–Deceased lecturer had appealed college authorities to issue him a formal exoneration letter
–College authorities claim lecturer was cleared of the charge ‘verbally’
LAHORE: A lecturer of MAO College allegedly committed suicide after being accused of harassment by one of his female students.
Muhammad Afzal Mehmood, a lecturer of English Literature, was accused of harassment by a student of BS (bachelor of science) Mass Communication; a claim which the late teacher refuted and which turned out to be unfounded by the college harassment committee assigned to probe into the matter.
However, college authorities failed to formally clear Afzal’s name by not issuing him a letter of exoneration.
Afzal left a suicide note on Oct 9 (the day on which he reportedly died by consuming poison) wherein he said that he had left the matter in the court of Allah and that he did not want the police to investigate into his death and “bother anybody” over it.
A day before his death, Afzal had also written to the harassment committee’s enquiry officer, Dr Aalia Rehman claiming that he was suffering from extreme stress and that he wanted the administration to officially clear his name.
In the letter, Afzal lamented the unfairness with which he was treated, saying that his reputation had been tainted beyond repair and that his wife had left him as a result.
College authorities confirmed that Afzal was asked to appear before the harassment committee when allegations against him first emerged on July 8, 2019.
Talking to Pakistan Today, enquiry officer Dr Aalia Rehman said that the nature of the allegations were “flimsy to say the least” and did not warrant official proceedings. She said that a small-scale enquiry was conducted which resulted in vindicating Afzal.
“A Mass Com student submitted an application against Afzal which stated that his conduct with female students was inappropriate. The student said that the professor was in the habit of making suggestive remarks and gestures which made female students uncomfortable,” she said, adding that no physical harassment on part of the late lecturer was reported.
“We found that Afzal had turned down the girl’s request to improve her marks which led her to write an application accusing him of harassment,” she revealed.
According to the enquiry officer, proceedings were completed on July 13 and a report was submitted to the principal’s office subsequently, following which Afzal was ‘verbally’ informed that he had been cleared of the charge.
“However, Afzal insisted that he be issued an exoneration letter since he had absolutely nothing to show for his innocence,” she said.
Dr Rehman revealed that Afzal feared that he would be retried and charged under the Provincial Efficiency and Disciplinary Act (PEDA) since he believed that the proceedings had not been formally concluded.
“He felt that he had been maligned by the accusations and therefore kept on asking for an official notification. I told him that he should contact the principal since he is the one who has the authority to issue such a notification,” she added.
Dr Rehman said that she isn’t aware whether Prof Afzal had contacted the college principal, Professor Farhan Ebadat Khan.
PRINCIPAL DENIES INVOLVEMENT:
Commenting on the issue, MAO College Principal Farhan Ebadat told Pakistan Today that Afzal’s case was dealt entirely by the harassment committee and the decision to issue a written clarification had to be made by the enquiry officer heading the probe.
He claimed that he didn’t have any involvement in the committee’s affairs and that at no point during and after the enquiry was he approached by the deceased lecturer.
“I understand the sort of troubles my colleague Afzal had to face but I assure you that I, in my capacity as principal, only wished him well.”
He said that a smear campaign had been launched against him by certain quarters of the press who were looking to malign him by implicating him in Afzal’s death.
When asked what action had been taken against the female student for levelling a false accusation against her teacher, Prof Khan said no action had yet been taken against the student.
“The enquiry committee is responsible to punish the false accuser. However, no such suggestion has reached my office till date,” he said.
METOO MOVEMENT IN SPOTLIGHT:
Afzal’s death has sparked huge outcry in social media as people have started questioning the methods of determining whether a person has in fact committed harassment.
People have pointed out that the #MeToo movement which has gained huge popularity across the world is increasingly being used to malign and slander innocent people for personal gain.
Singer and actor Ali Zafar, who was recently accused by singer Meesha Shafi of sexual harassment expressed solidarity with the late lecturer, raising concern over the increasing misuse of the #MeToo movement.
Mr Afzal, Lecturer at Govt MAO College Lahore commits suicide after false harassment allegations. Leaves a suicide note as his wife leaves him & his reputation tarnished. How many will speak up for him now? How many will speak up against the misuse of #Metoo. Who is responsible? pic.twitter.com/WnWSyZyBOQ
— Ali Zafar (@AliZafarsays) October 19, 2019
Television personality, Hamid Mir in a tweet said that fake allegations could ruin a person’s life and career.
#MeToo is a movement against sexual harassment but some people used it for their personal interest and made fake allegations not for justice but for destroying someone.Fake allegations can destroy lives and the cause of genuine victims it’s a crime punishable by law pic.twitter.com/fmviAV5uxZ
— Hamid Mir (@HamidMirPAK) October 13, 2019
Speaking to Pakistan Today, women’s rights activist and lawyer Nighat Dad said, “This painful event reminds us to make the inquiry committees stronger at the workplace. If allegations against the lecturer were false, the committee was supposed to do the needful.
“However to any of the alleged harasser and whoever may want to use this unfortunate event to discredit the #MeToo movement, we want to inform them that several women have also committed suicide after society and the judicial system failed them
“Before questioning women’s right to come forward and report cases of harassment we should recall the case of Haleema Rafeeq, a Pakistani cricketer who was sexually harassed and eventually committed suicide in the face of defamation suit by the alleged harasser.
Victims have little choice in a country where patriarchy runs deep while women who speak up often face severe backlash,” she concluded.