HYDERABAD: In an AMU redux south of the Vindhyas, Indian Institute of Technology (Hyderabad) management sacked gay rights activist and faculty member Ashley Tellis, apparently discomfited by his sexual orientation. The academic, with around 20 years of experience, was shown the door last fortnight less than a year after joining IIT-H.
Being on probation, Tellis's services were terminated summarily. However, reliable sources said he was asked to leave for his "unlawful behaviour" and "deviant mischief". IIT-Hyderabad director Uday Desai did not take calls and his office said he would be available only after June 21.
It's learnt that Tellis's exit from IIT was being planned by the management ever since AMU's S R Siras was sacked for being gay in February this year. Tellis has filed a right to information (RTI) application seeking reasons behind his sudden termination and intends to have a face-off with IIT-H.
Tellis was assistant professor with the liberal arts department and is a well-known voice in the gay rights movement in the country. A published author, Tellis has a PhD from Cambridge University and a long teaching career. He faced strong resistance at IIT-H from the day he joined. "Ashley's entry was controversial with several groups among IIT faculty not wanting him in. There was internal bickering and resistance right from the beginning," said a source. Prior to Tellis's appointment, several faculty members had objected to his appointment.
"There were group mails sent against his appointment, asking the IIT director not to appoint him," a source said.
Some faculty members blamed Tellis for being too candid in discussing gay issues on campus. His article on `man-boy' love in a national daily further ruffled feathers. "The institute has a humanities wing but it is meant for technical education. It was found that students were extremely annoyed with Tellis's behaviour," said a faculty member.
However, a number of students disagreed with the faculty members. "He was one of the best teachers. Not many students had problems with him until the administration and other faculty members began asking questions about Tellis's behaviour in classroom," said a student. Students were even told to "be careful" with Tellis and "report abuse", the student said.
When contacted, university authorities refused comment saying only the director was authorized to answer these questions. "Tellis is no longer with us. We do not know whether he was sacked or left on his own," said an official in the director's office. A scan of IIT-Hyderabad website revealed that Tellis's name has been deleted from the faculty list.
Director in charge U V Varadaraju, when insisted upon by TOI, said, "Prof Desai is out of station." Sudheer Chella Rajan, HoD of Liberal Arts Department and Tellis's boss could not be reached despite attempts.
Tellis's close associates said that this is not the first time he was targeted for being gay. He had complained of being forced to quit or being terminated for being articulate about gay rights even earlier. His stints at Bombay University, where he taught in 1991, and later at St Stephen's College, Delhi, too weren't pleasant for Tellis, and he quit both jobs.
"Tellis was under constant pressure of being sacked even during his stint at English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad," said one of his associates.