THE sexual harassment and blackmailing scandal that has erupted at the University of Balochistan may well have jeopardised the education of thousands of young women in the province. The fact that the privacy and safety of students at a well-regarded institution is being taken so lightly by the varsity administration raises concerns about the credibility of other universities in the country as well.
If the Balochistan government was trying to advance the cause of women’s education in the province before, it has an even greater responsibility to do so now. If it does not investigate the scandal in a transparent manner and award exemplary punishment to the perpetrators, irrespective of their clout, many parents will stop their daughters from opting for higher studies. Besides it will give conservative tribal and political forces an excuse to buttress their efforts to suppress women’s education.
As per the details, students were being filmed by secret cameras installed in washrooms and smoking areas inside the campus. According to FIA officials, the videos recorded were of a ‘personal nature’ and involved the mingling of male and female students.
So far, the FIA has been able to trace 12 videos that were used to blackmail and harass female students. Statements by various students’ organisations seem to confirm claims that such harassment had been going on for quite some time on campus.
An atmosphere of fear and anger justifiably prevails, with students calling for the vice chancellor to resign. It is a matter of shame that the university ignored the students’ complaints and they had to approach the Balochistan High Court that took suo motu notice.
Though the scandal also echoed in the Balochistan Assembly, which has constituted a 10-member inquiry committee of its own, it remains to be seen what actionable evidence the FIA will come up with that it has not already found in its month-long investigation. It is expected to submit its report to the court by Oct 28.
These disturbing developments have affected both male and female students, but it is obvious that it is the latter who will feel the effects the most. Balochistan is regarded as the least developed of the provinces, and national and international statistics bear this out. The female literacy rate in the province is 33.5pc as compared to 52pc for the rest of the country, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2018-19.
In fact, there are quite a few districts in Balochistan, such as Dera Bugti, Sherani and Qilla Abdullah, where the female literacy rate has persistently remained below 10pc. Coupled with conservative tribal attitudes, the scandal may put greater distance between women students and their dreams.
The authorities must take immediate action to punish the perpetrators, reassure families that this kind of incident will never occur again, and provide counselling services to all those who have gone through the trauma.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019