The Suspension of Dr. Siras For Moral Turpitude
Misconstrued Collision Of Principles
22 February, 2010
Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, reader and chairman of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was suspended for the moral turpitude of consensual homosexuality within the privacy of his home.
From early reports, is seems that the suspension of Dr. Siras may be quite popular. Religions do not agree on all moral principles. That is the reason for adoption of a secular constitution in a pluralistic democracy. If popularity was the yardstick of morality, some of the minorities would have no place in states dominated by sectarian forces in
There are many principles, religious and secular at stake here, and they are not in conflict.
1. In most religions homosexuality is considered to be a sin, condemned by the society. Though homosexuality has always existed in all societies, but by and large has been tolerated as a private matter, if not flouted.
2. Blind Puritanism is discouraged, because it leads to widespread intolerance and discord. Religions and societies choose equanimity in social discourse for stability and peace.
3. Islam enjoins believers to respect the inviolable privacy of home. Muslims are enjoined not to gossip or brazenly expose private failings of others. Muslims are exhorted to be introspective and tolerant with humility in the belief that God is the ultimate all knowing judge. Social responsibility is to condemn only lewd public behavior.
4. Democracy and civil society also follow this Islamic principle. Private behavior and public acts are separate realms. Violation of privacy of the home is against the law. Even the state may not search a home, without a warrant from a judge.
The idea of tolerance and personal space is not a western import, Indian and most eastern cultures have lived by these principles more harmoniously in the past than the West.
I remember an incident from my high school years. A teacher was rumored to be homosexual. My father overheard a remark from one of my visiting classmates. Later he asked me if that particular teacher was a good teacher. I said yes. He admonished me that knowledge is all I needed from the teacher. He emphasized that it was not only unseemly, but also un-Islamic to indulge in gossip.
The idea that democracy is good, and civil rights are essential for democracy to function, are easy to parrot, but forbearance is difficult to practice. If we do not protect the rights of the weakest members of the society, the rights naturally gravitate to accrue only to the powerful.
Tolerance of those with whom we disagree or dislike, protects minorities. Social mores change with time. There are hundreds of examples of what was considered abominable, has become acceptable and what was barely acceptable, has become popular. The most obvious example is the rise of stars in the film industry, from allegations of being little better than courtesans to the new royalty ruling the hearts of millions.
Changing mores are not necessarily good or right. The function of leaders is to lead, nurture and guide the society in the direction they deem to be healthy, through a civil dialogue to change the laws they disagree with. Violating the law to entrap or assault those who are on the margins of the society, religion or popular culture is injurious to the basic principles of a civil democracy.
The notion that in pursuit of “good” unlawful means are permissible, is irreligious and unethical, and leads only to evil. Societies and countries that take such short cuts pay a heavy price and often fall to sanctimonious dictatorships that bring only repression.
In almost all civil societies, evidence procured illegally by corrupt means is inadmissible in a court of law. Often ill-informed people rail against the inadmissibility of misbegotten evidence, because at times they let the criminal go free. But it is an important principle. It forces the law-enforcement agencies to be honest. It requires due diligence and proscribes the protectors of the law from becoming violators of the law. It is much more dangerous for power to be used by corrupt means than for a thief to go free.
The function of an institution of higher education is to educate students not only in their chosen subjects, but also in morality and ethics of citizenship and the boundaries on the use of power. It is shameful when the government or educators of young minds violate these bedrock principles, thoughtlessly to appease the majority.
Essentially what we know of the circumstances of the charges leveled against Dr. Siras and his consequent suspension by the AMU administration is troubling. I wonder what the professors in the AMU law faculty would say about its probity. Dr. Siras’ duty was to be a good teacher and respect the norms and traditions of an educational institution. His life style within the privacy of his home, even if “sinful” was no one’s business.
There are laws that protect the society from predators preying on minors, women and the weak. They are not always easy to enforce, that is the challenge and requirement for the sustenance of a civil society. Muslims ought to be sensitive towards the violation of the civil rights of a minority despised by many. They have suffered enough by the police and those in the positions of power, who despise them.
The religiosity, ethics and respect for the laws are strengthened, when we defend those with whom we may strongly disagree, but stand to uphold their civil and legal rights
Morality is when one adheres to principles, even when no one is watching; and courage is when one protects the rights of the weak and even despised, when it is widely unpopular.