The Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi on Wednesday expelled a student who had witnessed and publicly highlighted an alleged harassment incident at the varsity and had supported the female victim in lodging a formal complaint with the management.
Mohammad Gibrail was punished for taking to social media to report the incident instead of using the "right channels" established by the institute, according to a statement shared on IBA's Facebook page.
It said the student "was given multiple occasions to reconsider his actions and was counselled numerous times to reassess his actions. Having failed to do that, the Disciplinary Committee has decided to expel the student as the IBA has zero-tolerance policy towards the violation of its rules and regulations.”
Disciplinary proceedings were started against Gibrail after he posted on Facebook about an incident he observed in the IBA's finance department on August 25, wherein he heard the manager of the department screaming at a female employee and saying, "Mein tumhe puri raat betha kar rakhoon ga (I will make you sit here all night)." The student later refused IBA's demand to take down the post.
In its statement, the IBA said “it is important to note that [Gibrail's] highlighting [of] the incident of alleged harassment within IBA has been appreciated by the IBA administration.”
“However, we need to emphasise, the act of the student of whistleblowing of alleged harassment has nothing to do with the Disciplinary matter which was the basis of the hearing and recommendation. The IBA Anti-Harassment Committee is investigating the case as per IBA and HEC rules, regulations, and procedures. We do not jump to any conclusions on the basis of hearsay and always follow processes before any decision can be taken,” it added.
The decision drew a strong reaction on social media and within the student community. Though there was an outpouring of support for Gibrail, many students and working women felt the next time many would simply look away if they saw any wrong being done.
“In a society where women are questioned again and again for their actions, we are simply giving harassers a free hand and enabling them,” a female student from Karachi University said.
Gibrail's lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir said: "Shame on [IBA Karachi] for expelling a student for exposing harassment of a female staff member by a male staff member.
"It's not the student who defamed IBA, it is IBA which is defaming rather exposing itself with this step. A student's career has been ruined for speaking truth."
Journalist Zarrar Khuhro termed the decision "a gross overreaction from IBA which must be set right".
"Such measures can and will only backfire," he tweeted.
Meanwhile, the now-expelled student maintains that he will not offer an apology. Talking to Dawn.com, Gibrail confirmed the news of his expulsion from the IBA.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday night, he wrote: “Have perceived from today's DC behaviour that they have finalised my expulsion. I know that the people will not stand with me when they will expel me because everyone would worry about their career and well-being. Even still, I'm saying with all my complete senses that I WILL NOT SAY SORRY EVEN IF IT WILL COST MY HEAD. I cannot be a hypocrite, a person who has difference in his words and deeds, and a person who takes decision by looking towards the number of people supporting him; I cannot be that person."
The expulsion letter issued to Gibrail, shared on Twitter by Nasir, stated that the student "may file a decision review request with the Registrar office and Executive Director office in writing" if he had any reservations about the decision.
Gibrail, who hails from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Lakki Marwat, was on a full scholarship and has been a star student. He was set to graduate in two months. The student said he was not even allowed to collect his possessions from the IBA hostel.
According to the IBA statement, the BS Economics programme student was "counselled" by various members of the IBA community. “However, despite the counselling provided to him, the student refused to adhere to the right channels that are expected to be followed by all members of the IBA faculty, students, and staff,” it said.
The Disciplinary Committee found him guilty of sharing details of the alleged harassment incident on social media "without first following the SOPs that are expected to be followed at IBA".
"Sharing details about an alleged incident without having complete knowledge of the context/ background on any public platform is against IBA’s rules and regulations," the statement said.
The student was also found to have “shared details of the employee (Facebook profile including picture of the person) of the Institute even before the victim filed an official complaint, which led to endangering the physical and psychological safety of the employee, his coworkers, and the department".
Gibrail "defamed the Institute, its Finance Department, and the employee [besides] senior professors on various national forums" as well as "incited students to protest and led demonstrations against the Institute and pit the students and the IBA administration against one another which could have jeopardised the security of the protesters and the administration personnel”, the statement added.
The IBA disciplinary committee further charged him with endangering the physical and psychological safety of other students, employees, and faculty members through the protests. He also “[attempted] to influence the decisions of the relevant committees, which are completely independent and neutral, to achieve desired outcomes through dissemination of the incident and chain of events on mediums of communications outside the IBA and spreading misinformation and twisting of facts”, the statement said.
When reached out for comment earlier on, a lawyer had suggested that if a disciplinary committee had been formed against the student or any other similar action was being taken against him, he could approach the Sindh High Court to challenge the legality and validity of such a committee as he had highlighted the matter being a concerned and responsible citizen and had no personal interest in the issue, and should, therefore, not be punished for performing his civic duty.
Lawyer vows to appeal
Talking to Dawn.com, Jibran Nasir, Gibrail’s lawyer, said that an appeal along with evidence would be sent to IBA’s Board of Governors. “The review decision lies with the BoG. Once the executive director has signed an order, the BoG reviews it. If the BoG continues with the order or does not respond in a week’s time, then we will move to the Sindh High Court,” he added.
Sharing details, Nasir said the IBA had accused Gibrail of posting the photo of the alleged harasser on social media and compromising his security. However, he said, the institute was silent on how the female victim’s security was compromised. “She submitted her complaint a month ago and has not received a formal response. When she went to the anti-harassment committee, she was told 'Gibrail ko to hum dekh lein gay, tum doosra koi eyewitness lao (We will deal with Gibrail, you need to bring some other eyewitness.)' They eventually expelled Gibrail.”
Nasir alleged that the IBA had expelled Gibrail before determining whether the alleged harasser was guilty or not.
“If in future, the alleged harasser is proven guilty, then the question will arise why Gibrail was expelled. It appears that for IBA their dignity is more important than the dignity of their employees, especially their female employees,” the lawyer said.
He recalled that after first witnessing the incident on Aug 25, Gibrail had emailed the IBA besides posting about it on Facebook. "IBA’s response is such that it did not take notice of the email but went for his Facebook post and called a disciplinary committee. However, no inquiry committee was called regarding the formal email," he said.
By expelling the student in this manner, Nasir said, the IBA was "sending a message to all female staff and students that even if you get harassed in a room full of people, do not file a complaint because no eyewitness will come forward as they will be expelled".
Additionally, "the message you are giving to your students is that if you ever see any injustice happening, just keep your head down. [...] So we will be contesting the decision."
In an Instagram post, Nasir also hit out at IBA Executive Director S. Akbar Zaidi, who he said was "known to lecture and write about [the] need for student unions and progressive politics but when given authority he chose to punish those who speak up and suppress any voice for justice".