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Whose morality is this?

We, as teachers and academics from universities across India, read with outrage and dismay that Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was suspended for having consensual sex with someone of the same sex within the privacy of his home, says a petition by teachers and academics from universities across India.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2010 23:31 IST

Saleem Kidwai, Nivedita Menon, Mary John, V. Geetha, Shilpa Phadke and 13 other teachers and academics from universities across India.

We, as teachers and academics from universities across India, read with outrage and dismay that Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was suspended for having consensual sex with someone of the same sex within the privacy of his home.

What made the press report that came out on Thursday in certain sections of the media particularly shocking was that there were either cameras placed by students within Dr Siras’ house or television reporters got into the house and made a video film of the alleged incident that was then passed on to the university authorities. The university authorities instead of going by the constitutionally recognised right to privacy within the four corners of one’s house have instead chosen to act against Dr Siras.

The outrage of the university authorities is deeply misdirected. Instead of suspending Dr Siras, they should have taken stern and serious action against those who so blatantly took on the role of playing moral police with no regard whatsoever for Dr Siras’ constitutionally recognised right to privacy and dignity within his home and the university.

What is the ‘gross misconduct’ for which Dr Siras has been suspended? It is not a crime for an adult to have consenting intimate sexual relations with another adult. It is not an offence for an adult to have consensual sex with another adult in the privacy of his home. Dr Siras, in line with the judgement of the Delhi High Court in Naz Foundation, has also committed no legal offence. On the other hand, he is the victim of multiple offences — his house has been entered into without his consent and his intimate life has been filmed without his consent.

The press reports repeatedly allege that Dr Siras was having consensual sex with a “rickshaw puller”. Is the occupation or implied class status of the individual involved the reason behind the accusation of ‘scandal’ and ‘outrageous’ behaviour? If so, then the AMU administration is violating the tenets both of India’s Constitution and of the ethics and values of an institution of higher learning with a history as long and distinguished as AMU which was built precisely to end discrimination on religion, caste or class.

One has to remember that it was only last year that Chief Justice Shah and Justice Muralidhar, in holding Section 377 inapplicable to consenting sex between adults in private, came up with the important distinction between public morality and constitutional morality. As they noted, “Moral indignation, howsoever strong, is not a valid basis for overriding individual’s fundamental rights of dignity and privacy. In our scheme of things, constitutional morality must outweigh the argument of public morality, even if it be the majoritarian view.”

If the Naz judgement with its stress on constitutional morality is taken seriously, the immoral actions will be not be Dr Siras’ conduct but rather the actions of the university authorities in suspending him for the expression of his constitutional right, the actions of the media to blatantly invade his life as well as the possible involvement of students of the university.

This incident follows a series of events that mark the shrinking of spaces of freedom and dignity within India’s institutions of higher learning. It is imperative that we protect institutions that should be bastions of building inclusive and democratic cultures for generations to come from narrow-minded moral policing of this kind.

This is the full text of the petition letter

The views expressed by the authors are personal