September 11, 2023
By Maryam Missal
After a collective decision by the stakeholders, the University of Swat allowed 16 previously suspended students to take exams. They were rusticated for advocating measures against sexual harassment, prompted by recent incidents in other universities.
At the beginning of August, a concerned journalism student at the University of Swat wrote a letter to the Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the university, requesting measures to ensure the safety of female students and staff members.
The letter addressed the recent surge in cases of sexual harassment emerging from educational institutes. The student requested the installation of surveillance cameras in the university, as well as see-through doors for faculty offices and classrooms.
Two days after the letter was filed, the student who had made the request faced a First Information Report (FIR) filed by the VC under Section 506 (Criminal Intimidation) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
The FIR stated that the student was harassing the university’s leadership. Furthermore, it was also mentioned that Jawad Shah, the accused, had been making threats against the VC of the university.
Jawad Shah was arrested following the FIR and was in the custody of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) police for two days. During his apprehension, students at the University staged protests against Jawad’s arrest.
On August 9, a letter originating from the Office of the Provincial Ombudsman, addressing concerns raised by students and faculty members under the Protection of Women from Harassment at Workplace Act, 2010, circulated on social media platforms.
The letter was directed to the Registrar and detailed allegations against Imtiaz Ali. The case had been referred to the provincial ombudsman for inquiry by the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with a report due by August 31, 2023.
Vice-Chancellor Hasan Sher, while speaking to local news, claimed not to have officially received this communication but to have learned of it through social media. Notably, the letter included contact details of faculty members and female students.
The letter included the names of one faculty member and two students. However, a local source at Voicepk.net said that the allegations of sexual harassment were baseless. Another news source confirmed after talking to the applicants that their name was misused in the application and they did not file it themselves.
The events of August led the administration of the University of Swat to take action to counter possible cases of sexual harassment. The university installed CCTV cameras across the campus making doors see-through.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the University of Swat, Rafi Ullah, said that it was not done under pressure from the ombudsman’s letter, but was a decision made by the syndicate forum of the university, which is also mandated by the government.
However, the University rusticated sixteen students from different departments to protest for the release of Jawad Shah, who was released on bail two days after his arrest.
The University also suspended 16 students for a period of one year, based on the recommendations of department heads and the disciplinary committee. Additionally, 26 students were fined for participating in a demonstration for the release of Jawad Shah.
According to the university’s administration, the decision was made in accordance with clause 6.1 (e) of the University’s Student Code of Conduct. The rusticated students, hailing from diverse academic backgrounds including journalism, tourism, law, Sharia, and biotechnology, were instructed to provide an affidavit pledging not to engage in any prohibited activities within the university premises.
They were also entitled to exercise their right to appeal under clause 14(2) of the University Statutes governing the constitution, functions, and authorities’ powers, which were established in 2016.
Opting for their right to appeal, the students submitted an affidavit signed by their parents and requested participation in their final semester examinations.
A student of the University of Swat, on the condition of anonymity, told Voicepk.net that upon parents’ request and students’ affidavits, the university administration allowed the suspended students to sit in on exams under the condition that they would not speak against the university policies and the fine was also abolished.
The University PRO told Voicepk.net that the notification is yet to be issued but a collective decision has been reached amongst the students and university faculty.
However, the affected students assert that the disciplinary action comes in the wake of their recent advocacy against sexual harassment within the university. Students have prioritized their degrees over their fight for the protection of female students and faculty for the sake of their education but are still concerned about the university’s policies and their future in the institution.
Rafiullah confirms that the university has a workplace harassment committee that follows all standard operating procedures (SOPs) and has a balanced gender ratio that ensures the curbing of sexual harassment cases on campus.