It has been a week since the release of the Manoj Bajpayee-starrer Aligarh, a film based on the life of Aligarh Muslim University professor Ramchandra Siras, who was sacked from the university because he was gay. Set in Uttar Pradesh, the plot revolves around how the professor was hounded by his colleagues after a TV channel — disregarding his right to privacy — aired a clip that showed him embracing a man inside his campus accommodation. A few months later, Siras was found dead under suspicious circumstances after successfully appealing against his suspension. The movie is running in other parts of India, but film hall owners in Aligarh have imposed an unofficial ban on it, thanks to the warnings by Millat Bedari Muhim Committee (MBMC), a Muslim fringe group, and the BJP-backed mayor of Aligarh, Shakuntala Bharti. Both have the same excuse to demand a ban Aligarh: The film defames the city and the university. However, the real reason for such an unjust demand appears to be their visceral hatred of homosexuals.
This is not the first time a film showing homosexuality has faced such opposition in India. Two decades ago, Deepa Mehta’s Fire — a film about two lonely sisters-in-law who share a lesbian relationship — faced the ire of the moral police even though the movie passed the censor board without any cuts. The Hansal Mehta-directed film, however, had to give in to the board’s demands for cuts, which led the director to say that the board was behaving like a “homophobic society”. What is more distressing about the Aligarh incident is not only the demand for the ban or the censor board’s reaction, but the cowardly response of the local administration to such demands. Instead of ensuring protection to the movie halls that were eager to show the film and those who were interested in watching the film, the administration came out with a lame response that there was no “official ban” on the movie. By not putting counter pressure on people like Ms Bharti and organisations like the MBMC by taking strong and visible action, the administration has ceded ground to the Right-wing voices.
Unlike what the anti-Aligarh group would like us to believe, the film does not focus on homosexuality; it is also about other human issues: Loneliness, relationships and rejection. In fact, the film is not about the town and the university; such an incident can happen anywhere in India. The movie’s timing couldn’t be better, given the general lack of understanding of sexual minorities and the challenges they face, and the fact that a Supreme Court Bench is deciding on Section 377. The people of Aligarh must not shy away from understanding and debating the issues the movie raises. The ‘ban’ must go.