ISLAMABAD - A three-member probe committee at Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) has started hearing sexual harassment accusations made by a female student against her department in-charge but in the eyes of the media he has been already proven guilty.
Ajmal Waheed, the in-charge of Quaid-e-Azam School of Management Sciences (QASMS), said he is near to his retirement and it is for the first time in his 30 years career that a student who visited him twice in his office since her enrolment alleged such malicious charges against him.
Seeing her academic record and demands to withdraw cheating case against her and help her get passed in a subject, he had sensed that she may make any charges so he asked her subordinates to remain present in the office whenever she visited him, said Waheed. The day when alleged assault took place, technical assistant of the school Muhammad Imran was present and many other students were gathered in the adjacent room, the door of which opens into in-charge's room to get information about Prime Minister's laptop scheme, he said.
He maintains that in total strength of 750 of the school around 40 per cent are girls and he has supervised nearly 20 female students. "They may complain about my strictness and other issues but no one levelled such allegations. And the way print and social media exaggerated the issue without any investigation and continued mudslinging, my damaged reputation would not restore even if the committee declares me innocent," he regretted.
The student denies that she cheated in exams of MBA 5th semester. She says the case was fabricated and the in-charge of school manipulated all the teachers to damage her academic record. She alleges when she visited his office to get his approval to rectify a mistake in marks of a subject he uttered some indecent remarks and demands. On hearing such remarks she got panic and ran away from the room and her shawl was left there.
But the administration staff and a professor who visited the in-charge at that time, however, viewed that the shawl gave them a feeling as if someone has deliberately put it on the chair to make a case.
There is another background of this issue that has been ignored, informed another professor of the school who wished anonymity. "An inquiry against her for using unfair means in the exam was already going on and a disciplinary case was also under investigation against her class fellow who threatened the in-charge to take back the cheating case against her," he said.
The way application was written, moved and disseminated to media and social media systematically, it seems that the students are being used by other groups for their vested interests without thinking about the future of the students. They have headed towards the point of no return and don't know what they are trying to achieve, he remarked.
The teacher says that she used to work hard but business management was not her field. "She was already on probation and in the 5th semester due to cheating case, wrong registration of a subject and failing to clear another subject she might be dropped out."
The students are dissatisfied with university investigations and committee. But the administration says the case has been referred to an inquiry committee that was already probing another harassment case. "Committee can't be made on the wishes of the accused and the victim. The committee was formed a few months ago after dissolution of the anti-harassment committee that will decide the case under efficiency and discipline rules as the university has been asked by the President Office that harassment act does not apply on educational institutions," informed QAU Vice Chancellor Dr Etazaz Ahmad.
Because of good repute of school in-charge and his rigorousness many teaching faculty members and students believe that the case is fake. "It's become very easy to level such allegations and get away with all your past faults." said a professor of Earth Science Department refusing to comment on record.
"Though in male dominated society there is harassment at every level yet a few reported cases are fake too. If a student comes to my room, goes back and says that I said some indecent things to her, I can't prove it wrong. And until it is proven wrong I will continue to be considered guilty by all. Now the teaching faculty has become so careful that they refuse to meet any student in their office to avoid such allegations," he opined.
Gender experts maintain that it does not matter whether someone enjoys a good repute or not in such cases and the past record of the students cannot be overlooked either. "Sexual harassment does exist and it can be of various forms. Wherever power dynamics exist, such cases appear. As mostly men occupy managerial positions, women are mostly victims of harassment but it can be vice versa too," says Fatima Ihsan, faculty member of Gender Studies Centre, QAU.
Although by and large students are disrespected by teachers and officials in the administration and females feel unsafe in the campus yet there have been some false accusations as well, said Professor Dr Qaiser Mushtaq, former dean and syndicate member and chairman of anti-harassment committee.
He as a chairman of the committee probed four harassment cases and of them the decision of two cases was implemented by the administration.
There is a gender bias at the campus and almost all the students are frightened of the teachers' wrath. But, according to him, at least in three cases both parties were involved initially and the complaints were moved by either of the parties due to vested interests. The university administration also took the opportunity to twist arms for settling scores or for establishing it 'writ'.
'In the complaints the statements are contrasting and inadequate and biased information is provided. Politics comes in and the lobbyists start protecting their sides'. He found that strangely in most cases the students had poor academic performance and the complaints were either due to grievances of the students to take advantage. Sometimes, the university also digs out cases to punish the 'disliked' ones.
Such cases are appearing in every organisation including universities but somehow the cases in QAU are leaked to the media, said Maliha Hussain of Mehergarh, a nongovernmental organisation that has been leading the passage and the implementation of the law.
Maliha, who has been involved in resolving 3000 cases of harassment in the country, said the law can be misused like any other law and people spend their whole lives in jails on false accusations. Women can also misuse it but it does not mean it should be repealed, she said.
She said the protection against harassment of women at the workplace act, 2010 fully covers students and educational institutes and an official of the university who was proven guilty was pardoned by the then president on the advice of ministry of law that was sentenced without thoroughly reading the law.
She said the cases should be investigated carefully by trained committees to give justice to the real victims and the cases of false accusations should be referred to ombudsperson for any action.