Earlier this month, dozens of students belonging to the University of Balochistan staged a protest rally in Quetta. Such student rallies are a common sight in the country, but this was a different one which not only rocked the university to the core but even prompted the provincial legislature, human rights associations and even the Higher Education Commission to take notice. The students were protesting against how some members of the university administration and the security staff allegedly had secretly filmed female students and then used the footage to blackmail and sexually harass them.
The incident has caused outrage – and quite rightly so. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in the Balochistan Assembly called for a parliamentary investigation into the issue and a 10-member probe committee was subsequently set up. Some quarters have, however, complained that the committee is not gender-neutral having only two female members. The Higher Education Commission has also set the issue as one of its agenda items for its upcoming confab of vice-chancellors from across the country. Balochistan is a deeply conservative part of Pakistan. It is vital for the girls there, as well as their parents, to know if the educational institution they go to is safe and secure. While universities across the country have been keen over the past few years to impose strict restrictions on interactions between male and female students on campuses, they have been reluctant to address the root cause of problems — some of which do stem from poor administrative policies.
In this context, it was disturbing to learn that despite the provincial ombudsperson’s directives to all universities in Balochistan to set up harassment committees back in July, only the University of Khuzdar bothered to comply. One hopes there is a thorough probe to identify those responsible and punish them so as to restore the faith of students and their parents in the higher education system of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2019.