What would you do if your professor called you at night and told you he’d like to see you in a sari?

Published: June 12, 2016
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PHOTO: HINDUSTAN TIMES

It was just another day at the University Of Karachi (KU). I gathered my books in my bag, carefully putting my fingers between the dog-eared pages of another journal to get them copied from the photocopier near the computer lab. As I handed the journal to the photocopier, I noticed a man; his eyes were fixated on me as he busied himself with his genitals.

Visibly disturbed, I tried to look away only to realise that the window’s reflection wasn’t of any aid as I could very well see how he was able to harass me even though he was standing three feet away from me.

Reflecting back on the incident which took place two semesters ago, I have come to realise that I am not the first student on campus to have been a victim of sexual harassment.

And to add insult to injury – I won’t be the last either.

It was during a session arranged by a body of students against sexual harassment at educational institutions that I came across numerous girls; each with her own horrific tale to tell.

Sexual harassment continues to victimise students at educational institutions. Students remain busy in routine academic activities, be it taking classes to doing assignments, studying at the library or enjoying some leisure hours with their peers. Students end up spending most of their time on campus – from morning till late in the evening.

And yet, astoundingly, from the teachers’ room to classrooms, computer labs to departmental libraries and libraries to lavatories; there is not a single place I could consider as safe for students.

In the absence of a sexual harassment cell and students voices on the issue, abusers and harassers roam freely, victimising multitudes of students on their way.

Motivated solely by their conviction to rid students of a menace that has been haunting them for decades, students belonging to the National Students Federation Pakistan (NSF), along with students of the Pakistan Study Centre, took up the responsibility of raising much needed awareness amongst their peers. They work to engage students all over the educational sphere of Pakistan on this cause, diligently pursuing the cases of sexual harassment on campuses and struggling to successfully pass indispensable amendments to the Protection against Harassment of women at the Workplace Act, 2010.

The group comprises of well-read, determined and hard-working students from various departments, daring enough to call a spade a spade. The engagement of students from various departments increases the outreach of the group and ensures vast networking on the issue. Since it is led and organised by students, it guarantees confidentiality. Within a short span of time, the group has managed to garner the confidence of students who shared their personal experiences of sexual harassment, amenable to become a part of the cause.

Despite such occurrences, many were left aghast when one shared her experience of receiving a call from a teacher at odd hours,

“It shocked me to the core when a teacher called me during wee hours at night, to share his perverted desire of seeing me in a sari.”

Another highlighted how it is easy to be cat-called by men when students use university’s transport,

“As I stepped out of the university point, a confident catcall ‘Shawl tou uataro’ (take off your shawl) left me stunned.”

Four successful gatherings, two at KU and two outside the campus have been arranged by the group, so far. Students from various educational institutions including the Habib University, CBM, SZABIST, Agha Khan University and Federal Urdu have also actively participated in the discussions.

Consequently, the struggle of students involved in the committee has resulted in universities from all over Pakistan including, the University of Punjab, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Quaid-e-Azam University, having expressed their willingness to join the cause and carry it forward in their own campuses as well. Demonstration of solidarity by initiatives such as ‘Girls at Dhabas’, ‘Qaaf se Qanoon’ (a legal advisory group), theatre groups and various student bodies equates a tenfold increase in the strength of the cause.

Apart from mobilising students all over Pakistan on the cause, the committee is involved in the proceedings of several cases of sexual harassment at KU. Momentarily, the committee is pursuing the case of Dr Navin G Haider, assistant professor at KU, sexually abused by visiting faculty professor Sahar Ansari, a renowned Urdu language critic.

Owing to a highly biased investigation carried out by the seasonal inquiry committee looking after cases of sexual harassment on campus, the accuser has been exempted of all charges by the university administration, a normative outcome of all such reported cases on university grounds. Students, however, negate the judgment and are seeking justice.

A recently accused teacher at the Department of Islamic History, along with another case reported last year at the Department of Social Work is also under stern vigilance of the group.

With student unions having been out rightly banned in 1984, all thanks to the dictatorial regime of General Ziaul Haq, it has become immensely difficult to build a narrative that would counter the status quo, since students reject campus politics. The university administration does not recognise student bodies challenging their perversion, questioning their efficacy and holding them accountable, something which was vital three decades ago when student unions were active in educational institutions of Pakistan.

As expected, this committee encounters the similar unwelcoming attitude from the administration. But instead of wasting their time and effort to change that, the group is instead canvassing students and are explaining their rights to them via sessions, theatre, open-dialogues, flash mobs etc.

At the moment, what the students in Pakistan need to realise is the strength they hold. They need to be able to claim ownership of their university and their issues because, if they don’t, cases of students unfairly submitting to harassment will only increase. This is the time to confront the harasser, not submit.

Have you ever been a victim of sexual harassment on campus?

