HYDERABAD: The provincial health minister, Azra Fazal Pechuho, claimed on Saturday that the university student in Benazirabad district who had accused his teacher of sexual harassment is a liar. “I personally got the matter investigated and I have come to know that she [Farzana Jamali, a final year student of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University’s English Department] is lying,” Pechuho, who is sister of Pakistan Peoples Party Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, said while talking to the media in Benazirabad on Saturday.
Her statement has drawn sharp criticism from other political leaders, student organisations as well as human rights activists, who have held several protest demonstrations in support of Jamali over the last few days.
Last week, Farzana had addressed a press conference in Benazirabad district where she had leveled allegations against Prof Aamir Ali Khattak, accusing him of harassing her for the last five months.
“He has been asking me to give him my mobile number and meet him personally in his office,” she alleged at the press conference. Farzana claimed that other students of her department also had similar complaints about the same teacher. According to her, she is the first girl of her village who had fought to be allowed to enroll in a university for higher education.
She said students were being threatened that if they dared to complain, they may face consequences in the form of disruption of their academic career. The student had also accused the varsity’s vice chancellor (VC), Arshad Saleem Arain, of supporting Khattak.
She claimed that when her father, Aijaz Ali Jamali, who is also a teacher, took the complaint to the VC he tried to suppress the matter and got Aijaz arrested by the police by registering a complaint.
The same day, the varsity’s spokesperson, Kashif Noorani, had said that the VC had formed a three-member inquiry committee to investigate the matter. “The committee will submit its report to the VC in three days,” the spokesperson had said, but no report has been furnished thus far.
A day later, the secretary for boards and universities, Alia Shahid, had also formed a four-member committee to investigate the matter. The committee comprised Prof Dr Abdul Qadeer Rajput, Prof Dr Parveen Munshi, Naushero Feroze DC Anwar Shah and deputy secretary of boards and universities Sohail Anwar Baloch. VC Munshi’s name was only added to the committee after backlash from the media that it lacked a female member.
The Sindh High Court, meanwhile, took notice of the incident on September 5 and ordered the district and sessions judge and Nawabshah DIG to conduct separate inquiries within three days. The judge recorded her statement on September 7.
On Sunday, Pechuho told media that the allegations leveled by Jamali against acting chairperson of the English department and VC were baseless.
“She was scolded for remaining absent from classes. In reaction, her family assaulted the teachers.” A police case was lodged against Jamali’s father after he assaulted the teachers and in reaction, the student fabricated allegations against the teacher and the VC, she added.
“After Pechuho’s statement given in support of the teacher and the VC before completion of the probe, we don’t expect an impartial investigation,” said Ayaz Latif Palijo, general secretary of the Grand Democratic Alliance, in a statement on Sunday. Palijo asserted that only a judicial investigation would be acceptable to all.
His stance was echoed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MPA Haleem Adil Sheikh, who had earlier visited Jamali’s family in Benazirabad and pledged support to her.
Shaikh condemned Pechuho’s statement, saying she should have waited for the inquiry committee to reveal its findings before making any such announcement. “In light of Pechuho’s statement, the inquiry committee’s investigations have been rendered useless,” he said. “As a woman, Pechuho should not be making such statements,” said the PTI leader, adding that in our society, it was even more difficult for women to come forward and raise a voice for their rights.
According to Shaikh, Pechuho was defending the VC because he was the PPP leaders’ blue-eyed boy. “This VC is ineligible for the post but was posted to the college in 2011 after the law was amended,” said Shaikh, adding that after the powers to appoint VCs were given to the provincial government, the PPP had posted their favourites as VCs across the province. “Earlier, nepotism was restricted to postings of SHOs and patwaris, but after 2011, the PPP has destroyed higher education in the province by posting unqualified individuals as VCs.”