Thursday, April 8, 2010

Siras: An 'outsider' at AMU?

“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'.

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  1. I am fully disagree "Siras: An 'outsider' at AMU?" If it is so, why he has been appointed chairman of the modern Indian languages department??what do you mean by outsider at AMU?If i am not misunderstanding....................
    It doesn't mean he belongs to other community or Marathi.If you are thinking so than it is not true.Engg & Medical Departments are full of other community members.Really, it is very sad Siras is dead now & his cause of death is not known.Every institution has there own identity & they have full right to protect it whether it is indisplined or something else..........

  2. Khalid: By AMU I meant the administration and not the faculty members. It is observed that faculty members tend to get along much better among themselves than with the administration staff. The AMU teachers' association has condemned the incident and have also demanded an inquiry by the administration. I reproduce below the resolution passed by them.


    Jamshed Siddiqui
    Hony. Secretary
    Teaching Staff Club
    A.M.U., Aligarh-202002
    April 8, 2010

    Unanimous resolution passed by the Executive Committee of Aligarh Muslim University Teachers’ Association (AMUTA) in its meeting held on 8.4.2010 at 12:00 Noon in the Staff Club.

    This meeting of the Executive Committee of AMU Teachers’ Association expresses its deep shock and anguish over the sudden death of Dr. S.R. Siras, Reader, Department of Modern Indian Languages. The Association is of the considered opinion that the University administration, particularly the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. P.K. Abdul Azis, should be held accountable for the circumstances leading to his loss of life.

    Dr. Siras was continuously harassed for quite sometime and recently he was not allowed to join his duties even after the stay order granted by the Hon’ble Allahabad High Court against the suspension order of the University.

    The Teachers’ Association has always been opposed to the suspension of University teachers as they are in no position to influence any process of inquiry and, had therefore, condemned the suspension of Dr. Siras and had also opposed the brazen infringement of his privacy by a section of the electronic media reportedly at the behest of University administration in conducting sting operation at his residence in the Medical Colony.

    The Executive Committee demands that the sequence of events from the day of suspension of Dr. Siras till his death must be thoroughly probed and a time-bound Judicial enquiry led by a retired Judge of the Hon’ble Supreme Court must be instituted so that the persons responsible for the loss of this precious life may be brought to book.

    (Jamshed Siddiqui)

  3. Madihur Rehman SuhaibApril 9, 2010 at 9:29 PM

    If the vice-chancellor is guilty of a sin of commission, the AMU Staff Association is guilty of a sin of omission.

    What was AMUTA doing when Dr. Siras was being harassed by the university administration? Why did they not convene a meeting of the General Body of the Association to condemn the atrocities being committed by the university administration and express solidarity with Dr. Siras?

    Had the AMUTA and the university community done that and not left Siras to fend for himself all alone, perhaps a human life could have been saved. The entire Aligarh Muslim University community should hang its head in shame.

    Madihur Rehman Suhaib,
    Associate Professor,
    Department of English

  4. Dear Danish,

    Do you seriously believe that the attempt of authorities of AMU to project a certain 'Islamic' culture and morality actually reflects the mindset or mentality of all Muslims, or even a specifically Muslim mindset? Does such a thing exist?

    The last time I looked, a Muslim was someone who was broadly born into or claimed the faith of Islam, and culturally is incredibly diverse from Dubai to Indonesia, consists of believers and non-believers of all sorts, different political views AND different sexualities. Not all or even most Muslims speak Urdu, and more importantly, many who speak Urdu are not Muslims.

    While I find your blog interesting and agree that it can be fascinating to explore the cultural world of Urdu, believing that it is synomymous with Muslims and represents a certain 'mindset' seems to me to be moving into the direction of our dear ex-President of USA, George W. Bush's shady and hate-filled idea of Muslims as the 'other'.

    very best wishes,


  5. Hi Danish,
    Whilst I mourn the death of Prof Siras and find the fact that he was poisoned extremely disturbing, I also I find your comments a little worrying. My perspective comes from being queer, middle class, white British/European, living in London. Recently, the (very prevalent) idea of the 'Muslim psyche' and representations of Muslim people as 'essentially' homophobic (which I think this blog implies, or at least it creates an association between Islam and homophobia) has been the subject of considerable debate. Homophobia has been used as a tool by Western governments to 'other' Muslims and construct their own, 'Western' values in opposition to Muslim 'intolerance' and 'backwardness'. I feel like this blog has undertones of a similar strategy, albeit for different ends.

  6. Dear Uditi and AI,

    Thank you for your comments. Nowhere in my blog have I implied or intend to imply that the AMU is representative of the mindset of ‘all’ Muslims. In fact, not just many Muslims from around the world but also some AMU alumni and faculty have raised their voices against Siras’s suspension and have mourned the unfortunate circumstances of his death. So not all Aligs and definitely not all Muslims are homophobic and I have no intention of generalizing this.

    However, I do find the argument some Muslims make on forums and group emails about Siras ‘deserving such an unfortunate death because he was homosexual’ rather appalling. I am also saddened by the silence of AMU management on Siras’s death and furious that a man had to commit suicide because of the treatment meted out to him by the AMU management simply because of his sexuality. In this post I have only expressed my views.

    My blog is not confined to Urdu language or the Muslim world and nowhere am I implying that they are synonymous although sometimes they do share some similarities and some part of history. I have written on Muslim personalities that did not contribute anything to Urdu literature and I have written about non-Muslims personalities that have made a vast contribution to Urdu. My blog readers comprise of many non Muslims and many non Urdu speakers.

    In very community, there are groups that share different views and sometimes opposing views. Classifying any group as the ‘other’ is just a lame excuse to run away from any healthy discussion. And I’m not going anywhere.

  7. md shamshad khanMay 16, 2010 at 6:09 PM

    dear danish,
    we try to be moral police.sometimes we say this is right when it suits us and wrong when it dosent.cases of homosexuality has been heard in the university since is in everybody's knowledge.just because mr siras happens to be a non muslim this matter is being hyped by a section of the amu faculty for their own purpose