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Why Aligarh Haunts AMU




By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

2 March 2016

After telling us how Professor Siras negotiated his life within the largely heterosexist campus of AMU where he taught, the movie Aligarh, just stops short of making a political statement.

But it is time perhaps that one revisits the circumstances under which Professor Siras died. First, he was ‘outed’ after a ‘sting’ operation by a local TV channel. This was hardly a normal sting; what happened in reality was that intrusive media men barged into his house without his permission and started filming him. Despite his resistance, he was overpowered and even roughed up by some of ‘people’ accompanying this media team. In effect, this was goondaism at brazen display on the AMU campus. What Professor Siras was doing in his private space, along with a consenting adult should not have been anyone’s business, but for the moral police, this became a golden opportunity to showcase his alleged immoral ways.

There is some sense in the allegation that all of this was an orchestrated campaign against Professor Siras. The so called media, having done its work, passed on the rest of the responsibility to the University which was more than willing to take up the issue so that it reaches is logical conclusion. Being a space where ideas, including uncomfortable, unconventional ones, supposedly flourish, the university should never have entertained any sort of complaint against Professor Siras for the simple reason that he had not violated any rule. However, the university not only suspended him, but also instituted an inquiry into his conduct. Eventually, Professor Siras was asked to vacate his university accommodation as he was deemed to have a ‘corrupting’ influence on students. And all this despite the fact, that neither any student, nor anyone else had actually lodged a complaint against Professor Siras. Thus AMU itself turned into a moral policeman and declared that the likes of Professor Siras had no place in their cultural environ. Being familiar with this cultural context, the writer knows that there are many in the campus like Professor Siras who are forced to lead a double life: one in front of their families and other almost unknown life of an alternative sexual orientation. In choosing to remain single, Professor Siras challenged this hypocritical consensus and as a consequence became a threat to the cultural and religious traditions of the campus.

It is important to understand that Professor Siras suffered from double marginality within the social context of AMU. Being a Hindu, he was religious minority and being homosexual, he was a sexual minority as well. His predicament expressed as silence meant that Professor Siras was acutely aware of being a double minority and therefore chose not to speak much about negotiating both these identities. The place that he served nearly his whole career turned against him so viciously that ultimately Professor Siras took his own life. In effect, this was not a suicide, it was an institutional murder because the conditions were such that this professor was forced to take his own life. Till today, there is no accountability within the AMU administration, there was not even a committee which was constituted to probe the circumstances which led to his death. It is amazing how people after committing murder can get away in the name of culture, religion and of late nationalism.

If AMU thought that it had conveniently buried the memory of Professor Siras, the movie Aligarh reminded it that it was fundamentally wrong. For scores of people, Professor Siras, without speaking a word, had metamorphosed into a very subversive idea. Posing a challenge to entrenched and established orthodoxies, this idea will continue to haunt AMU till the university owns up the responsibility of his death. That however is not going to happen soon. The coming together of the BJP mayor of Aligarh and groups within the city and AMU should not be in the least surprising. Both represent the same desire to curb freedom and choice: one does it in the name of nation, the other in the name of religion. The expectation that AMU, being a minority institution should stand up for the rights of all minorities is too much to hope for and is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

A columnist, Arshad Alam is a Delhi based writer.


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