“I have spent two decades here. I love my University. I have always loved it and will continue to do so no matter what. I wonder if they have stopped loving me because I am gay." Dr Ramachandra Siras (pic courtesy Outlook), chairman of the modern Indian languages department at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), uttered these words after he was suspended for being gay.
Siras was found dead in his residence on Wednesday. His death is a stark reminder of the rot that has set in at AMU. A professor suspended for being gay! And that too after he was secretly filmed in his own house. How many sting operations have taken place to expose corruption, inefficiency, nepotism and misadministration at the AMU? And how many professors, lecturers, office staff have been suspended as a result of that?
For a man who devoted 20 years of his life to the University his death is less than honourable for the institution. At AMU, Marathi would be a niche subject, unlike history, engineering or Urdu. Does the Siras episode highlight the fact that the man was looked upon as an outsider in the campus and thus an easy and natural prey? Siras, Marathi, and of course being gay do not go with AMU's perceived identity.
AMU will now increasingly be looked upon as inhospitable and intolerant especially for those with diverse backgrounds and orientation. If he was gay, that was his preference and should not have been AMU's problem. As I noted in my earlier post, unless it can be proved that Siras was sexually exploiting a student or staff member, AMU had no right to infringe on the privacy of an individual and humiliate him.
If it is the question of Siras being un-Islamic then we should remember that Siras was neither a Muslim nor, according to reports, was he championing the gay cause on campus. A thorough investigation should take place and all the facts right from the stage of Siras being filmed should be brought out.
AMU will always require specialists to fill posts in departments like Marathi for which the pool of candidates will be different than the usual applicants. So, is there an air of uneasiness in Muslim dominated campuses for subjects, and people associated with them, that do not assert an identity close to Muslims/Islam?
In 1925, Osmania University had a dynamic Marathi professor C L Joshi. Joshi was loaned from the Bombay Educational Services and his term was about to expire. Finding a replacement for Joshi was difficult and the University officials were in a fix.
Interestingly, Joshi was in demand with the Maratha politicians based in Hyderabad who were unhappy with the services offered by the local Marathi scholars. Though Joshi's importance was evident, he was not made a permanent staff. The Maratha bigwigs spoke to Sir Akbar Hydari and Sir Ross Masud (founders of Osmania University) and suggested that either Joshi be made a 'permanent incumbent or the services of a new Marathi scholar from Bombay be applied for'.
The then principal of Osmania University, Mohammed Abdur Rahman Khan noted that getting a new professor from Bombay was not an easy task in those times. Surprisingly, Osmania University still allowed Joshi to be repatriated to the Bombay Educational Service and decided to make a temporary arrangement.
I am drawing my own inferences, but it seems to suggest that in a campus associated with Muslim identity not much emphasis is given to subjects and staff that have less appeal to the Muslim mindset. The Siras episode should not be seen only in the prism of homosexuality, but is rather a stark statement of the appaling treatment meted out by an iconic institution like AMU to an 'outsider'.