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August 9, 2018

Students’ harassment probe stuck in slow lane


August 9, 2018

Islamabad : With the investigation caught in the slow lane, fears are growing of an Islamabad government college teacher getting away with sexually harassing scores of girls during an intermediate examination three months ago.

In May, some girl students of Bahria College took to social media alleging that they and others totalling around 80 were subjected to groping and sleazy remarks by an invigilator from the Islamabad Model College for Boys, H-9, during the three-day biology practical exam on their E-8 campus.

As the allegations provoked a huge public uproar and the private college formally lodged a complaint, the suspected harasser, a BPS-17 official, was suspended by the Federal Directorate of Education on the orders of the Capital Administration and Development Division, which regulates Islamabad’s government schools and colleges through it.

There followed the start of preliminary inquiries against him by the FDE and the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education (FBISE), which tasked him with invigilating the exam.

The fact-finding inquiry committees, including the FDE’s, which consisted of H-8/4 Islamabad Model Postgraduate College of Commerce and I-14/3 Islamabad Model College for Girls principals and the FBISE’s, which was composed of exams controller and two other officials, were assigned to ascertain truth or otherwise of the allegations against the invigilator through complaint verification and collection of necessary material before suggesting if there’s need for initiating a formal departmental inquiry against him for punishment under the relevant service rules and law.

Members of both panels visited the college, spoke to students, and even quizzed the teacher.

While the students insisted that they’re verbally and physically harassed, the teacher vehemently denied that claim.

As the inquiries were under way, some more girls used social media to level harassment charges against the suspect during his appointment to a Rawalpindi school for invigilation.

Both panels found the teacher to be guilty of misconduct and harassment and recommended formal action against him in line with the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010. Also, the board blacklisted him for invigilation in future.

Acting accordingly, the FDE made I-10/1 Islamabad Model College for Boys principal Dr Ali Ahmad Kharal inquiry officer for the case early July with the duty of issuing the harassment suspect a charge sheet for major penalty proceedings.

However, Dr Kharal, a former FDE chief, turned out to be disinclined to do the official task and dillydallied for around three weeks prompting the directorate to send out a reminder.

In reply, the inquiry officer requested the FDE chief to excuse him from carrying out that inquiry over a ‘conflict of interest’. However, the ‘argument’ didn’t sit well with his top boss, who asked Dr Kharal to complete inquiry and put up its report to him within a week fearing that any further delay in the matter will have serious repercussions for the directorate.

The DG also warned him of punitive action in case of noncompliance.

Some harassment victims ‘The News’ spoke to on condition of anonymity regretted long delays in the culprit’s punishment and feared that he could get off scot-free due to the ‘tacit support of sympathisers’ in the directorate.

Experts say the law defines harassment at workplace as any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, or attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply with such a request, while the punishment for culprits includes censure, withholding of promotion or pay increment, demotion, sacking, compulsory retirement or heavy fine.

When contacted, FDE chief Hasnat Qureshi denied leniency towards suspected harasser and insisted that the directorate was committed to taking the case to its logical end without delay and would act in line with the law if the inquiry confirmed the charges of harassment and misconduct against the teacher.

He also said the inquiry was under way and he would ensure its early completion for action on its findings.

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