OPERATION MORALITY: AMU Style

OPERATION MORALITY:

AMU Style

THE PERSECUTION OF LATE DR. SIRAS

Newsletter May - Aug 2010

“Dr. Sirashas committed act of misconduct in as much as he indulged himself into immoral sexual activity and in contravention of basic moral ethics while residing in Quarter No. 21-C, Medical College, AMU, Aligarh thereby undermined pious image of the teacher community and as a whole tarnishing the image of the University”.

Excerpt from the memorandum served to Dr.Siras by Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Aligarh on 24th February 2010.

With these words, the AMU authorities passed judgment on Dr. Srinivas Ramachandra Siras, 64, Reader and Chairof Modern Indian Languages, AMU. Not satisfied with just suspending him months before his retirement, he was also asked to vacate his university accommodation. His ‘misconduct’? Having consensual sex with an adult man in the privacy of his home. The university evidence - a film made by intruders into his house.

The suspension of Dr. Siras, that came less than a year after the historic judgment of the Delhi High Court decriminalising consensual sex between same sex adults, as well as the intrusion and filming of Dr.Siras in the privacy of his home, prompted a nationwide outrage. A Fact Finding Mission visited Aligarh on the 3 of March 2010. The team consisted of: Deepti Sharma (Saheli, New Delhi), Arvind Narrain (Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore), Avantika Srivastava and Ghazala Rizvi (Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives [AALI], Lucknow) and Sunil Gupta (Activist, New Delhi).

The team met Dr.Siras to hear his side of the story, AMU authorities to try and make sense of what prompted their harsh actions, other AMU professors, students and local activists for insights into these troubling developments, as well as the police officials to try and pressurize them to register the FIR that Dr.Siras had been trying (unsuccessfully) to file for many days. The team also had a telephonic interview with the journalist who was part of what was called the ‘sting’ operation on Dr. Siras.

The full report may be downloaded from the Saheli website: www.saheliwomen.org. However the main findings point an unerring finger at the complicity of the University authorities in various illegal actions against Dr.Siras. Our conversation with the journalist made it evident that he would never have dared to conduct a ‘sting’ operation on the university premises without a go-ahead from the authorities. Then, in an apparent but unbelievable coincidence, the authorities ‘landed up’ at Dr. Siras’s house on the night that he was filmed. They also fail to explain why they did not report the intruding journalists to the police, and in fact, why they made an internal university matter public by immediately informing the press through a statement about Dr. Siras’ ‘offence’ and the ‘moral action’ taken by the University. Clearly the AMU authorities were trying to drum up support for their actions and to silence and shame Dr. Siras.

Our fact finding exposed two possible explanations for the inexplicable and vindictive actions of the University. First, the immediate provocation for the entire incident may have been the fact that the Vice Chancellor, PK Abdul Azis, was under enormous pressure due to the inquiry ordered by the President of India after instances of financial bungling and mismanagement in the University came to light. ‘Operation Siras’may have been an effort to turn the spotlight away from the VC and Dr. Siras served as a convenient scapegoat. Secondly, by deliberatly raking up and taking a strident position against homosexuality, the university was seeking to bolster its own ‘credentials’ as upholders of a certain conservative morality even if it be at the cost of the constitutional rights of its faculty.

The team also had a meeting with a very openly homophobic Public Relations Officer (PRO) of AMU, RahatAbrar, who stated that “homosexuality even in the privacy of the home is immoral. This is a 133 year old institution and it has its moral values that must be upheld”. Apparently, the recent judgment of the Delhi High Court which read down Sec 377 of the IPC stating, “We declare that Section 377 IPC, insofar it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21, 14 and 15 of the Constitution” has no meaning for the authorities of AMU. They believe their moral indignation is sufficient explanation for their actions. But in fact, the historic judgment goes on to say “Moral indignation however strong, is not a valid basis for overriding an individual’s fundamental right to dignity and privacy”.

