Lahore lecturer's case was mishandled, decision delayed: Kashmala Tariq

Lahore lecturer's suicide 'was due to negligence and could have been prevented', Kashmala Tariq said


ISLAMABAD: The case of late Muhammad Afzal, a lecturer of English at the Government M.A.O. College, who committed suicide last week, was "mishandled", the federal ombudsperson on sexual harassment said Wednesday.

Speaking on Geo News' morning talk show, Geo Pakistan, the federal ombudsperson for protection against harassment of women at the workplaces, Kashmala Tariq, noted that "there was a delay in making a decision" in Afzal's case.

"We heard the case of the late lecturer Afzal [but] why did that happen? It was mishandled and there was a delay in making a decision on it," Tariq said. "Every case has a timeline of 30 days.

"If you read the [Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace] Act, there is a timeline on how much time is allocated to investigation, how much time is allocated to making a decision, and how much time is allocated to all these things.

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"This incident [of Afzal's suicide] was due to negligence and could have been prevented," the ombudsperson added.

News of Afzal's suicide made rounds on social media amid an extensive debate on Pakistan's #MeToo movement after the lecturer's letter to the head of the college's sexual harassment inquiry committee, as well as his suicide note, had surfaced last week.

The lecturer had committed suicide after the institute's administration allegedly failed to issue him a letter stating, officially, that he had been absolved of the sexual harassment allegations by a student.

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The principal of the Government M.A.O. College, Dr Farhan Ibadat, had told Geo News last week that he ordered an inquiry after receiving the female student's harassment complaint but mentioned that Dr Alia Rehman, who was overseeing the inquiry, had informed Afzal that he was innocent.

Geo Pakistan/via

In his letter to Dr Rehman, Afzal had noted that he wanted the college to give him an official letter stating he had been absolved of the sexual harassment allegations since he was under mental stress due to the matter, his family life had been impacted, and his wife had left him.

PSAs needed 'during prime-time hours'

Further, Tariq told Geo Pakistan that the number of cases reported to the Federal Ombudsperson Secretariat for Protection Against Harassment (FOSPAH) had risen as people have started to gain trust, believe that they will get justice, and not feel that they would be silenced or face disrespect or embarrassment.

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The ombudsperson clarified that the FOSPAH entertained complaints from everyone, whether they work at a government office or a private corporation. Fines imposed on the perpetrators started at Rs100,000.

She also said that men, too, could report to the FOSPAH if they were subjected to sexual harassment at their workplaces. Sexual harassment does not just include "physical sexual harassment but also if someone's workplace environment is made unsafe, inappropriate behaviour, comments or passing remarks via phone", she added.

Tariq, in response to a question on the public being made aware of the sexual harassment laws, complaints, and response, also underscored that media needed to air awareness campaigns and public service announcements (PSAs). "These should not be at 3AM in the night but during prime-time hours," she said.