A Punjab University teacher who has accused Vice Chancellor Mujahid Kamran of sexual harassment on Sunday urged the Punjab government to step in and make sure that the inquiry into her allegations is impartial.
Khujista Rehan, a lecturer at the PU Law College, said that the office of the Punjab Ombudsperson for Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace, with whom she lodged her complaint of sexual harassment, was favouring the vice chancellor. She said the ombudswoman was unqualified for the job and was relying on a friend of the vice chancellor for guidance. She also demanded that the vice chancellor be suspended whilst the inquiry was being conducted, so that he could not interfere with or influence it.
Addressing a press conference at the Lahore Press Club, Rehan said that if the ombudsperson’s office was going to allow the Civil Secretariat to run the inquiry, the chief minister or chief secretary should just shut down the office.
According to Section 7(2)(a) of the Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, she said, a person was qualified to be appointed as the ombudsperson if he or she had served as a High Court judge or qualified to serve as one. Ombudsperson Dr Mira Phailbus, she said, had a master’s degree in geography and no experience of handling legal affairs. She was reliant for this on Mohisn Abbas, the director of law and parliamentary affairs and a visiting faculty member at the PU who was close to the vice chancellor, Rehan said.
Rehan did not mention Section 7(2)(c) of the Act, which states that “an eminent educationist with no less than four years of administrative experience” may be appointed ombudsperson.
She said that Dr Phailbus had not followed the procedure laid down in the Act for the conduct of inquiries into sexual harassment. Section 8(2) of the Act, she said, states that the ombudsperson must issue a written show cause notice to the accused within three days of receiving a complaint. “The accused, after the receipt of the written notice, shall submit a written defence to the ombudsperson within five days; upon his failure to do so without reasonable cause, the ombudsman may proceed ex parte,” Rehan said.
She said that the vice chancellor had not been notified after three days. She had received her first correspondence from the ombudsperson’s office, stating that the vice chancellor had been issued notice, three weeks after she had filed her complaint. The ombudsperson’s decision should have been made within a month, she said, adding that the office had yet to make a single decision in a case of harassment.
Citing Clause 10 of the Act’s Code of Conduct, Rehan said that the vice chancellor should be suspended whilst the inquiry is being conducted, so he could not influence the inquiry.
“My case is a test case. If the VC cannot be suspended, why did he suspend heads of departments and professors including Dr Ahsan Akhtar Naz and Professor Iftikhar Baloch when sexual harassment inquiries were being conducted against them?. The law should be the same for everybody,” she said.
The Punjab University Academic Staff Association (PUASA), reacting to the lecturer’s claims at the press conference, said that the ombudsperson should proceed against her for contempt. The lecturer’s claims about the vice chancellor and the ombudsperson were propaganda, meant to serve her economic and political interests, said a PUASA spokesman.
He said that since the matter was sub judice, Rehan’s press conference was “illegal”. The lecturer was insulting the system and the office of the ombudsperson by making statements to the press, he added.
The spokesman said that Rehan had once gone on 11 months of ex-Pakistan leave without the university’s permission. The PU Syndicate could have dismissed her under the Punjab Employees’ Efficiency, Discipline and Accountability Act, but treated her leniently and granted her 11 months leave without pay. Later, Rehan applied for her salary and other benefits for the period she had spent abroad. The Syndicate denied her request on March 2, 2013, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2013.