An Open Letter to the Democratic and Progressive Groups and Individuals in Aligarh Muslim University and Other Universities in India to Demand Justice for Dr.Siras

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The unforeseen death of Dr Srinivas Ramachandra Siras (Reader and Chair of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University) and the circumstances surrounding it have thrown us into a web of shock, despair and great concern. As an academic community, there are a number of questions that we need to ask and address.

The role of the Aligarh Muslim University authorities in this incident has been nothing short of condemnable. The invasion of Dr Siras’ privacy, the subsequent authoritarian impulse to suspend him and the complete lack of sensitivity by the administration has been outrageous. It has created anxiety about our vulnerability to the exercise of arbitrary powers. The use of such surveillance is not simply a threat to our freedom to make life choices (and sexual choices); it also leads to “self-discipline” due to fear of transgressing majoritarian norms.

The “publicness” of a university space is such that any official sanction to prejudice inevitably impacts everyday activities: the look in your colleague’s eye, hostility from students, the unidentified comment from the back in a busy corridor, the very experience of having your private life splashed in the public – we don’t know if all this also happened with Dr. Siras, but given that it is almost woven into the fabric of a gay man’s public existence, his death raises inescapable concerns about campus spaces.
The everyday forms of discrimination in activities as ordinary as eating in hostel messes, sharing rooms, attending and taking lectures, etc reflect the heteronormative consensus in our universities. Needless to add, this can have an adverse impact on seemingly unrelated issues such as appointment to committees, promotion, selection for fellowships and scholarships, etc. Moreover, these normalized and often institutionalized forms of discrimination take a toll on the mental well being of those having to face it on a daily-basis, thus affecting their ability to participate as equal members of universities.

However, the look in the eyes of people or the embarrassment in your family’s tone seldom qualifies as evidence to constitute the reason for a biological death. But despite this persistent inability of existing legal codes to capture the enormity of such structures of discrimination, these are crucial parts of a narrative that builds up to the end of a life. Given this, the circumstances of Dr. Siras’ death are not mysterious; they are a mystification of the violence of a homophobic social fabric that we all are strung to.

Though this particular case is from AMU, the probability of similar discrimination and humiliation exists in any other university in India. Despite the recent high court judgment, we continue to experience homophobia and realize the possibility of similar forms of discrimination against queer people in other campuses. It is particularly sad that academic spaces, which should be exemplary in tolerance shown toward rival political positions and diverse worldviews, should become spaces that curtail human freedoms.

We urge all university students, teachers, karamchaaris and authorities to struggle against anti-democratic forces that discriminate against minority identities of all kinds. Alongside, we express our support for such movements across university campuses, as well as the struggles of people like Dr Siras.

We appeal to the progressive forces of AMU to strengthen their resistance to homophobia and other forms of discrimination against minorities, and strive towards creating a space that includes voices of dissent and encourages freedom of thought and expression.

Finally, we demand an apology from the AMU authorities and strict action against those responsible for the circumstances that lead to the death of Dr. Siras. We also demand that the police conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation into the cause of death, and that the result of this investigation be made public immediately.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

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