani begs to differ: “Part III of the Indian Constitution dealing with Fundamental Rights guarantees certain rights subject to public order, morality and health. A teacher cannot act in such a manner that it violates public order, is a threat to tradition and such acts give rise to AIDS.” In fact, say human rights lawyers, these restrictions apply only to the Right to Freedom of Religion under Articles 25 and 26 in Part III and not to the Right to Privacy which is a part of the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Homosexuality, which was a criminal offence under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, was legalised last year in a landmark judgment of the Delhi High Court. Reminded about that judgment, Dr. Samdani argues: “AMU falls under the jurisdiction of the Allahabad High Court. The ruling of the Delhi High Court regarding decriminalising of homosexuality may be accepted or struck down by the Allahabad High Court … Several religious groups including those of Hindus and Christians have protested in the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court verdict and a decision is pending,” he adds.

The Supreme Court, which is hearing the matter, has already rejected a plea to stay the Delhi High Court judgment.

But if the AMU authorities insist their actions are legal, the manner in which the “evidence” against the suspended professor was collected leaves some observers uneasy. Jamal Ansari, an Aligarh-based freelance social commentator, told The Hindu: “The core issue is of unauthorised intrusion by some persons. Prof. Siras’ act is objectionable but the right to privacy is important, which, if allowed to be breached, would result in further complications.”

Adil Hussain, an M.A. student of Mass Communication at AMU, said: “Dr. Siras’ actions were completely in the private domain. AMU should not take a moral stand on the issue. How can one make such a decision just by seeing a video?” Another student added: “While modern subjects are taught here and things are fairly liberal, yet AMU is not as open as Delhi University or JNU may be. Hence it becomes tough to accept such things.”

Dr. Siras sees the AMU authorities’ action against him as a bid to oust him as Chairman of the Department of Modern Indian Languages. He also alleges that it was a ploy to distract attention from the enquiry that has been ordered by the President of India with regard to AMU Vice-Chancellor Prof. P. K. Abdul Azis.

Dr. Siras is believed to have protested his suspension and removal from his house in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor. The letter dated February 11 states that orders were issued without taking into account “humanitarian considerations”.

On the popular networking site Facebook, individuals have launched a community in support of Dr. Siras. Over 13 teachers from various universities have also been circulating an online petition in which the action against Dr. Siras has been condemned.

The Naz Foundation is supporting Dr. Siras and he is also in talks with lawyer Anand Grover. A Naz Foundation representative said: “After reading media reports regarding Dr. Siras we got in touch with him and offered him support and help, including legal aid.”

But the AMU authorities are not without support. Jasim Mohammed, who is pursuing his Ph.D., has started a “signature campaign” to sack Dr. Siras. Claiming that over 750 people had signed his memorandum, he said: “Dr. Siras’ services should be terminated for bringing disrepute to the university. This is a matter of Muslim culture and tradition. These are unnatural deeds.”

The memorandum also demands that those who were responsible for the violation of Dr. Siras’s privacy should be brought under the purview of the university laws.

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