By: Noman Ahmed
KARACHI: Despite three reported cases of sexual harassment on campus in the last two years, the Karachi University (KU) has yet to form an inquiry committee in compliance with the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act of 2010.
According to the law, public and private organisations had to form a three-member inquiry committee within 30 days of the enactment of the act so that women who were facing harassment could register their complaints.
“The law relating to harassment of women was passed by the parliament in 2009 and is in force since 2010,” said B*, one of the university’s female teachers. “The KU administration has turned a blind eye towards this issue.”
B* who teaches at the university’s social work department claimed that nearly a dozen girls studying there had raised their voices against the ‘inappropriate behaviour’ of a male member of the faculty four months ago.
“The varsity’s administration did not pay any attention to what was happening. This menace [of sexual harassment] is on the rise,” said Prof Dr Tahir Masood, the chairperson of the mass communication department.
Speaking to The Express Tribune about the recent incident, Prof Masood said that he had received a written complaint from a female student against a male teacher from the Urdu department who took classes for a subsidiary course at the mass communication department.
“I am confident that if a permanent cell was set up to handle sexual harassment cases, a lot more girls will speak up,” said Prof Masood. “An impartial and trustworthy inquiry committee will have to be formed.”
At the moment, a faculty dean who wished to remain anonymous, said that complaints were being made by victims would could muster enough courage to stand up against their abusers at the expense of their privacy.
“Once the complaints begin to disrupt the administration’s slumber, the vice-chancellor (VC) comes out with the idea to form an ad-hoc committee to investigate the case,” said the dean.
One of the alleged victims at the social work department told The Express Tribune that she and around a dozen others, had to approach several officials of the varsity, including vice-chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Qaiser, before an inquiry committee headed by Dr Shakeel Ahmed Khan, a professor from the microbiology department, was formed. Nothing has come out of it yet.
After several complaints, the chairperson of the social work department, Prof Dr Nasreen Aslam Shah, said that she had been in constant contact with the inquiry committee and had asked the members to announce their decision immediately based on what they knew of the case. She refused to comment any further stating that she did not want to influence the case proceedings.
Sources at the VC’s secretariat told The Express Tribune that two male and three female teachers from the social work department had asked the vice-chancellor in writing to take action against the teacher involved as the accused had “given the profession a bad name.”
During his tenure at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Sciences and Technology, Dr Qaiser had set up a sexual harassment inquiry committee which met with the criteria mentioned in the act. He, however, did not do the same when he was appointed as VC at KU in 2012.
Many teachers at the university believe that the issue of sexual harassment cannot be addressed effectively due to increasing political influence, ineffective university administration and the KU’s teachers’ society supporting the ‘black sheep.’
In November last year, around two months after a case of sexual harassment was reported at the social work department, a teacher at the Urdu department was reinstated by the university’s syndicate after facing a two-year suspension on charges of sexual harassment. Sources claimed that while the investigations were going on, the teacher received his monthly salary while staying at home.
“Everyone at the university knows that there are genuine complaints against this particular teacher at the Urdu department,” said a university official privy to the investigations. “He gets bailed out of these situations due to his affiliations with a political party. He added that a KU syndicate member who also represents a political party in the Senate used his ‘influence’ to save the teacher.