Two inquiry bodies investigating the Chinese student’s sexual harassment case at the Malakand University, involving the 40-year-old, Prof Dr Qaisar Khan, have submitted their reports. However, neither the accused has been granted a sentence nor any serious administrative lapses are mentioned by the inquiry teams.
The first inquiry was conducted by the faculty members of the varsity while the second probe was ordered by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor, Shah Farman, having succumbed to pressures from various quarters after the media splashed the sexual harassment charges.
University Harassment Committee’s probe
The Chinese student named Zhou Min filed a sexual harassment complaint against Dr Qaisar Khan on February 17, 2020 via email to Malakand University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Gul Zaman, Dean Faculty of Arts and Humanities Prof Dr Atta Ur Rahman and then Registrar Prof Dr Shafiq Ur Rahman.
The Vice-Chancellor believed to be a close friend of accused Prof Dr Qaisar Khan constituted a five-member University Harassment Committee headed by Prof Dr Rashid Ahmad of the Department of Chemistry with its four other members including Prof Dr Atta Ur Rahman, Mr Imran Khan (Lecturer at the Department of Law), Dr Rukhsana Ghaffar (Assistant Professor at the Department of Pharmacy) and Dr Zainab Qazi (Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology).
The University Harassment Committee, believed to be a credible one, contacted the accused Dr Qaisar Khan, the Chinese student (via her email address) and other offices at the campus including Admission, Registrar and Deputy Director Finance offices. Firstly, the inquiry body tried confirming if the Chinese national was enrolled as a student at the varsity. They sent a letter to the Admission Office, which replied that it had got no admission record of any such student.
On the other hand, the then registrar Prof Dr Shafiq did not respond to the inquiry team’s letter while the Deputy Director Finance submitted a reply to the committee stating “an amount of Rs. 33000/- has been paid to the complainant on account of daily wages salary as Laboratory Attendant at the University Public School and College (UPS) from November 1 to December 14, 2019.”
A Twist to the Harassment Case
The Chinese national, Zhou Min, was neither enrolled as a student nor had any record of being employed at the campus. Hence, Deputy Director Finance’s statement regarding her salary gave a twist to the sexual harassment case, leading the inquirers to establish contacts with the accused and complainant.
Although, the accused made his presence in person before the inquiry committee apart from answering a questionnaire provided to him, the complainant was sent an email requesting her to appear before the body through video conferencing. The accused Dr Qaisar Khan who is the Head of the Department of English, confessed in his interview with the University Harassment Committee that Zhou Min was offered admission in MPhil but her NOC was not processed due to admission requirements.
Dr Qaiser’s Confessions
Accused Dr Qaisar Khan also confessed to taking the complainant to Chakdara Bazar, Thana and Qambar (Swat) “without any intimation to the Hostel Authorities.”
The complainant, on the other hand, did not appear in person via video conferencing but she submitted her reply to the inquiry body through an email, stating:
“As I heard the children are suffering from their father’s case, I am here to forgive their father Qaisar Khan sympathetically for the sake of Allah. Though I have been suffering, I hope the University will just keep him as a common teacher so that he can feed his children. The case is a warning to him so that he should respect female students sincerely as a teacher.”
Administrative lapses unearthed
Alluding to administrative lapses, the committee questioned the foreign national stay in the varsity premises as a student without being formally-admitted. The committee concluded its proceedings stating, “the accused has shown irresponsible behaviour/attitude and disregarded his responsible position of Professor, Chairman of the Department of English and Controller of Examination.”
Also, the University Harassment Committee recommended the Competent Authority to impose any of the following penalties against accused Dr Qaisar Khan:
a) withholding, for a specific time, promotion or increment,
b) reduction to a lower post or time-scale, or to a lower stage in a time-scale,
c) compulsory retirement.
Faculty members speak up
“The recommendations came as a breath of fresh air,” said a source among the faculty members, arguing that it was a lesson for all predators among teachers. However, the same source lamented the fact that the powers that be at the university sided with the accused Dr Qaisar Khan and worked tirelessly to save him.
“The Vice-Chancellor Dr Gul Zaman sided with the harasser when the report of the University Harassment Committee was presented to the syndicate meeting, which neither gave any solid decision on serious administrative lapses in the admission of the complainant nor did it give a decision against Dr Qaisar Khan, in the light of the recommendations given by the probe body,” said the same faculty members requesting anonymity.
“The irony is that instead of adopting recommendations of the University Harassment Committee in letter and spirit, and holding the administration to account for serious administrative lapses, the syndicate working under the incumbent Vice-Chancellor’s thump unnecessarily questioned not only the laid down procedures adopted by the committee to investigate the case paving way for Dr Qaisar to avoid any punishment but also ignored issues of serious administrative lapses due to which the complainant enjoyed various perks,” claimed the source.
Syndicate member’s dissent
On the other hand, one syndicate member while disagreeing with the decision of the forum “which neither declared the accused innocent nor agreed to the recommendation of the University Harassment Committee” dissented to the syndicate decision. The dissent note questioning why the accused Dr Qaisar Khan was spared punishment, stated that the University Harassment Committee, as per Section 4 (c) of the Harassment Act, had examined many documentary pieces of evidence it considered necessary.
“The syndicate did not agree to the recommendations of the committee,” stated the dissent note, adding that “….section 5 of the Harassment Act instructs that the Competent Authority shall impose the penalty recommended by the inquiry committee. Thus syndicate violated the act.” The other important point of the dissent note is that the complainant has forgiven the accused but she has not withdrawn her allegations.
Sexual harassment saga continues
The sexual harassment saga did not stop here, with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor also ordering a probe into the case involving the Chinese national and the English Professor. This time the governor appointed Vice-Chancellor of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, namely Prof Dr Zahur Ul Haq, as inquiry officer to probe into the sexual harassment case. Raising serious questions over internal governance at the varsity, the second inquiry—report stated: “If the complainant was neither registered and nor enrolled, then what was she doing at the Department of English, University of Malakand? Hence, the matter pertaining to the internal governance of the university needs to be reported to the syndicate for appropriate decision/action.”
No action taken
One of the recommendations given by the Governor Inspection Team probing the case was that the accused Dr Qaisar should be put under strict watch of a senior faculty member of the Department of English, for at least a year. However, once again, no action was taken. The syndicate meeting neither acknowledged the internal governance issues at the varsity nor acted upon the recommendations of the governor-appointed inquiry officer Prof Zahur Ul Haq.
It has never been easy to glean information about cases like sexual harassment from university officials considering the secrecy being perpetuated by the Rooster Coop led by VC Dr Gul Zaman but when this scribe contacted Malakand University Teachers Association (MUTA) focal person, Dr Sami Ur Rahman, he stated that Prof Dr Qaisar was protected twice by the VC in the Syndicate meetings which, he claimed, not only failed to give any solid punishment to the accused but also ignored the internal governance issues at the varsity, mentioned by both inquiries.