On April 7, 2010, a Wednesday, the then-Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) had hosted me and a colleague (a photojournalist) for lunch at his official residence.
I had reached Aligarh, in Uttar Pradesh from Delhi to interview the University’s Reader of Marathi, Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras. However, the VC did not know that. Siras had been suspended by the AMU on February 19. A journalist who had intruded into his campus apartment had filmed Siras with a partner, who happened to be male. Siras had approached the Allahabad High Court, which stayed the suspension on April 1. In July 2009, the Delhi High Court had decriminalised gay sex. The Allahabad High Court had never ruled against it, which meant that at that point in time, there was no case for “gross misconduct” — as AMU’s communiqué had alleged — against Siras. Yet, the absence of legislation against discrimination based on sexual orientation had emboldened the university to unleash its institutions against an employee.
I had been conversing periodically with Siras ever since his suspension but we had never met. I had talked to him on Monday night, planning to write a piece on him after returning to work. We decided to meet on Wednesday. I had reached Aligarh a day earlier, on Tuesday, and searched for Siras. But his number was unreachable.
The reporter for a television news channel, who had dragged Siras out of the closet, had outed him to all of Aligarh town. Siras had told me that he had been forced to move house multiple times. When we located his residence, late on Tuesday, I found that the door would not budge.
I kept trying to reach Siras over the phone, even while at the lunch with the VC. I asked him whether he had planned to rescind the suspension order. “Why should I? There is no need. The court has ordered his return,” he said.
At around 8 p.m., my colleague received a call: Siras had been found dead inside the house whose doors we had found locked.
At night, a local journalist approached me conspiratorially after seeing me emerge from Siras’s house — I went to see the body. He tried to show me on his mobile phone the video, of Siras with his partner — now an “MMS scandal”. I shooed him away.
There is a sense of déjà vu about it now. Gay sex is not criminal once again, but we still do not have a law to prevent discrimination against sexual minorities.
I went to the AMU campus on Thursday. The university’s PR department had given journalists a copy of an order from VC Aziz revoking Siras’s suspension. It was as if only death had made him acceptable to the system.