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LHC upholds firing of university professor

LHC upholds firing of university professor

Islamabad: The Lahore High Court (LHC) has upheld the decision of the Punjab ombudsperson and the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in the sexual harassment case against a professor of the Lahore university.

On Thursday, LHC judge Justice Jawad Hassan issued the verdict in the case, which was reserved on May 13.

A complaint of sexual harassment was lodged with the ombudsperson and the HEC against University of Lahore assistant professor, who was also a student of Doctorate in Institute of Molecular Biology and Bio-Technology at the same university by a female student.

The student alleged that the assistant professor harassed her sexually by sending her vulgar text messages on WhatsApp while she was asking questions about a subject of cell and tissue culture.

The complaint further stated that he forced her to visit his bachelor accommodation and cook food for him. She also alleged that when she was inquiring from him about the status of class result, he started conversation relating to sex and showed his intention of having sex with her.

She alleged that some other girls also faced sexual harassment by the petitioner.
A detailed inquiry was conducted which found the professor guilty of committing sexual harassment at the workplace.
Later, the professor approached the LHC, filing a writ petition.

According to the detailed 38-page verdict authored by Justice Hassan over the writ petition, “Sexual harassment, and harassment on non-gender discriminatory grounds, pollute the working environment and can have a devastating effect on the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it. Commonly, the anxiety and stress produced by sexual harassment and harassment may lead to those subjected to it taking time off work due to sickness and stress, being less efficient at work or leaving their job to seek work elsewhere. Under the jurisprudence developed in this matter, the employees often suffer the adverse consequences of the harassment itself and, in addition, the short and long term damage to their employment prospects if they are forced to forego promotion or to change jobs.”

Legal experts say the judge has interpreted Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2012, which might be relevant in Meesha’s case against Ali Zafar.
An inquiry was initiated and the petitioner was dismissed from service under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2012 and was also expelled from the University of Lahore as a student of Doctor of Philosophy in Biotechnology, Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.

The petitioner preferred an appeal before the Ombudsperson who modified the order of the competent authority with certain modifications vide order dated December 3, 2018 and converted the penalty from “dismissal from service” to “removal from service”. The petitioner then approached the LHC.
The court also said that the work environment for women, in a male-dominated society like Pakistan, is often hostile and antagonistic hindering their contribution to their country’s development as well as their right to employment.

In his landmark judgement, Justice Hassan has noted, “It is also our constitutional duty to protect women to ensure their full participation in all spheres of national life, under Article 25 read with 34 of the Constitution. The sexual harassment and harassment may also have a damaging impact on employees not themselves the object of unwanted behaviour but who is witness to it or has knowledge of the unwanted behaviour.”

In the wake of circumstances as well as detailed inquiry report and decision of the HEC, the petitioner has been found guilty of committing sexual harassment at the workplace. It would not be out of place to mention here that the persistent and unwanted amorous advances by the petitioner to a female student would amount to a fundamental breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence. No doubt, more and more girl students, women etc go to educational institutions, workplaces etc, their protection is of extreme importance to a civilised and cultured society.

Regarding the question about expelling the petitioner from PhD programme of the university, the LHC judgement says that if he is allowed to continue his PhD programme in the said university, he will remain a constant threat to the victim as well as other female students. Therefore, in order to create a safe and healthy educational environment for all the female students, the presence of the petitioner in the said university is unwarranted and unjustified. Moreover, the counsel for the petitioner failed to point out any infirmity, perversity and illegality in the inquiry conducted by the university as well as in the decision of the HEC, said the judgement.

The Express Tribune

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