ONE VICTORY AND A CELEBRATION THAT NEVER WAS

Contrary to what the AMU authorities had hoped for, Dr. Siras refused to fade into the background, or be shamed into silence. Despite his extreme sorrow and pain, he felt strengthened by the support and solidarity he received from many people as well as the positive media coverage.

Consequently, he challenged the actions of the AMU in the Allahabad High Court as being violative of his civil liberties and was vindicated with a Stay Order granted on his suspension and unlawful removal from his campus accommodation on 1 April, 2010. Now he could go back to work and his home on the AMU campus. A day after the judgment, when one of the fact finding members spoke to him, he sounded very happy and was all the more determined to pursue his FIR against the AMU officials and media people who had filmed him. This was an FIR which the Aligarh police had continued to refuse to file. However, on a lighter note, Dr. Siras was also looking forward to a party to celebrate his court victory.

Tragically, all his plans came to naught. A few days later on the 7th April, 2010, his body was found in his rented home in Aligarh “in mysterious circumstances” with bleeding from the mouth…Dr. Siras was dead. Murder? Suicide? The former seems more plausible given his court victory and his hopes of fighting on. The post mortem report of Dr. Siras ruled out death due to natural causes and his viscera was sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory in Agra to determine the exact cause of death. The results are still awaited.

DR. SIRAS’ FIGHT FOR JUSTICE MUST GO ON…

The “mysterious” circumstances under which Dr. Siras died led to an uproar. For many weeks the newspapers were full of headlines like “Death of AMU’s gay Prof, FIR against 6 people” (NDTV), “In letter to AMU, Siras called sting a plot” (Indian Express), “Judicial probe demanded into gay AMU teacher’s death” (Times of India), “AMU Prof case: Two journalists arrested” (Sify), “AMU VC had ordered sting operation on Dr. Siras” (India Today), “Shadow of AMU’s spy wing on Siras sting” (Indian Express).

Among the activists circle too, Dr. Siras’ death had caused dismay and anger. Hence on 12 April, 2010, many concerned individuals, women’s groups, student unions, teachers association as well as members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) community and other progressive movements got together and held a protest in Delhi demanding justice for Dr. Siras. Candles were lit and one minute’s silence was observed with a vow to fight for justice.

THE WHEELS OF INJUSTICE CHURNING FAST AND FURIOUS

One would have thought that with so much public attention, there would be atleast a glimmer of justice. But the corridors of power have remained ominously silent or even colluding with the University. The state government has refused to engage with the issue. The Aligarh police are clearly in cahoots with the University. And even the judiciary showed its true colors when AMU officials mentioned in Siras’s FIR were granted bail the same day and investigation against them has not pursued further at all in the many months that have followed.

Meanwhile, AMU has continued its campaign to stifle any voices of dissent on campus. The tensions and policing we sensed when we went as the fact finding team on campus has moved beyond now. Recently, a student was suspended because he condemned the University’s actions on the Siras incident in an online forum.

THE SECOND TRAGEDY, AVERTED

A few weeks ago, Irfan, the man filmed having sex with Dr. Siras tried to immolate himself. A desperate act that exposed the constant harassment he had been facing from the police over the last several months. Irfan told the media that the police would pick him up and keep him at the police station for days on end to interrogate him about Dr. Siras and consequently he was too weak to earn his livelihood. The signs are clear. The Aligarh police is on the aggressive, conducting a blatant witch hunt to target Irfan, prove him and Dr. Siras guilty and justify the actions of the AMU.

Box

Statement issued on the day of Dr. Siras’ death.

News reports on several media channels have just reported the death of Dr Srinivas Ramachandra Siras, 64, Reader and Chair of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University. According to reports, Dr. Siras’body was found “in mysterious circumstances” with bleeding from the mouth in his home in Aligarh.

