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KU in quandary over sexual harassment case

KU in quandary over sexual harassment case

KARACHI: A hurriedly called meeting of the syndicate of Karachi University (KU) scheduled on Thursday failed to decide a sexual harassment case on account of lack of quorum, sources told Dawn.

The meeting was held following orders of the provincial ombudsman, who had recently decided the case in favour of the complainant as opposed to the KU inquiry which found both the girl student and the teacher guilty.

The ombudsman ordered removal of the accused lecturer from service and imposed a penalty of Rs50,000 as compensation to be paid to the complainant within 30 days of passing of the order.

The KU vice chancellor was also directed to immediately suspend the services and salary of the accused teacher and was warned of contempt proceedings under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, in case of non-compliance.

According to sources, Thursday’s meeting of the syndicate was chaired by the vice chancellor and attended by Dr Mohsin Ali, Dr Shah Ali-ul-Qadar, Dr Soleha Rahman, Prof Atta-ur-Rahman and Prof Majid Mumtaz among others.

Those who couldn’t make to the meeting included a senior university dean, a representative of the Higher Education Commission, the secretary for boards and universities and a member of the National Assembly.

Sources said that there were stark differences among members in attendance over how to handle the case now as it was also being contested in the high court approached by the accused teacher.

“There was an opinion that the university should wait for the high court’s decision while some members expressed concern that delay in implementing the ombudsman’s orders might be interpreted as non-compliance,” a senior syndicate member who attended the meeting told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

According to him, a member asked if the university had properly informed the ombudsman about the findings of KU’s inquiry committee, which found both parties guilty and that the implementation of the ombudsman’s orders might set a wrong precedent and negate the university’s autonomous status and its rules.

“Since quite a few members didn’t turn up, the meeting couldn’t take any decision,” another member said.

The case surfaced in March last year and later investigated by a KU inquiry committee comprising Prof Shaista Tabassum, Prof Jamil Kazmi and Ashraf Ali.

The committee was of the opinion that “both the plaintiff and the accused have crossed the obligation set by society, the university and their respected families and that the behaviour of both the plaintiff and the accused in the whole episode is not appreciable.”

It also expressed concern over what it described as “administrative flaws” and said that “normally, any complaint from a student should move through the chairman to the relevant dean and to the university registrar while in this case no such procedure was followed by the complainant”.

“The problem is that students are completely unaware of their duties. Rights are well protected under the women harassment at work place act and much information is available through the media. But they (students) should also be very clear about their obligations as responsible persons.”

These remarks apparently referred to the complainant’s action of taking her case to the media before the findings of university’s committee. In their recommendations, the members suggested that the inquiry report be submitted to the university syndicate for an appropriate decision and action and that punishment or action should be taken against both parties as the committee found both of them guilty.

It also called upon the administration to develop a code of ethics for both students and teachers and that the final decision by the syndicate should be made in the light of the law on protection against harassment of women.

“This case is also sub judice in honourable courts. This may also be considered before a final decision in the syndicate,” the committee’s report says.

Dawn

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