QUETTA: Walking around after dark on Balochistan University’s campus on Sariab Road is just not done.

According to girls from the mass communication department who live in the dorms, they have to be inside the hostel by 6:30pm or risk spending the night in the open.

The chowkidar, they said, doesn’t even let food deliveries after sunset.

“We are nine girls to a room, when we want to party, we save up and order Zinger burgers but that is the extent of ‘fun’ we have here,” said a student who spoke to Dawn on the condition of anonymity.

“Getting permission to study away from home is a blessing for many of us. No one wants to mess that up. I have heard of many girls going home these days because their families are forcing them to return because of what they have seen on television. I just hope I don’t get that call.”

For weeks now, the campus has been in turmoil. Vice chancellor Javed Iqbal stepped down amidst rumours of the alleged use of CCTV camera footage to blackmail and harass students at the university.

Mr Iqbal, however, has repeatedly denied any involvement in the scandal which is being investigated by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on the Balochistan High Court’s (BHC) orders.

When contacted, he told Dawn that he couldn’t say anything right now as the matter was in the court.

VC denies involvement in the scandal

Lawyer and rights activist Jalila Haider said it all started a month ago when some individuals approached the court about surveillance and harassment taking place at the university’s premises.

“At this, the BHC directed the FIA to investigate,” she said, adding that the news of the investigation activated student organisations across the country and people began protesting.

After weeks of interviews, the FIA submitted the report to the BHC on Tuesday.

“This case is taking place in our province, with children who are studying in Balochistan … if nothing happens after such a big scandal, the children will be in a fix,” said BHC Chief Justice Jamal Khan Mandhokhail after being presented with the fact-finding report on the matter.

He also said no one was coming forward. Representing the applicants, Barrister Saifullah Magsi said this was a sensitive matter and people would only come forward once their confidence was restored.

The next hearing is scheduled for Nov 14.

Quitting education

Sitting in the sprawling gardens of the university, Aurangzeb Baloch, a sociology student, told Dawn that surveillance and harassment was a common feature at the university for four to five years. “Ever since Mr Iqbal was appointed as VC, complaints have emerged about bullying, blackmail and harassment by faculty members and security in-charges.”

Talking about the recent wave of complaints, he mentioned that an individual responsible for security on campus was allegedly responsible for blackmailing female students. “He would show girls videos of them sitting with classmates or having a conversation with a boy and threaten to send them to the girl’s parents if they did not do what he said.”

There were also cases where girls had claimed teachers and members of the administration had asked for sexual favours or money in return for not sharing videos with the families, Aurangzeb added.

What is surprising, he said, is that students from the pharmacy department and other departments had been complaining for a while but no one was heard. “I know of girls who wrote to the dean to complain about teachers who were harassing them but nothing came of it. I, too, filed a complaint against a teacher who was threatening students of failing them but it fell on deaf ears,” he added.

According to Aurangzeb, the university does not display notices on how to file a harassment complaint or details about a committee to oversee the issue (the only university in Balochistan which has such a committee is in Khuzdar).

According to Sazain, a student at the university, two of her friends had to pack up on a minute’s notice the day the news broke on TV. “My friend’s parents were adamant that she return. I had a tough discussion with my parents about this too. Thankfully, they trust and support me in getting an education.”

Since the scandal became public, Sazain claims many girls quit their education. A friend, she claims, is deliberately failing so she doesn’t have to come back.

Talking to Dawn, another girl who is studying at a medical college in Quetta, said: “My family is conservative. They live far away from here. My mother stitched peoples’ clothes to save money to send me to medical school. They will call me back if they think that their honour is on the line.”

“When we come to university to study we think of our teachers and professors as our parents. We hold them in high regard and in many cases, this is misused.”

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2019