There is a fine line dividing personal prejudice and intolerance. This was breached with fatal consequences in the case of Professor Srinivas Ramchander Siras of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). Under the guise of doing their duty as mediapersons, three so-called journalists intruded into Siras’s home and conducted a sting operation which showed him having consensual sex with another man.
What followed this gross invasion of the privacy of an individual was the hounding of Siras by the university until the court revoked his suspension.
Many people may have biases against same sex partnerships. They are entitled to their own opinions, howsoever objectionable they may be. But to actually use a person’s sexual orientation to deprive him of his livelihood and reputation is a criminal offence. Though the three mediapersons and four AMU officials involved in the hounding of Siras have been charged with criminal trespass, they are out on bail and not the least bit remorseful of literally having driven a respected academic to his death. This only goes to show that despite the courts decriminalising homosexuality and revoking Section 377 that deemed it unnatural and against the law, the stigma attached to it remains. In the case of Siras, nothing at all justifies this sting operation. He was not conducting himself in an unbecoming manner in public, he had broken no laws. His suspension was based on the dubious grounds that such immoral conduct could not be tolerated in an august institution like AMU. That the vice-chancellor himself colluded in the persecution of Siras makes it doubly tragic. If those who committed the original sin of barging into Siras’s private space with the intention of ‘exposing’ him do not receive suitable punishment, many more ‘investigative’ journalists may deem it fit to bring private matters into the public domain merely for the sake of a ‘good’ story. This is unethical and criminal. No public good was served by the harassment of Siras. In fact, it has set the wrong precedent and given the media a bad name.
This sort of intolerance is not limited only to homosexuality. We have seen examples of people taking the law into their own hands in the form of khap panchayats in which a bunch of bullies decides whether a marriage is legitimate or not. Siras’s tragic fate shows that apart from intolerance, there is scant regard for the law that protects the right of people to make their own lifestyle choices, whether in matrimony or sexual orientation. It really is time to lay down the law to those who breach it with impunity as happened in the case of Siras.