An inquiry into sexual harassment allegations against Punjab University Vice Chancellor Mujahid Kamran could be delayed after the complainant, a lecturer at the university, complained that the head of the inquiry committee was a good friend of the vice chancellor.
PU Law College Lecturer Khujista Rehan filed a complaint with the office of the Punjab ombudsperson for implementation of anti-harassment laws, Dr Mira Phailbus, on July 30. An inquiry committee was set up to investigate the charge, with Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi, the dean of the Sulaiman Dawood School of Business at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, selected as its convener.
Rehan received a letter from the ombudsperson’s office dated September 14 stating that her case would be heard at the Sulaiman Dawood School of Business on September 23. On that date, she received another letter stating that the hearing had been rescheduled for September 30.
On September 20, Rehan wrote to the ombudsperson expressing reservations about the inquiry committee and venue. “Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi ... is a fast friend of Mujahid Kamran. He frequently visited PU for formal, official and social gatherings. I myself met him several times in the university,” reads the letter.
Dr Qureshi told The Express Tribune that he would consider stepping down from the committee. “I don’t want to be on the inquiry committee if the complainant has reservations about my impartiality,” he said.
Dr Phailbus said that she might have to set up a new inquiry committee, in which case it would not be meeting on September 30.
In her letter to the ombudswoman, Rehan also complained that the procedure had been slow. She said that under Section 8(2) of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at The Workplace Act of 2010, the ombudswoman must issue a written show cause notice to the accused within three days of receiving a complaint. The accused must then submit a written response within five days. If the accused should fail to do so without reasonable cause, the ombudswoman may proceed with the hearing ex parte, Rehan wrote.
She said: “I was communicated a letter by your office to produce certain documents on August 20, while I filed the application on July 30. How can the office of the ombudswoman justify the delay of 21 days in implementing the law?”
Rehan also argued that the vice chancellor should have been suspended from service so he could not interfere with the inquiry. She said that under Clause 10 of the Act, the vice chancellor should have been suspended so he would be unable to use his resources and influence the inquiry proceedings.
Dr Phailbus disagreed. “We have done what could be done and asked the VC not to communicate with the complainant. We also served a show-cause notice on him. I formed the committee, not the Punjab government,” she said.
The committee includes Women’s Development Secretary Iram Bukhari and Higher Education Department Special Secretary Suhail Shehzad. “They have good administrative experience and good reputations. They will submit the report to me and then it’s up to me to agree with its findings or not. If she mistrusts even the ombudsperson’s office... all I can say is that we are not a party and we will hold the inquiry impartially. If Dr Qureshi doesn’t want to be part of it then it may take more time but a new committee can be formed,” she said.
Vice Chancellor Kamran, in his reply to the ombudswoman, denied Rehan’s allegations of his misconduct, including the claim that he had told her to “do what I say” if she wanted to emerge unscathed from several inquiries pending against her.
“The charge that I have victimised Ms Khujista Rehan is utterly false. Rather, she has a long history of aggression and use of abusive language against a number of fellow teachers, students and staff at the Law College. These matters have been the subject of several inquiries. The administration took a lenient view and did not take disciplinary action against her,” the vice chancellor wrote.
He said that he had been wary of her in view of her history. “As the vice chancellor I had been deliberately avoiding meeting her, keeping in mind her typical tactics of [crying] ‘sexual harassment’ against any person who does not submit to her terms,” he said.
A PU spokesman said that the vice chancellor had no influence over the inquiry committee. “It’s for the ombudsperson to form the committee. The complaint has no substance. She had an inquiry pending against her and wrote to the ombudsperson with mala fide intention.”
He added that the vice chancellor had submitted a detailed reply to the ombudswoman.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2013.
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