Whose Morality is This?

From the Hindustan Times this morning.

Saleem Kidwai, Nivedita Menon, Mary John, V. Geetha, Shilpa Phadke and 13 other teachers and academics from universities across India.

We, as teachers and academics from universities across India, read with outrage and dismay that Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of  Modern Indian Languages at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was suspended for having consensual sex with someone of the same sex within the privacy of his home.

What made the press report that came out on Thursday in certain sections of the media particularly shocking was that there were either cameras placed by students within Dr Siras’ house or television reporters got into the house and made a video film of the alleged incident that was then passed on to the university authorities. The university authorities instead of going by the constitutionally recognised right to privacy within the four corners of one’s house have instead chosen to act against Dr Siras.

The outrage of the university authorities is deeply misdirected. Instead of suspending Dr Siras, they should have taken stern and serious action against those who so blatantly took on the role of playing moral police with no regard whatsoever for Dr Siras’ constitutionally recognised right to privacy and dignity within his home and the university.

What is the ‘gross misconduct’ for which Dr Siras has been suspended? It is not a crime for an adult to have consenting intimate sexual relations with another adult. It is not an offence for an adult to have consensual sex with another adult in the privacy of his home. Dr Siras, in line with the judgement of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation, has also committed no legal offence. On the other hand, he is the victim of multiple offences — his house has been entered into without his consent and his intimate life has been filmed without his consent.

The press reports repeatedly allege that Dr Siras was having consensual sex with a “rickshaw puller”. Is the occupation or implied class status of the individual involved the reason behind the accusation of ‘scandal’ and ‘outrageous’ behaviour? If so, then the AMU administration is violating the tenets both of India’s Constitution and of the ethics and values of an institution of higher learning with a history as long and distinguished as AMU which was built precisely to end discrimination on religion, caste or class.

One has to remember that it was only last year that Chief Justice Shah and Justice Muralidhar, in holding Section 377 inapplicable to consenting sex between adults in private, came up with the important distinction between public morality and constitutional morality. As they noted, “Moral indignation, howsoever strong, is not a valid basis for overriding individual’s fundamental rights of dignity and privacy. In our scheme of things, constitutional morality must outweigh the argument of public morality, even if it be the majoritarian view.”

If the Naz judgement with its stress on constitutional morality is taken seriously, the immoral actions will be not be Dr Siras’ conduct but rather the actions of the university authorities in suspending him for the expression of his constitutional right, the actions of the media to blatantly invade his life as well as the possible involvement of students of the university.

This incident follows a series of events that mark the shrinking of spaces of freedom and dignity within India’s institutions of higher learning. It is imperative that we protect institutions that should be bastions of building inclusive and democratic cultures for generations to come from narrow-minded moral policing of this kind.

18 thoughts on “Whose Morality is This?”

  1. Basically suspension of Prof Siras is an attempt on the part of corruption tainted Dr P K Abdul Azis, Vice Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University and former VC, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT) to divert attention away from the ongoing fact finding inquiry ordered by the President of India to probe allegation of large scale corruption against Dr Azis, VC. All talk if students entering the home of Prof Siras are lies. Dr Azis very well knows that as soon as the report against him is submitted, action against him will be taken. He is resorting to such actions to garner support from fundamentalists. This is how he has been surviving till now in AMU and previously at CUSAT, Cochin. No student of AMU has the guts to enter the residence of teacher with a camera. And no teacher is that fool that he would allow people to film him while he is having consensual sex. In fact, the AMU administration itself appears to be deeply involved in this episode. It is mainly driven by departmental and university politics. A high powered probe would unravel that people close to the person who has been handed over the charge of Chairman (who is a close confidante of Dr Azis) after unlawful suspension of Prof Siras were involved.
    Even the report of Principal Accountant General (Audit), Uttar Pradesh, Allahabad, sent vide AB(C) 09-10/249 dt. 17.11.2009 to Ministry of HRD acknowledges in unequivocal terms the financial irregularities in the university and charges the VC too of indulging in financial irregularity and contains “There is a complete collapse of financial management in the university and the VC [Dr P K Abdul Azis] and the Registrar [Prof. V K Abdul Jaleel] instead of stopping this frequent financial irregularity themselves became a part of this,”.
    The report relating to tenure of Dr Azis as VC of CUSAT and submitted by Finance Inspection Wing of Government of Kerala sent by the Principal Secretary to Government to The Registrar, Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), Kochi, vide No. 11244/B2/08/H.Edn dt. 25.04.2008 again clearly mention that “Strict disciplinary action should be initiated against the VC, Dr P. K. Abdul Aziz for his lapses”.
    So poor Prof Siras has been made a scapegoat. His suspension is totally illegal and part of diversionary tactics being employed by badly cornered corruption tainted Dr Azis. Kapil Sibal led MHRD needs to wake up from its deep slumber and take action against Dr Azis. What are the babus in MHRD waiting for? Kapil Sibal keeps announcing one radical scheme after another! But what about the running of institutions of higher learning like AMU by tainted people like Dr Azis?

