Recently, two universities have let down women students by protecting predator professors from sexual harassment charges. Quaid-e-Azam University, where serious convictions on charges of sexual harassment set a positive tone for the implementation of the anti-sexual harassment law a year ago, has now waivered under the pressure from our shameless elites.
One would imagine that after charges of sexual harassment of students have been proven against professors, they would be embarrassed and resign or hide somewhere, but in our dear country they shamelessly fight back, while their friends who obviously do not think there is anything wrong with pulling a student into their office for sexual fulfilment or asking for sexual favours in exchange of better grades, diligently support and protect such culprits.
Two recent cases in Quaid-e-Azam University, where teachers repeatedly sexually harassed students, were investigated thoroughly by a committee set up by the university for this purpose. In the past, the committee has also given honest and brave results. After investigation, the committee recommended that Inamullah Laghari be terminated and Abdul Samad Mumtaz be charged with minor penalties. Charges were proven in both cases. All parties had no complaints on the process and made no verbal or written record of any concerns on procedural grounds. After the committee made its recommendations to the university syndicate, the culprits realised that they would be convicted and started lobbying for a diversion. ‘Technical grounds’ is usually the back door.
The syndicate of Quaid-e-Azam University needs to understand the legislation and realise that it is not their personal discretion or whim that applies in this case. It is the job of the committee, authorised under the law, to do the inquiry. The syndicate only ensures if procedure was followed and endorses the recommendations.
In this case, they did not even bring in the inquiry committee members to ask them questions about the procedure. They simply constituted a new committee. This is the most negative precedent they could have set. This has opened the process to anyone wanting a custom-designed committee when they do not like the decision. In the new committee specially put together for the accused, members like Dr Qaisar Mushtaq — who is a person known to have sided with sexual harasser professors earlier — have been included. As some members made noise to protect the culprits, others watched silently. For how long will our shameless elite remain silent and allow the humiliation of the daughters of our nation?
In the case of Punjab University, a brave decision to terminate the services of a habitual sexual harasser, Iftikhar Baloch, was applauded two years ago. The notorious professor who maintained a bedroom next to his office on campus for his flirtatious activities kept using political elites to come back. Even then-prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and former governor Latif Khosa put pressure on the university to take him back. Recently, interim governor Ahmad Mahmud used his window of opportunity to get his friend back in the university. A woman high court judge decided that it was up to the governor to take the final decision. Very conveniently, the governor did the necessary paperwork and signed the orders to reinstate him. The university resisted, but the pressure took more of a ‘desi’ turn.
We make a strong appeal to Punjab Government to intervene and keep such predators out of our universities. Also stop them from threatening brave officials of the university who have resisted pressure for the last two years and have stood their ground. Also, for Quaid-e-Azam University, the PM and the HEC should send a strong message that the syndicate cannot go against the law. Legislation and procedure has to be followed. If they argue the soundness of the procedure, they should call the full committee and get a presentation from them. If they see any gaps or have suggestions to strengthen the procedures, they should make those to the committee legally authorised to investigate.
The legislation will only be effective if the intention of our elite and senior university officials is to bring some dignity to these houses of learning. We need to clean up our universities and educate the shameless educated elite — those who harass, those who protect them and those who remain silent and do not put their foot down.
The author is an authority on anti-sexual harassment legislation in Pakistan and has been monitoring its implementation.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2013.