The departmental harassment watch committee of the University of Karachi (KU) exonerated two faculty members — an assistant professor and a cooperating teacher — from harassment charges in its report issued on Thursday.
The committee has, however, suggested that the evidence needs to be investigated through forensic analysis, following which the body would be in a position to establish the truth in the case.
Back in May, the vice-chancellor’s office had received a written complaint from six students of KU’s Department of Mass Communication. These students had levelled allegations of sexual harassment against their teachers and claimed that faculty members were involved in physical harassment of female students.
However, the teachers rejected the accusations and maintained that the complainants intended to blackmail them for illegal admissions in the MPhil programme and that they also sought to pass their examinations through the mala fide campaign of harassment.
When the issue was highlighted by TV channels, the university administration forwarded the complaint to the harassment watch committee functioning under the said department. Such bodies are functioning in every KU department.
Meanwhile, the Governor House Secretariat also directed the department to form a committee to investigate the matter, following which a three-member body was constituted. The committee comprised Prof Dr Seemi Naghmana Tahir as convener, while Samina Qureshi and Syed Azfar Ali were its members.
In its report, the committee said the pretext of sexual harassment was based on short attendance, the offer of MPhil admission and an offer of a teaching position at the department. In addition, the teachers committed such acts by calling students into their offices for meetings in isolation, and the teachers engaged the students through WhatsApp messages.
After initiating an investigation, the committee recorded the statement of three female students and one male, while two female students withdrew their complaints during the investigation.
The three female complainants appeared before the committee and owned their initial statements. They also produced evidence in support of their claims. Likewise, the teachers also submitted their written statements to the committee claiming that the whole issue was crafted against them with mala fide intention. They rejected the accusations of sexual harassment.
In her statement a female student said the assistant professor made her uncomfortable on many occasions, including during her interaction with the assistant professor in his office and in the classroom.
She was particularly upset when the teacher sent her WhatsApp messages and praised her beauty. She was told by the teacher to sit in the front row in the classroom.
According to her, this embarrassing behaviour of the assistant professor was also noticed by her classmates. She, however, did not say anything about the cooperating teacher. Another female student claimed that the assistant professor had physically harassed her. According to her, she went to the office of the assistant professor to discuss her short attendance. After a brief discussion, the assistant professor told her that he was leaving his office for a meeting.
But after taking a few steps towards the door, he at once came back to her and pulled her cheek. The student said she had a witness of the incident in support of her claim. Later, when the committee asked her to present the witness, she declined.
Another female student said that once she had contacted the assistant professor for a job opportunity, but the assistant professor asked her to send pictures and asked some personal and unnecessary questions like when she slept. The assistant professor also asked her to message him via WhatsApp instead of Facebook.
When such things happened to her, she wanted to highlight the issue through the electronic media, but she was about to appear in the final year exams, so she could not act on her intention.
In a separate meeting on June 18, the committee interviewed the male student who reportedly led the entire campaign against their teachers. The student did not submit his written statement as instructed by the committee, but only stood by his allegations in his verbal statement during the inquiry.
After a month-long procedure of inquiry, the committee concluded its report that the evidence provided by the main accuser, a male student, did not address sexual harassment. The evidence was also not substantiated.
However, the female complainants who had testified in front of the committee showed their concerns only about the assistant professor and not about the cooperating teacher.
The committee’s report, however, revealed that the WhatsApp screenshots produced by the victims suggested inappropriate behaviour on the part of the assistant professor, and it was not deemed appropriate for a male teacher to address female students as “dear” or praise their beauty. The report stated that the allegations of physical harassment could not be substantiated by the victims until it reportedly happened in isolation.
The evidence produced by the victims in the form of screenshots need to be further investigated through forensic analysis because this evidence is not enough to establish truth or falsehood. Thus, the committee will place its report before the central harassment watch committee of the university along with the forensic analysis.
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