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  2. What the TOI team has done and is in the process of doing (ie changing versions of the article) and what the AMU authorities have done, must be condemned for more reasons than one. the newspaper should issue a public apology to the professor and publish the same in their newspaper. the AMU authorities too should look into the unconstitutionality and immorality of their action. we should also write to/talk to Prof Siras to express our solidarity with him.
    Clearly the seemingly invisible underlying hypocrisy prevailing in our society pertaining to issues of sexuality needs to be questioned.

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  3. This is infringement of privacy. It is degrading that the private space has been appropriated by the media and more shamefully, by an institute of the AMU’s repute. I do hope that such incidents do not repeat and even if it does, the perpetrators need to be brought to the books. Civil Society needs to take up the cudgels and stand in solidarity behind the beleaguered academic and all other victims.

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  4. This epsiode was a really big lesson for some of us about the way in which big newspapers like TOI function. The report on Professor Siras appeared first in The Telegraph on the 17th of February – it was a balanced, neutral report, somewhat sympathetic to Siras, about his being victimised for no real crime at all. The same day, a reporter from TOI picked up the story, added a blatantly homophobic, gossipy spin to it, and published it gleefully in the next day’s Bombay edition of the TOI with the headline ‘AMU professor in trouble for gay romp with rickshaw puller’. The article was so full of offensive stereotypes (both about class and sexuality) that its a wonder it got published at all.

    Several of us wrote to the TOI protesting the story, and lo and behold! While not a single one of our letters has been acknowledged, the subsequent versions of the story (especially various online editions) were gradually and slyly changed, with the addition and subtraction of crucial words and phrases all around, to eventually angle the story back to what may be described as semi-decent reporting. But the online version couldn’t resist adding an opinion poll below the story on the same page, with this question – “even though the HC has legalised homosexuality, do you think Indian society is ready for it?”

    So TOI can exonerate its own bias.

    As for university administrations using such means to ‘fix’ their opponents, while the particular methods of the AMU case may have touched a new low, the practice of framing faculty members is unfortunately very common. A million committees can go about their work, painstakingly collecting evidence on the powerful offenders, trying to uphold the law in the face of rampant goondaism, but nobody really cares. Least of all Mr. Sibal. Its too embarrassing, too beneath him, and anyway he is probably busy having tea and cucumber sandwiches at the IIC, discussing some lofty principle of education reform with bureaucrats and heads of elite institutions, secretly wishing provincial universities like AMU would simply vanish so he can fill the country with IITs and IIMs and Harvard Business School offshore campuses.

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  5. At the risk of speaking against my own community, I’m wondering if the response would be any different if the prof. had been filmed sleeping with a woman…

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  6. To add to unsungpsalm’s provocation, what if the prof. had been filmed making out with a ‘kaamwali bai’/ ‘maid-servant’ who maybe works at his place?

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  7. The statement above says, “The university authorities instead of going by the constitutionally recognised right to privacy within the four corners of one’s house have instead chosen to act against Dr Siras.”

    No.

    What has emerged since the above statement was written is that the university authorities were the one who got the filming done!

    Also, words like ‘caught’ are incorrect, I find the first comment above by Riaz very revealing not just because it leads us to think why Dr Siras could have been targeted, that is, for what motives, but also because it asks an obvious question: “No student of AMU has the guts to enter the residence of teacher with a camera. And no teacher is that fool that he would allow people to film him while he is having consensual sex.”

    In other words, he was not found to be having consensual sex by set-up to do so – in other words this was a ‘sting’ and the ‘rickshaw puller’ was possibly in on it.

    The shocking Mail Today story is a must read: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/84740/India/Varsity+paid+for+sting+on+gay+prof.html

    “A senior member of the university pooled in money from some of the council members and paid the four Rs 20,000 for the two-minute video recording,” the source added. AMU spokesperson Rahat Abrar conceded that the four were hired. “I have seen the clip and believe it’s enough to suspend him under Rule 403-C of the AMU statute on the grounds of gross misconduct,” he said.

