Rafiullah Khan

The Vice-Chancellor has professed his lack of awareness regarding allegations of harassment against female students and faculty members at the University of Swat. He asserts that no such incidents have occurred and, to date, he has not received any correspondence from the provincial ombudsman, despite reports suggesting otherwise. It has recently come to light that the provincial ombudsman did, indeed, dispatch a letter.

Yesterday, a letter originating from the Office of the Provincial Ombudsman, representing the concerns of students and faculty members of the University of Swat under the Protection of Women from Harassment at Workplace Act, 2010, was circulating across various social media platforms.

The letter was addressed to the Registrar and detailed allegations of harassment against Imtiaz Ali. In response, the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa referred the case to the provincial ombudsman for an inquiry, seeking a comprehensive report by August 31, 2023.

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The provincial ombudsman forwarded the letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Swat and the Standing Inquiry Committee. According to Vice Chancellor Hasan Sher, they have not formally received this communication but rather became aware of it through social media channels. Notably, the letter contained contact details of faculty members and female students.

When TNN reached out to one of the listed numbers, the respondent, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that they had received a call from the provincial ombudsman’s office as well. They asserted that the mentioned letter did not concern them, implying that their number might have been included mistakenly or deliberately.

The anonymous student emphasized that workplace harassment is a pervasive issue, extending beyond educational institutions. Rather than sensationalizing the matter on social media, the university administration should have resolved the issue internally.

They linked the harassment of female students to examination grades, suggesting that male teachers might manipulate marks to harass or blackmail students. This student proposed an alternative solution of assigning authority over internal marks to a neutral third party, which could mitigate concerns for both male and female students.

In response to these developments, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Swat, Hasan Sher, asserted that he had not received an official letter on the matter but had become aware of it through social media channels. He clarified that the university had not received any formal complaints regarding such allegations. However, he assured that if any such complaints were substantiated, immediate action would be taken.

Hassan Sher stressed the importance of sharing accurate information rather than propagating rumors on social media platforms. He encouraged those concerned to contact the individuals whose numbers were cited in the letter, although he noted that these attempts would likely yield no response, as those contacted had previously expressed their lack of involvement.

Highlighting the significant female student population of around two thousand at the University of Swat, the Vice-Chancellor emphasized the detrimental impact of such news not only on the student’s parents but also on the students themselves. He noted that these rumors not only sully the university’s reputation but also tarnish its image at a national level.

He emphasized that the region has its own set of values and traditions that cannot be disregarded, urging that such baseless rumors should not be given any credence. He affirmed that had any such incident occurred, he would have taken resolute action.

A faculty member, who also preferred to remain anonymous, commented on the situation. They disassociated themselves from the complaint and clarified that they had not lodged any grievances. They expressed bewilderment over the unauthorized use of their contact details in the complaint: “I’m not aware of who gathered and shared our numbers.”

The faculty member further highlighted the respectful nature of Registrar Imtiaz Ali and pointed out that some female students listed in the complaint had not even come into contact with the registrar as suggested in the document. This raised questions about the credibility of the claims.

Notably, a few days before these developments, Jawad Khan, a Journalism Department student, had submitted a complaint to the University of Swat’s Vice-Chancellor. The complaint addressed the harassment of female students and called for prompt resolution. Additionally, Jawad’s application contained suggestions like the installation of CCTV cameras and creating a conducive environment for students. However, instead of addressing the concerns, he faced legal repercussions; an FIR was filed against him, leading to his arrest. Following a court appearance, he was eventually sent to jail. This incident prompted students from the University of Swat to protest his arrest, demanding his release.

In response to queries about the provincial ombudsman’s letter’s authenticity, the students’ stance on Jawad’s plea, and the reasons behind his arrest, Vice Chancellor Hasan Sher stated that Jawad was propagating fabricated information against the university through a fake Facebook profile. Furthermore, the Vice Chancellor noted receiving threats. He recounted an incident where he was surveilled and videotaped despite having already received threats. Consequently, he reported the matter to the district police, leading to the individual’s arrest.

In an attempt to ascertain the veracity of the allegations of student and faculty member harassment, TNN made numerous attempts to contact Rakhshanda Naz via WhatsApp messages and calls. Similarly, efforts were made to reach the provincial ombudsman’s office; however, no responses were received, preventing a clear position from being established.

Recollections surfaced about a past incident when a female professor at the University of Swat filed a harassment complaint against the former registrar, Mehboob ur Rehman. Regarding this matter, Hasan Sher clarified that he was not the Vice-Chancellor at that time. He mentioned that an inquiry was conducted then, and the concerned registrar is no longer associated with the University of Swat.

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