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AMU: Oh, what a fall!

April 13, 2010 14:52 IST

The circumstances leading up to the tragic death of Professor S R Siras has exposed the rot that has set into the prestigious university.

The tragic and unnatural death of Professor Srinivas Ramchandra Siras has sent shockwaves across the country. The post-mortem found poison in his body; hence it could be a case of either suicide or murder. His mobile phone is missing, and according to the police and the post-mortem report, he probably died on April 6.

If it is suicide, then it might be because of the harassment that he was subjected to by the Aligarh Muslim University administration. In that case, the relevant functionaries of AMU should be charged with abetting suicide, and all possible criminal proceedings must be initiated against them immediately. There are some reports that an assistant proctor (teacher-administrator, looking after law and order on the campus) had found some papers around the Prof Siras's body and that he probably handed them over to the police. Was there a suicide note, is a question being pondered by everybody in AMU.

If it is murder, then the needle of suspicion points to:

(a) those teachers, teacher-administrators and stringers who filmed Prof Siras by forcefully entering his house and against whom, as reported in the local Hindi dailies, he had lodged an FIR on April 5; or

(b) Those who would benefit from destabilising the AMU administration, and are already engaged in a battle against the high functionaries of AMU.

In both the cases, AMU does not escape its share of blame. It raises serious questions about the way our university system functions. Far from serving as industries of radical ideas and practices, they have become a cesspool of corruption and all kinds of disgusting irregularities, while the relevant regulatory and other agencies are hardly showing any concern to eradicate the deep-seated problems.

One cannot understand how much Prof Siras was hounded outand harassed by the AMU administration unless we go into the details of the story.

Prof Siras was the chairman of the department of modern Indian languages, teaching Marathi literature, and was an award-winning poet in the language. Some teachers, teacher-administrators, and the public relations officer, along with two stringers, filmed him while having consensual sex with a man at night in his bedroom of the accommodation provided by AMU, for which he was suspended in early February 2010.

But in doing so, the AMU administration overlooked two pertinent aspects:

(a) The heinous criminal breach of the privacy of Prof Siras, which is a blatant violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Indian Constitution;

(b) Homosexuality had already been decriminalised by the Delhi high court.

On April 1, 2010, the Allahabad high court gave him relief and stayed his suspension, but the AMU did not comply with the judgment.

While the suspension without sustainable evidence was done with undue haste, the high court's order revoking the suspension was implemented after a week's delay, and posthumously, after two-three days of his death when the media had landed up for reportage.

The letter revoking Prof Siras's suspension was delivered only on April 8. There are credible reports that no such letter was prepared till April 7 afternoon; it was done so only after the news of his death was confirmed.

Meanwhile, in March, the AMU administration had a selection committee, and due to his suspension Prof Siras could neither appear before the selection committee for promotion to professorship nor could he sit as an expert in the selection committee for selecting lecturers and readers.

From this it can well be surmised that the sting operation and his hasty suspension was a ploy to keep him out of the selection committee, so that the favourites of his detractors could sail through. Otherwise his sexual orientation may well have been known to his colleagues during his over two decades of services in AMU.

On April 5 he had lodged an FIR against those who were involved in breaching his privacy. He probably felt like doing this only because AMU was reluctant to grant him any relief even after the high court judgment. A three-member inquiry was instituted against him on April 3, and the letter was delivered to him only on April 5. Again, there are credible reports that the letter was actually prepared only on April 5, but subsequently entered as April 3 to show that the inquiry was instituted before the high court judgment of April 1 was received.

This news of the FIR lodged by Prof Siras came to light a few days after his death. He could lodge the FIR only through a magistrate, as the police was reportedly not being cooperative.

Some of the senior teachers charged in it, who were up in arms against Prof Siras, have outrageous credentials, and an inquiry is pending against some.

The kind of ethos that prevails in AMU can be gauged by the statement issued by a professor and dean of the faculty of law: 'Liberalism is not a cafeteria where anybody can get anything', as editorialised in a leading English daily. This professor is also not without blemish. Despite having reached the highest position of academics, he is always ready to do the VC's bidding, presumably to get lucrative additional administrative responsibilities in AMU. He has been asked to inquire into Prof Siras's conduct.

With such an ethos, the AMU Teachers' Association is yet to call a meeting of condolence for Prof Siras. It did not extend the warranted support to him when he was alive, and is only interested in settling scores with the VC on the issue.

In other words, there has been no genuine sense of hurt at the tragic death of Prof Siras.

Amidst dark clouds there are silver linings as well. Some of the faculty members extended their support, and are still expressing their outrage against the tragedy, and they are struggling to get justice for the late professor. Their optimism needs to be honoured. 

AMU has become like a malignant tumour needing comprehensive surgical and chemical therapy. But the visitor (the President), the HRD minister, the University Grants Commission, all are maintaining silence. Will they take up Prof Siras's tragic death as a wake-up call? We don't know whether the people who caused it will ever get punished. It is frustrating, and tormenting.

The writer is a Delhi-based alumnus of AMU, and prefers to remain anonymous