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  8. AMU is not in Delhi, so it is debatable whether sec.377 decision applies. Also, this is what happens when laws are amended through court orders without preparing the public for change. The old ways continue without much attention being paid to it. We have seen this before with the Vishaka judgment, the Jain Hawala judgment and others. Surveys also have testified to its low acceptance across the country. I am not all that surprised if faculty share the conservative attitudes in the community.

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  9. Delhi High Court judgement does aply across India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/India/Will-Delhi-HC-gay-order-apply-across-India/articleshow/4731089.cms

    And you raise a good point. Perhaps the SC should now say that 377 will stay until such point as ‘society’ is ‘prepared’. Until then let’s start installing cameras in bedrooms, sacking gays from jobs and indeed hanging them. Good point Toothfairy. Amazing it never struck anyone else.

    In other words, did you read the 377 judgement you idiot?

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  10. *Toothfairy
    Well, of course the faculty would be sharing the same attitude!
    But should it reach the court of law, of course the HC judgment would be upheld! The petition for a stay order was very categorically dismissed by the SC, stating that the HC judgment wasn’t putting anyone at threat…

    Then again, I think we’re getting a bit carried away over this, aren’t we? The prof. would’ve been suspended if there was an explicit recording of him of ANY nature being circulated, and not just one with gay sex in it.
    That people are objecting to the fact that both involved are men is of course something we are allowed to be upset over, but certainly not surprised!

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  11. Unsungpsalm, its not at all clear which community you belong to, so why don’t you specify what the implications of your question are? And Rajneesh, your ‘provocation’ is entirely irrelevant. The issue of right to privacy and consensual relations as Shivam says, changes not one bit. In fact, as the letter specifies, what made the AMU operation and the reporting repugnant was not just homophobia, but the classism of repeatedly saying rickshaw puller…how does the example of a kaamwali bai change anything? If that relationship was consensual, then whose business is it? So, if there is an actual point to your provocation (and we can only guess as to what that might be), why don’t you bring it bravely forth into the public? Oh maybe because then you would actually have to defend it with some proof/reasoning? Much easier to make vague insinuations and indirect ‘provocations’ I guess…

    And toothfairy, large sections of the Indian public are actually ready for the HC order, if you would bother looking at the history of activism by LGBT and other activist groups that were instrumental in making the case against 377. Of course, the public should be involved but if we wait for the whole public to approve it will be a couple of hundred years, probably more. And who knows what atrocities will occur in the meanwhile. Miraculously, the Court has passed a really progressive judgement, and fortunately, it doesn’t need our permission.

    Just to clarify my earlier comment, I don’t mean the AMU is in reality a ‘provincial’ university. As most people know, it is a historic, national institution, a central university, with a huge legacy of research and teaching behind it. I was just imagining how it may appear to the average high-level bureaucrat/minister sitting in Delhi today.

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  12. I think pointless speculations and hypotheses don’t help. It’s iirrelevant whether he would have been suspended had he been caught – nay, stung, framed-up – with a woman. For that is not what happened. He was framed-up with a man, his sexuality must have been an open secret and that is what he is being persecuted for and that is the point here.

    And Toothfairy, yes, it’s debatable whether the Delhi High Court judgement is applicable across India. So let’s say it is not applicable in Aligarh. Why don’t you call up the good VC and tell him to file an FIR against the Prof under 377? Surely he deserves to be in jail?

    And why are you so afraid of writing your name? FTW is Toothfairy?

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  13. It is shameful that AMU has suspended him and also violated his privacy.AMU is also bound by the laws of the land and it cannot exempt itself from them.Sec 377 whether it is applicable to Aligarh or not, what was the need to act in this way.When has the AMU assumed the role of moral police.Whether the Prof. fights it or not this is a case for PIL and for ensuring that universities dont stoop to so low levels and assume the role of moral police

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  14. Homosexuality was there. is there and will be there. It is the choice of the concerned. The whole episode seems to have blown out of proportion. Can TOI vouch that there is no homosexual working in their organisation? In case of Dr. Siras, the whole incident seems to be pre-planned. How the cameras were installed is also a million dollor question? Dr. Aziz, as mentioned by Riaz, a tainted person and has raked this incident to divert attention of the people. We all do some things which the Moral Police of the Society will not accept untill they are exposed.

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  15. How can one say that homosexuality is there inside AMU campus and in other hostels and quarters ? somebody pre-planned something and made a story and blow it up for some hidden agenda. There is no need to make so m uch acry about a homosexually which is forcibly made visible. Homo sexuality is happening in many corners of AMU, I bet.

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