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When I came back from my PhD in England, all my friends thought I was being foolish. Most of the people who went with me to England and the US – straight and gay – never came back and I was warned against coming back. I was already out and an LGBT activist. I came back for what were for me obvious reasons. This was the place had given me a subsidised state education; I had to give back. This place was where being LGBT was difficult causing pain and suffering and death to so many people. I use the word place advisedly. For me, it was not a nation as I find nationalism of any kind abhorrent. I came back.
I am from Bombay but I came back to Delhi. It was the capital of academia in this place. All the wonderful feminists I had read all taught and researched here. I joined St. Stephen’s College, the premier institution which embraced me with open arms of course mainly because of my Cambridge PhD. St. Stephen’s was founded by the Cambridge mission. It even has an MCR and JCR like it was a Cambridge college. The joke was that on a sunny day you saw Professors in Stephens with umbrellas because it was raining in Cambridge!
I lived on campus and was not prepared for the abuse I was to face all year. Students, with the active connivance of teachers (mainly Science students and teachers) scrawled abuse on my door, drew penises and testicles as cannons on my door, stuck underwear on my door, slipped gay porn under my door. I made a dossier of it and handed it over to the then Principal, now dead. Like all good Christian fathers who run institutions, he was a deeply corrupt man, full of autocratic and random rules. I left the college at the end of the year and he never forgave me for the snub.
He tried to meddle with my getting another job in DU, like he spiked my job in Venkateswara College, another minority college whose Principal he was buddies with. I sat for the interview, got the position (ad hoc) and was denied it. When the expert, Prof. Udaya Kumar (now with JNU) asked him why, he offered my homosexuality as an explanation. When Kumar asked him what the connection between my homosexuality and my qualifications as a teacher was, he was met with silence.
Unfortunately for him, DU was too big to kill my career in it. I went on to teach in several colleges. In my three years in Kirorimal, I had homophobic abuse scrawled all over my letters in the staff room, had anti-gay abuse on the blackboards in classrooms in which I taught and finally was accused of sexually harassing a girl student (I am clearly a multi-talented gay man!) in a bid to trivialise the Sexual Harassment policy that we had worked on for three long years and had just introduced in DU. I resigned and left for the US for a postdoctoral fellowship.
Back in India, after a few years, for the same reasons, I got a job at IIT Hyderabad and faced another deeply corrupt man in charge. He did not like my rather polite protest at his nepotism and sacked me within the contract period. No reasons needed. I filed an RTI and told a journalist to wait on the results of that before she went to town on the story. But she was high on her own ‘progressiveness’ and the juice of a gay professor story and ran a sourceless and completely baseless story of my being sacked because of gay activism on campus. Apart from the fact that there was no campus (the IIT was and I think still is, half of a school in a small arms ordnance factory in Medak district), I lived in Hyderabad and commuted daily and the students hated me.
They were mainly rural Telugu kids, pathetically bad in English and not interested in it either, 125 to a class, dealing with another fascist man who ran the campus barefeet with a puttu on his head and a bhajan as his caller tune who threw all the chicken they were cooking to celebrate a student’s birthday in the bin saying no non-veg was allowed on campus! My MSc and PhD kids were mainly rightwing nutters who also did not like my “opinions” (and unlike the students at St. Joseph’s were all training to be engineers so were almost all rightwing and will go on to do MBAs, ruin the environment and the country and make money while condemning anti-nationals like me who talked about Medak water bodies being polluted by industrial effluents or that Hinduism as an organised religion was a colonial invention) then joined the Director to throw me out. The reason given in my RTI results were bad student evaluations. These evaluations were not shown to me over two semesters. Nowhere in the IIT statutes is it written that a faculty can be sacked because of a semester of bad evaluations.
But Prof. Upendra Baxi assured me that all we have witnessed legally over the decades is a rollback of probationers’ rights. K. Balagopal was my lawyer but he was too busy with far more important tribal and Dalit cases in AP for me to hassle him about my case. I let it go. Twenty five TV channels contacted me once they read Henry’s story. I switched off my phone.
Henry’s story has haunted me ever since (it is the first thing that comes up if you google me) and I lost many jobs because of it, including most recently, the ones at St. Joseph’s Commerce College, Bangalore and Mount Carmel College, Bangalore. I could have had it deleted from google. But I decided to leave it on, not least because of my Lady Godiva politics but also because I wanted to see how many places denied me a job because I was ‘a gay activist’ as the story claimed.
My story shows how even so-called progressive journalism can destroy people’s lives. I have survived only because I am super-qualified, I am also a journalist, I am also an editor, I can and do survive. But what if I was timid, shy, under-qualified, desperate to hold on to a job, scared and easily hurt? Remember what happened to Prof. Siras in Aligarh Muslim University?
I also took, and continue to take, the daily homophobic abuse in every institution I ever have been, from Principals, colleagues, students, administrative staff about how I look, what I wear, what I say, whom I look at , whom I don’t look at. I am sexualised just because I exist. I must want to sleep with every male faculty and student around just because I am gay (never mind if 98 per cent of sexual harassment cases are of women by men). I must be a paedophile. I must be a monster.
I decided to be sacrificial goat to gay politics as I could afford it. But I will not take it any more. This is enough. I am going to give it back. This time, like many times before, hundreds of students are with me. This time, it is just not about me. It is about the draconian rules imposed on the majority, on heterosexual young people. This time the rightwing rot is drowning academic spaces like never before. It is really a fight among majoritarians – Hindus and heterosexuals – but also two different kinds of minorities – rightwing Hindutva-Taliban Christians and never-say-die critical homosexuals like me, a sub-minority within my own largely rightwing community.
But my hope is that a small section of the majorities – heterosexuals, Hindus – and a small section of the minorities – real Christians and critical homosexuals – are also on my side. We may not be larger in number than the rightwing nutters or the neoliberal fence-sitters but together, we’ll take this shit down.