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Right to choose: We can only hope Hansal Mehta's film on AMU professor Siras sparks a constructive debate

It is one of the best ways to document and pay tribute to an unfinished life. It could also be the ideal way of raising important questions which were otherwise ignored and unanswered.

Almost five years after Aligarh Muslim University professor Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras's death, who was suspended for being gay, director Hansal Mehta's film on the professor is set to open the Mumbai Film Festival on 29 October. Dubbing it his most romantic film, Mehta told The Indian Express, "It's a romantic study of a character and how homophobia condemned Siras, a lover of poetry, to a life of loneliness and longing."

In 2010, the body of 62-year-old Srinivas Ramchander Siras, a reader in Modern Indian Languages, was found lying on the bed in his private apartment outside the university after police broke open the door which was locked from inside.

 Right to choose: We can only hope Hansal Mehtas film on AMU professor Siras sparks a constructive debate

AMU professor Dr Shrinivas Ramachandra Siras was found dead in his apartment in 2010. Image courtesy: IBNLive

Siras, who hailed from Maharashtra and taught Marathi, was placed under suspension by the then AMU vice-chancellor PK Abdul Aziz on charges of homosexuality at his house inside the campus after a sting operation by a television channel, which exposed him having sexual relations with a rickshaw puller.

A week before his alleged suicide, the Allahabad High Court had stayed the suspension and ordered Siras' reinstatement. "Now, I can go back to my beloved university," Siras had told NDTV, after the court ordered AMU to not just take him back, but provide him accommodation till he retires later this year.

Siras's suspension and his death was met with huge resistance by activists and a few faculty members at the AMU. While some had called for punishing the professor for being homosexual, others decried the taping of him having consensual sex with another man as breach of privacy. Justifying the suspension, AMU public relations officer Rahat Abrar had told The Hindu in this article, "The quarters where he was staying is university property. Further, a teacher has a role of responsibility and should be a figure to be looked up to. AMU has a history of culture and tradition and such things cannot be overlooked."

Mehta's film Aligarh follows Siras' story from the point of view of journalist Deepu Sebastian Edmond. Edmond, according to The Indian Express article, followed the story the time Siras's hounding began, through his fight in the court till it was revoked and finally his death. Manoj Bajpayee will be playing the role of Siras while Edmond's role has been essayed by Rajkummar Rao.

On 11 December 2013, the Supreme Court of India ruled homosexuality to be a criminal offence setting aside the 2009 judgement given by the Delhi High Court. In its judgment, the Supreme Court bench stated,  "In view of the above discussion, we hold that Section 377 IPC does not suffer from the vice of unconstitutionality and the declaration made by the Division Bench of the High Court is legally unsustainable."

The film, according to the screenwriter Apurva Ansari, Aligarh does not discuss the sexual preference of Siras but it is a film about the right to choose. In an interview with Scroll, Ansari said even though Siras did not want to come out in the open and talk about his sexuality, society's intrusion labelled him as a gay professor. "Aligarh is about a yearning for privacy and for dignity. I don’t think you owe anyone an explanation about your sexuality. What transpires behind closed doors and involves consenting adults is nobody else’s business," he said.

Back in 2010, when the issue had gathered enough steam, AMU Faculty of Law associate professor Shakeel Samdani had said that what happened was hardly a violation of Siras's privacy. "Part III of the Indian Constitution dealing with Fundamental Rights guarantees certain rights subject to public order, morality and health. A teacher cannot act in such a manner that it violates public order, is a threat to tradition and such acts give rise to AIDS."

The fact that what happened behind closed doors and was consensual, was thrown in the public to humiliate an eminent professor, which reportedly led to his death, is most regrettable. Not only did the investigations yield no justice, but the protests eventually died down and the incident was wiped from the public memory. Worse, the alleged perpetrators have walked free.

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Updated Date: Oct 19, 2015 16:04:48 IST