Wasim Sajjad

PESHAWAR: In November 2020, a harassment case in Islamia College University (ICU) Peshawar created uproar on social media when the students organized a walk against alleged harassment of a student by a professor.

Case background

The case came to surface when a student (name kept confidential) submitted an application to the vice-chancellor (VC) that she was allegedly harassed by a professor (name kept confidential). The application, a copy of which is available with TNN, stated that the applicant was harassed by the professor in his office on November 05, 2020, around 10:00am. The application further reads that the applicant was constantly called to the professor’s office through her class representative (CR).

The complainant’s sister sent a copy of the complaint on November 12, 2020, to the Ombudsperson Office (OPO). In response, the complainant was asked to appear before the OPO on November 16, 2020, but due the governor’s JIT visit to Islamia College, the hearing was adjourned to November 19, 2020.

Findings by Ombudsperson

In the earlier proceeding, the OPO focused on collecting information. The complainant was asked to appear before the OPO to illustrate the incident of harassment in detail and was advised to file a proper application. The ICU was then asked to submit comments on the incidents. The VC, through the registrar, submitted a detailed response. However, according to the documents of OPO, a copy of which is available with TNN, the nominated professor impugned the assumption of jurisdiction by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ombudsperson in entertaining the complaint by the victim and built an argument.

The OPO dismissed the argument of the defendant and declared it unsatisfactory on December 29, 2020, and he (the accused professor) was asked to resubmit the defence in person on Jan 06, 2021. But the defendant filed the defense with the same objection once again. The documents revealed that both the parties were given opportunities to produce their oral as well as documentary pieces of evidence.

Meanwhile, the complainant filed a supplementary application to the OPO against the Standing Inquiry Committee (SIC) of alleged prejudices and improper questioning of the victim. The allegations were denied by the committee members later on; however, the committee was directed to stop further inquiry into the matter.

A letter was sent to the ICU to submit the findings to the OPO, in response, the ICU submitted the inquiry committee’s report along with the CCTV footage.

While all these proceedings were continuing, an anti-harassment walk was held inside the premises of the ICU which got immense media attention. After the walk, Jabir Khan – a law student at that time – filed an additional complaint about being allegedly victimised in the pretext of leading the walk. The ICU submitted a detailed response through additional registrar about this incident which was marked “confidential.”

Later on, Sangeen Khan Advocate on behalf of the complainant filed an additional application that requested for the academic records of two other girls who had a connection with the case. Subsequently, he submitted an application for summoning the chief proctor along with his office records from September 2019 till date of hearing.

The said hearing was held in which the counsel argued with reference to students’ statements included in the standing inquiry committee on Jan 18, 2021, and statements of 15 people were presented to the OPO including that of the lawyers of both the parties, Sangeen Khan Advocate and Amanullah Marwat Advocate.

The documents reveal the statements of faculty members and subordinates. The faculty members felt comfortable while working with the accused professor, according to documents. However, those subordinate to him (professor) were unable to say anything out of fear. Documents show that the office boy did confess about the presence of the two girls in his (professor) office.

Ombudsperson judgment

On April 12 2021, the OPO dispensed judgment of removal of the accused professor from the institution under Section 4 (ii)(c) of Harassment of Women at the Workplace, 2010. The judgment said that according to Section 10-2(h) and other sanctions, as deemed appropriate in accordance with the terms of the employment, policies shall be considered part of a parcel of the above-mentioned sanction.

The judgment writes that this is hard to take such actions against a “teacher” who is considered to be a custodian of an educational institution, but the current atmosphere of the educational institutions is not conducive for victims of sexual harassment.

It further says, “Since the complainant was not only harassed, she also faced character assassination on social media and in the defence submitted by the accused professor and the senior management of the Islamia College Peshawar. The management committed negligence to approach the Cyber Crime Unit for forensic of the malicious campaign run on social media rather both respondents tried to use such material against the complainant.”

After the decision was dispensed by the OPO, it was sent to ICU and it was ordered to place it before the Syndicate Committee and take the necessary measures to remove the accused professor from the post. However, the ICU was allegedly reluctant to implement the decision. So the case was taken to the Peshawar High Court (PHC) and it is now pending before it.

Peshawar High Court order

The Peshawar High Court dispensed an order on June 22, 2020. The High Court ordered that the registrar of the ICU shall submit report about the decision of the case of (the accused professor) and minutes of the syndicate and the court adjourned hearing till July 14, 2021.

Despite the court orders to submit the minutes of syndicate meetings within 14 days, the ICU has failed to produce it before the court.

Versions

To take the version of both the parties, TNN contacted members of the syndicate but they failed to answer why it (ICU) has failed to provide the minutes before the PHC.

One of the four members of the syndicate (name kept secret) said that he couldn’t give information to this correspondent. He just said that there were no meeting minutes available with him.

TNN also tried to contact another syndicate member through WhatsApp. Messages were delivered and read by the member, but no response was given till this story is published.

On the other hand, the victim, when contacted by TNN, alleged that the administration of ICU was trying to save the nominated professor in the case.

Jabir Khan mentioned the resolution passed in the general body meeting, a copy of which is available with the TNN, after the protest that the ICU was saving the accused professor.

The resolution passed dated November 13, 2020, says, “We remind the community that we will let no stone unturned to safeguard your dignity and career; we consider the loss of one member as the loss of all members.”

 

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