LAHORE: The Lahore High Court has dismissed a petition of a private university’s teacher challenging his removal from service on charges of sexually harassing a female student.
Asif Saleem was serving as an assistant professor at the University of Lahore and was also a student of PhD at the varsity’s Institute of Molecular Biology and Bio Technology.
On the complaint of a female student, an inquiry was initiated and after Mr Saleem was found guilty he was dismissed from service under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2012. He was also expelled from the university’s PhD programme.
He filed an appeal before the ombudsperson against his removal but it was dismissed. The Punjab governor also rejected his appeal.
The petitioner contended before the high court that the impugned orders were illegal and against the law and facts. He said no opportunity of personal hearing had been afforded to him, as such he had been condemned unheard. He also claimed that the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2012 was not applicable to his case as he was implicated on the basis of jealousy by the complainant and others.
A provincial law officer opposed the petition and sought its dismissal at limine stage by stating that after a proper inquiry the petitioner had been found guilty of sexual harassment.
He said the petitioner was an assistant professor and the victim was his student and if such acts were not curbed with an iron hand the dignity and prestige of female students would be compromised.
In the dismissal verdict, Justice Jawad Hassan observed that the work environment for women, in a male-dominated society like Pakistan’s, is often hostile and antagonistic, hindering their contribution to their country’s development, as well as their right to employment.
He noted that various studies found that social constraints and a hostile work environment discourage women from seeking employment. “It is our constitutional duty to protect women to ensure their full participation in all spheres of national life,” the judge added.
Rejecting the arguments of the petitioner against the implication of Act, the judge observed the Act was not confined only to the relationship of an employer and employee, but it extended to all acts of sexual harassment committed by employer or employee with any women (at the workplace) by misusing/exploiting his/her official position/capacity.
Justice Hassan ruled that in the instant case, the petitioner/teacher used his official position to sexually exploit his female student, and the intention of the legislature for enacting the Act was to protect all employees from being harassed or exploited during employment which could be at the workplace or in any environment.
“In view of the facts and circumstances, the petition being devoid of merits is dismissed in limine,” the judge concluded the verdict.
Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019