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After IUB Another ‘Harassment’ Scandal in University of Okara

-- UO's faculty members indulge in blame game


By Our Special Correspondent

LAHORE MIRROR – A group of four female faculty members of the University of Okara (UO)’s Education department has been awaiting justice from the high ups against the alleged “harassment” of their senior faculty members for the last two months or so.

Two senior faculty members have recently been accused of showing harassing attitude during professional environment to their fellow female members, an official letter available with Lahore Mirror reveals.

However Dr Tahir Farooqi, who is HoD of the department, said the application against him and Dr Khalid Saleem is totally baseless and filed with a malafide intention to sabotage their reputation and to disrupt the administration of the department

In a joint letter written, a copy of which is available with Lahore Mirror, to the university’s vice-chancellor, a group of four female members alleged that two senior professors were involved in unethical practices, misconduct, non-professional and harassing attitudes during professional work.

Ms Swarwat Naheed Chaudhary, a lecturer in the Education department and PhD scholar, has come forward with detailed complaint against Dr Muhammad Tahir Khan Farooqi and Dr Khalid Saleem, who is Associate Professor of Education department.

She has alleged that during a Ph.D. Committee meeting held on July 13, 2023, meant for the “Pre-defense” of Ph.D. theses, Dr. Khalid Saleem displayed a highly prejudiced and aggressive attitude towards her.

According to Ms. Chaudhary, Dr. Saleem not only raised his voice to intimidate her but also passed derogatory remarks and used abusive language during her presentation. She further claimed that Dr. Saleem’s behavior was not only unprofessional but also emotionally and mentally distressing, to the point of causing her physical harm due to stress, compounded by her pre-existing health condition of Hypothyroidism.

The incident reportedly unfolded in the presence of the Ph.D. Committee, external academicians, and over 20 Ph.D. scholars, leaving Ms. Chaudhary in tears and shock. Shockingly, Ms. Chaudhary alleged that Dr. Muhammad Tahir Khan Farooqi, the Convener of the meeting and Chair of DERA, did not intervene and instead appeared to support Dr. Saleem’s actions.

Okara University (Harassment complaint)

“This is not the first time such allegations have been raised against these professors. Ms. Chaudhary points to previous incidents where she and her colleague, Dr. Nadia Gilani, have been subjected to humiliation and harassment during academic proceedings. She claims that Dr. Farooqi and Dr. Saleem have repeatedly targeted them and other colleagues, leading to a decline in their professional reputation and emotional well-being.

In her complaint, she also brought to attention the fact that Dr. Nasrin Akhter, a Senior Associate Professor of Education and a witness to the incident, has reportedly faced harassment multiple times at the hands of Dr. Muhammad Tahir Khan Farooqi and Dr. Khalid Saleem over the past four years.

This alleged misconduct prompted an inquiry into their actions, as indicated in correspondence bearing reference number UO/ADDL-REG/2020/2126, dated June 20, 2020. Following the inquiry, they were placed under observation for a duration of one year, a decision that received approval from the competent authority, as confirmed in letter No. UO/DRA/2020/01, dated July 09, 2020.

In her complaint, Ms. Chaudhary emphasizes the need for a fair and transparent investigation into the matter, in accordance with the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, as well as any other pertinent laws designed to safeguard women in the workplace.

Okara university report (Previous inquiry report)

She also requested that both accused professors be temporarily relieved of their duties to ensure an unbiased inquiry. She further underscored the importance of ensuring a transparent and impartial inquiry by requesting that both of the aforementioned accused individuals, Dr. Muhammad Tahir Khan Farooqi and Dr. Khalid Saleem, be temporarily suspended from their duties.

The allegations have sent shockwaves across the university, raising concerns about the safety of the workplace and the treatment of female faculty members.

UO Dr Tahir Farooqi HoD Edu Dept, in his version, said the application against them is totally baseless and filed with a malafide intention to sabotage their reputation and to disrupt the administration of the department. “There is available a complete video recording of the meeting that was based in this application. One of the accused, Dr Khalid Saleem, is a disable person with visual impairment. He can not recognize things beyond the distance of five feet. So this accusation is totally illogical and fake. Moreover, we have already submitted our grave reservations to the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Chancellor on the inquiry committee.”

Lahore Mirror sent a questionnaire to the UO spokesperson regarding the inquiry, quoting sources who alleged that a delay in taking action might be a deliberate attempt to prevent the matter from becoming public and potentially exert pressure on the complainant to withdraw the complaint.

The spokesperson was asked to reply why is the university management seemingly unable to promptly initiate action against the accused in compliance with the Harassment at Workplace Act?

What measures have been implemented in response to the submitted written application? Why did the authorities remain silent for a month after receiving the application before responding to it?

In his official version, spokesman for the UO vice-chancellor Sharjeel Ahmed said, “The University of Okara administration is keen to ensure conducive working environment for all the employees. The matter under discussion is still in the inquiry and so far, no evidence of any kind of harassment has been found.”