LAHORE: The city has been rocked by a scandal at a ‘top-notch’ school wherein teachers allegedly sexually harassed teenaged girls, leading to a public outcry and corroborations that the practice was long rampant.

The news of four male teachers allegedly harassing students and subsequently being shown the door by the private school has disturbed both parents and educationists about how unsafe even one of the most elite schools could be.

The Lahore Grammar School’s (LGS) 1A1 branch located in Ghalib Market has fired four teachers over allegations of sexual harassment and sending objectionable pictures and messages to at least eight female students. The students spoke up about these allegations on social media in detail. As the issue went public, more students from the school stepped forward sharing their experiences with the same teachers as well as students from other schools, showing how rampant harassment at schools was.

One of the accused teachers, A, whose screenshots of private pictures were also shared, used to teach debate and politics at the school. Reportedly, he had been sending such pictures and text messages to teenage girls for almost four years and was accused by students from almost every branch of the school.

Private institute sacks four teachers following harassment allegations by multiple girls

Meanwhile, the school – whose name has been mentioned in mainstream and social media – has not issued a public statement on the issue. Inside sources said the school management was troubled over the development and “trying its best” to reach a solid solution. “Teachers and directors of all the schools are deeply concerned over the revelations,” said the source. “However, what’s problematic is that the students also claimed that the administration turned a blind eye to their complaints.”

Much of the conversation took place on a page on social media platform, Instagram, about alumni of the branch in question. It has posted detailed accounts from students who faced the alleged harassment.

“He used to bite his lip whenever he talked to me, which made me uncomfortable,” said one girl.

Another complained that the teacher forced her to take a picture with him saying he would look at it right before going to sleep every night. Yet another girl claimed that when she tried to complain about him, he came to the class and while looking at her threatened that he would “fix anyone who tried to defame him”, including by deducting marks.

“The culture is to shame a person who complains,” said a source, N, who said it was not just about [this particular school], but every other school. “Cover-up is the usual reaction. But this is also because parents don’t want to take action. A mother, who said her daughter complained about the school security guard ogling at her, said she solved the problem by making her daughter wear abaya to school rather than complain,” she maintained.

On the other hand, in some cases, fellow students have been accused of sexual harassment as well. A teacher made a shocking revelation about a group of boys from elite schools. “A year or two ago, one of my students was gang-raped by these boys, and she eventually tried to kill herself,” the teacher claimed. “She has still not fully recovered.”

She further said she had heard that there was a gang of students, called Born to Kill, which harassed girls.

Nighat Dad of the Digital Rights Foundation corroborates such happenings.

“We have seen incidents of blackmail and sexual harassment coming from male students – and we have seen this across the board,” she says. “Even though this has happened before, during the lockdown, things took a turn for the worse. There was a massive wave of pages on Facebook and Instagram where pictures of girls would be uploaded to blackmail them.”

One thing was common, she said, that all these students were from private schools. “Most of them knew these girls would not reach out to their families and schools for help. And in exchange for removing the pictures, they would demand an [objectionable] picture of the girl or her friends.”

None of the suspected teachers or the school administration officials responded to Dawn’s messages or calls.

Students of the said school have also started an online petition against the teachers as well as “custodial staff”. A staff member from one of its branches said there was no harassment policy. “They define ‘inappropriate conduct’, but there is no set policy” despite government directives.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020

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