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Laila Raza

Laila Raza

The author is a socialist feminist repulsed by the hypocrisy, cruelty, and oppression. She is a voracious reader pursuing a Masters degree in English Literature at University of Karachi. She tweets as @lylaraza (twitter.com/LylaRaza)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Fahimuddin

    Professors and administration have complete access to student’s database.Recommend

  • Maliha Husain

    Thank you Laila Raza for this article. I truly appreciate the efforts of students to curb this issue. If you have students from LUMS on board, they are the first university to combine the Workplace Harassment Act and HEC’s Anti Harassment policy very well. That is one of the things that needs to be done in all universities in addition to nomination of principled, trust worthy Standing Inquiry Committee Members according to the Act, displaying the text of the Act on the premises and making everyone on campuses aware of the issue, the Act and how to use it. These are the requirements of compliance with the Act for all organizations in Pakistan. We at Mehergarh are working on the implementation of this Act and would love to work with you on this cause. Please let us know how we can help. You may contact me at [email protected]Recommend

  • Saher

    The head of a department at my university who was a well respected army official at the time used to touch girls on their hands and faces and God knows where else if given the opportunity. We need to raise our voice to stop this altogether.Recommend

  • Saher

    The head of a department at my university who was a well respected army official at the time used to touch girls on their hands and faces and God knows where else if given the opportunity. We need to raise our voice to stop this altogether.Recommend

  • citizen

    small mind . Blaming the victim once again . Our society will never grow up .Recommend

  • LS

    Have you ever heard of University student database or an application form that you fill which (When requesting admission) has your name, address, photo, phone number if the university is from dark ages… some of the telephone exchanges also offer the services of giving phone numbers out if you have name and address..Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/samts16 samts16

    all those wondering why that girl gave her number to her professor, i guess none of you ever stepped into a university which speaks of your education level (sorry but not sorry)
    luckily i have not been a victim of such acts but i know of many on-campus who have. catcalling is the commonest vile that every person gets a taste of, whether she is covered from head to toe or exposed. to the eyes of such disgusting people that piece of cloth doesn’t matter. it breaks down to our family and social values. how we’ve raised our boys to be princes who get to do whatever they want without fear of any repercussions. they then go out of the house and speak whatever repulsive thought comes in their mind, act in whichever way they deem right. and the society enables them by blaming the victim and letting them go scot free. this years of upbringing has brought our world to the stage where killing and burning girls is lauded, appreciated. where a child’s innocence is unprotected. where a woman cannot cross the street without fear for her life ! we raised these demons and they’ll consume us unless something solid is not done !!Recommend

  • Amin Amin

    really! Recommend

  • Swailam Zaidi

    start chopping off their genitals. so as to leave a good messege for others.Recommend

  • DudeFromDC

    Well.. at least this professor dude asked for a sari.. Usually clothes are not asked for.Recommend

  • Sonia Rafique

    This statement suggests that you are finding fault in the victim and justifying the harassment and harasser. Everyone knows that students and teachers exchange their phone numbers for coordination to schedule classes, taking notes, for getting their queries answered etc. Teacher is not as ‘public’. Although I believe there should be a better way of coordination between teachers and students, it should not become an excuse for teachers to harass their students. Harassment is never justified. Secondly, when a girl receives wrong calls, does that always imply that she had made her phone number public? Even if your number gets public, no one has the right to harass you.Recommend

  • Sarah Uzair

    That is true, being here at LUMS since a year or so now.. I can tell things are lot different than what other universities in Pakistan offer in terms of dealing with harassment cases. The penalty is very severe – as it should be,Recommend

  • Sarah Uzair

    Wake up and smell the coffee. Every university has a complete database of their students’ contact details and everything… and even if she did give him her number, there is no place in the article where it is written or even subtly mentioned that she gave him consent to speak to her the way he did.Recommend

  • Maliha Husain

    By the way, they are not even safe at home. Incest is one of the very prevalent issues that we have chosen to keep our eyes closed to in Pakistan. Things will not change until we start holding harassers accountable, instead of justifying their actions.Recommend

  • Maliha Husain

    Yes we do!Recommend

  • Maliha Husain

    But we really do need to help them grow up :), they need to; its about time they do Recommend

  • Alter Ego

    Kashmir,Shiv Sena,Modi ,partition of India.
    Does it ring a bell?Recommend

  • Critical

    well,he was just testing the waters…If she had complied to that,he might have asked for more (or less)Recommend

  • Fahim

    If they haveRecommend

  • COLVINOD

    Till 1947 in undivided India there were hardly any rapes reported. Question is were the Indians were very pious then and after division are men of Pakistan are still good and do not commit rape whereas Indian men have developed loose morals? No Sir, the difference is that in India women are becoming bolder and more open in standing against all sort of discrimination and oppression. Reporting and standing against black mail. In this all women,,, of all the religions are alike. So leave your false ego and face the truth in Pakistan also.Recommend