Peshawar: UoP sexual harassment issue being blown out of proportion
PESHAWAR: The metaphor of “making a mountain out of a molehill” proved exactly true when the issue of sexual harassment at the University of Peshawar (UoP) echoed in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and prompted the provincial government and the varsity administration to form two different committees to probe the issue and submit factual reports to the quarters concerned.
Both the committees failed to come up with concrete evidence to prove the issue raised by Nighat Yasmeen Orakzai, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q legislator in the assembly. The issue that hit the headlines and became a hot topic of discussion and was even highlighted in the foreign media carried little truth.
The two committees interrogated six out of the 650 teachers of the oldest and most prestigious seat of higher education in the province and among them only one was found guilty. The committee under Provincial Minister for Social Welfare Sitara Ayaz had to find facts about five professors who had been accused of sexually harassing students or colleagues.
Talking to The News, Sitara Ayaz said the committee had almost finalised the report. She said the body was waiting for the input of the lawmaker who had raised the issue in the provincial assembly and as soon as her viewpoint is received, the committee would submit the report to the chief minister.
The minister said the committee failed to lay hand on any concrete evidence against any of the accused professors or other teachers of the university as nobody turned up to testify that he or she was a victim or had valid proofs about the involvement of those people in harassment.
All the allegations were based on anonymous letters and hearsay and no action can be taken on the basis of such invalid documents and statements, she said. “The accused professors too were summoned by the committee and they recorded their statements,” she added.
She said the committee also got letters from some female MPhil and PhD students, who disclosed their identity as well, refuting the reports about the alleged harassment. These students were of the opinion that since they were doing research work they have to remain with their respective supervisors for hours, but they have not felt anything wrong so far. And even if such situation arises at all, the students said they were mature enough to deal it properly. Sitara said these letters too were made part of the inquiry report that would be submitted to the chief minister.
The university administration had formed another committee to look into the alleged sexual harassment committed by a History Department lecturer Zahid Ali, who had already been suspended by the university on the same charge. The committee under Prof Dr Sara Safdar submitted its report to Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Azmat Hayat Khan, who would present it to the Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and chancellor of the university Masood Kausar in a meeting today (Friday).
This report found the lecturer guilty of sexual harassment. It noted that almost all the faculty members and students interviewed by the committee claimed the he was involved in such activities.
Some senior professors interviewed by this correspondent expressed strong reaction to the issue. They acknowledged there were problems with some faculty members due to which the issue was taken up in the provincial assembly and found space in the media.
One of the professors said the issue was not a new one. In the past, several senior faculty members and some officials in the university administration had been accused of similar practices and most of them later even married the women they were involved with. He pointed out some famous cases of such nature in the university. Unfortunately, he added that most of those faculty members were assigned key posts including the post of vice chancellors in different universities in the province. “This means that those at the helm of affairs themselves were patronising this thing,” he maintained.
He remarked that those responsible for making appointments against key positions should assess the character of the people being appointed as well as it brought a band name to the teaching profession.
Another senior professor said the issue should be dealt with seriously as this had alerted the parents to think hundred times before sending daughters to the university. He said this would also force the parents to make demands for more women universities in the province.
The professor said the issue should be probed by a judicial committee headed by a judge of the high court. “If anyone is found involved in this heinous practice, he should be awarded exemplary punishment. And if there is no truth in the allegation, those who have raised the issue should be sued in a court of law,” he stressed.