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‘I had underwear put on my door… porn slipped in’

He is an open gay and knows homophobia,and what AMU Professor S R Siras may have gone through in the days leading up to his sudden death,too well....

Written by Saba Rahman | New Delhi |
April 16, 2010 11:35:28 pm

He is an open gay and knows homophobia,and what AMU Professor S R Siras may have gone through in the days leading up to his sudden death,too well. Ashley Tellis,Assistant Professor,Department of Liberal Arts,Indian Institute of Technology (IIT),Hyderabad,has faced and fought virulent homophobic attacks in several academic institutions of the country while his career suffered in the process.

“I began teaching after my MA in 1991 in Bombay University (I was barely 21) and was attacked by my department for teaching an Adrienne Rich poem (Rich is a lesbian poet from the US). Teachers began checking notebooks to know what I taught and claimed that students were upset and complaining. I quit the temporary post in two months,” he says.

In 1994,Tellis left India for his PhD from Cambridge. He returned in 1999 and got an ad-hoc post at St Stephen’s College. He lived on the campus — only to face another bout of homophobia. “I had abuses scrawled on my door,porn pictures slipped under my door,underwear stuck on my door. I handed a letter of complaint to the then principal Anil Wilson,but nothing came of it. I had many arguments with him over the way the college functioned. I quit the college at the end of the academic year.”

Tellis then went for an interview with the Venkateswara College. “I was not given the post because I was homosexual. I know this because one of the experts on the panel,who still teaches at the university,informed me later.” When contacted,the professor refused to comment.

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The gay rights activist then landed a job at Kirori Mal College where he taught for about three years. There,he was involved with a gender group called Parivartan and a university-wide group called Forum Against Sexual Harassment (FASH),which was instrumental in formulating Delhi University’s sexual harassment policy — a development that reportedly did not go down well with the authorities.

“So,as a punishment,a girl student who had poor attendance was told that she would get to take the final exams if she files a sexual harassment case against me. I know this because the girl asked another girl,who too was on the attendance defaulters’ list,to sign on the complaint. The other girl told me. I saw in this a perfect moment to put the (sexual harassment) policy into action,and sought a copy of the complaint from Principal Dr Bhim Sen Singh. I haven’t got it till date.”

Dr Bhim Sen Singh says,“A sexual harassment case,which appeared serious,was lodged against Tellis following which he resigned from the college on his own. I,however,don’t recall Tellis seeking a copy of the complaint.”

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A disgusted Tellis then left Delhi University for the US in 2004. He returned to India in 2007.

Despite being a PhD and a Rockefeller Residency postdoctoral in the US,Tellis says he was denied six to seven jobs,including at English and Foreign Languages University,Hyderabad,between 2007 and 2009. His first permanent job is at IIT,Hyderabad,which he joined on September 1,2009 — at the age of 40.

Tellis believes attitudes towards homosexuality have not changed and probably never will. “I do not think we should wait for attitudes to change. I am not interested in heterosexuals accepting me,as they are the most hypocritical people in the world,but I simply will not let them get away with their hush-hush,closed-door homophobia. The fact is that I could do nothing about it at Delhi University. Legally,I had no ground to stand on. Even the so-called historic judgment of the Delhi High Court today can do nothing about the structural homophobia in academic institutions.”

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First published on: 16-04-2010 at 11:35:28 pm

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