Dr. Siras, as he is known, had recently fought against his unlawful and unethical suspension from AMU on the grounds of “gross indecency”. After decades of teaching, he was suspended merely a few months before his retirement on the basis of videotapes filmed by intruders into own home without his consent in a blatant and homophobic violation of his privacy. Right after, he said: “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. Siras’ suspension had provoked outrage from countless citizens, teachers, and community members across the country. He had challenged the AMU administration in the Allahabad High Court. Just this past week, the Court stayed his suspension and his unlawful removal from his official accommodation. Dr. Siras said, “I am happy because I had been judged in a wrong way. I have already said that I am gay. I am the same man, with the same qualifications, with the same features and personality. Now I can go back to my beloved University.”

We, as concerned citizens, members of the Independent Fact Finding Committee and, for many of us, as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Indians ourselves, express our shock, outrage and deep sadness at the loss of a teacher, a loyal member of the AMU community, a gay man, and a kind, gentle soul.

Since the death of Dr. Siras has taken place under suspicious circumstances, and he has made powerful enemies in the recent past, we demand that the police conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation into the cause of death. A step in the right direction has been taken by sending his body for a post-mortem examination. The results of this examination must be made public immediately.

• We demand that the concerned police officer should immediately register a case of unnatural death under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure and forward this information to the concerned Executive Magistrate.

• We demand that the Executive Magistrate conduct an inquest as mandated under Section 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code to determine the cause of death.

That Dr. Siras had to undergo the trauma, fear, harassment and humiliation in his own beloved University inwhat would turn out to be his last weeks is condemnable. If these events and that trauma are in any way linked to his death, then all actors involved must be held culpable.

Deepti Sharma (Saheli, Delhi), Anjali Gopalan (Naz Foundation, Delhi), GautamBhan (Voices against Sec 377, Delhi), Pramada Menon (Voices against Sec 377, Delhi), Sunil Gupta (Nigah, Delhi), Arvind Narrain (Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore), Avantika (AALI, Lucknow), SaleemKidwai (Lucknow), LABIA (Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action, Mumbai).

KNOCKING ON THE PRESIDENT’S DOOR

On 10th May, 2010, a petition signed by over 600 groups and individuals was sent to The President of India, Ms. PratibhaDevisinghPatil, who is also a Visitor to the Aligarh Muslim University. The petition stated that it is imperative that the President, as the highest authority of this country, intervene to ensure that justice for Dr. Siras is not further subverted after his death. Our demands were as follows:

- The Forensic Science Laboratory in Agra does a fair, impartial and speedy investigation into the cause of death of Dr. Siras and its report be made public as soon as possible.

- Once the cause of Dr. Siras’s death is established, those responsible for his death must be prosecuted - for murder if that is the case or for abetment to suicide in case it is established.

- The Vice Chancellor of AMU, Dr. PK Abdul Azis, be immediately made to step down for his part in the persecution and harassment of Dr. Siras depriving him of human rights and violation of his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

- A posthumous public apology is issued by the Aligarh Muslim University Vice Chancellor to (late) Dr. Siras. He should also be posthumously exonerated of the charges framed against him and reinstated with full benefits to his next of kin.

- Strict action is taken against the Aligarh Muslim University faculty members and members of the press who unlawfully entered Dr. Siras’ home.

- Stern and immediate action be taken against SSP Aligarh, Mr. Vijay Prakash and SP City Aligarh, Mr. M. S. Chauhan for not filing the FIR upon receiving a complaint from Dr. Siras. They failed to perform their duty and action against them is essential to restore people’s faith in the police and the rule of law.

- A CBI enquiry should be instituted or a sitting judge should be appointed to enquire into the circumstances that led to the unlawful suspension of Dr. Siras.

- The actions of the government serve to enact the Constitutional principles of equality, privacy and dignity for all.

The tragic stories of Dr. Siras and Irfan compel us to confront the reality that the legal act of reading down Sec 377 of the IPC is but a step towards putting an end to the persecution of people on the basis of their sexual orientation. For Dr. Siras, Irfan and countless others who continue to suffer in silence, our fight must go on.