The Incident

The level of vitriol directed at the survivor in the LUMS Sexual Harassment case is a classic case-study of the perceptions regarding what constitutes harassment and the kind of behavior that we as a society think appropriate in a public setting.

I cannot dissociate myself from the case or claim absolute neutrality (as formal colleagues of Abid Hussain Imam have sought to do) because I too had some experiences with Mr. Imam that people deem “unfortunate” (for those interested here my account of my interactions with Mr. Imam: https://www.facebook.com/shmyla/posts/10154813233140512). Let me deconstruct the kind of criticism I have received and as well as an accurate timeline of the events and the travails the victim (who I will not deny was and is a dear friend) had to face in order to be heard.

In this series of blog posts I will refrain from using the word “victim” to describe the girl because I feel that the word takes away a lot of the agency that she has. She’s not just a victim of sexual harassment; she is a girl who had the courage to speak out against behavior she that was highly inappropriate for any student. She’s not just a victim because she had the courage to do what I and a lot of other people haven’t been able to do.

The Unzipping

The incident took place on 21st January 2014 as the complainant entered the Law Department at around 1:30 p.m, after jumma prayers. Upon entering the Law Department she ran into Mr. Imam, whose office is at the door step of the department. At the time, he was her academic supervisor and her Moot Court Coach. Upon seeing her, he remarked “you look very fashionable”.

The complainant tried to ignore this remark but was polite to him given the fact that Mr. Imam was her professor. However, Mr. Imam continued and proceeded to reached for the 3-inch zipper on her shoulder and asked, “Is this real?” In doing so he pulled the zip to reveal her bare shoulder. This incident took place in front of four of the victim’s class fellows, two of whom were male students. The complaint was shocked, and re-zipped her dress. Mr. Imam offered a token “Haha, oops, sorry!” to the complainant, and this is the only instance of any form of an apology being given to date. The scene was captured on the LUMS security footage and has been made available exclusively to Mr. Imam and not the complainant.

Mr. Imam’s colleagues claim there was a “briefest tap on the student’s shoulder [which] took at most a second before Professor Imam quickly withdrew his hand.” There was an unzipping, not a “brief tap”. The phrase makes all the difference and those making this representation know exactly what they were doing when they employ such language. It is very important to stress the act of unzipping in the face of such gross misrepresentations. As is obvious in the Ombudsman order, the defense did not argue that the event did not take place nor did they not raise objections on the interpretation of the event in the order.

The ‘lingering’

Friends and colleagues of Mr. Imam, who have seen the video, point towards the fact that the complaint did not immediately run away from the scene and apparently “lingered” for a minute or two. What is this comment supposed to mean? Who are we to define what an appropriate reaction to being unzipped should be?

Let’s take a step back and consider how the complainant may have viewed this situation. Mr. Imam is a professor at a university, he has the power to write recommendations for the complainant, potentially grade her if she ever takes his course and can determine whether she is selected for or goes to a moot competition. Furthermore he is a male professor, the gender dynamics between a female student and a male professor are markedly different from those if the genders between the two parties were the same. He is in a position of power by virtue of his gender and position—any discussion of this case that tries to ignore this context is ill-informed.

Let’s take another step back, and talk law since this was the law department and the professors who have jumped to Mr. Imam’s defense. The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010 in Section 2 defines sexual harassment as:

“harassment” means any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment;

This is the definition of sexual harassment you need to defend Mr. Imam under, not your subject notions of what might be deemed sexual behavior.

No Apologies

There also seem to be some claims of an apology: “Realizing that even if this inadvertent action might have been inappropriate, Professor Imam immediately apologized to the student on the spot, if any offense had been caused. That should have been the end of the matter.” The fact of the matter is there was no apology, Abid Hussain Imam did not feel any remorse for his actions, or non-actions as his colleagues claim—and I’ll tell you why.

The complainant, as I mentioned earlier, being a friend of mine, came to me immediately after the incident. She told me what had happened and was visibly upset. Having experienced inappropriate behavior at the hands of Mr. Imam I suggested we go for lunch to calm her down.

On the way out of the department I encountered Mr. Imam. He was in the pantry of the law department trying to warm his food in the microwave. Mr. Imam appeared again and commented: “Shmyla, isn’t [name of complainant] looking nice these days?” I did not comment but smiled weakly. He then proceeded to ask me: “Shmyla, why don’t you dress more like [name of complainant]”? I told him that I didn’t want to and was happy with how I looked. He smiled and replied: “you should dress more provocatively for my viewing pleasure.” Then he disappeared into his office as we exited the department, disgusted and distressed.

This is not the space for me to argue whether what Imam said to me was harassment or not, however it lays bare the blatant lies peddled by Mr. Imam’s colleagues in an effort to paint him as a remorseful victim. In fact, when the matter was eventually taken up by the LUMS Committee inquiring into this complaint, Mr. Imam in his formal reply to the complaint said he “was of course shocked that the matter even became an issue”. This does not go along with the image of the remorseful Mr. Imam, fully grasping the magnitude of the situation and being sorry. It had not even occurred to Mr. Imam that this would be an issue was because no one had ever stood up to him or called him out for the comments he makes. No apology has been rendered by Mr. Imam.

“Professor Imam discussed the matter with the LUMS Vice Chancellor who advised him to offer another apology, which he complied with.” No. Mr. Imam has never apologized despite the fact that the LUMS Inquiry Committee directed that “Mr. Imam should write an apology letter to [name of complaint] which clearly and unequivocally demonstrates his contrition and repentance. This letter should be written as soon as possible (within one week) directed by the VC. This letter should be placed on the personal file of Mr. Imam maintained by LUMS.” This letter has never seen the light of day.

Findings of the LUMS Inquiry

“After an extensive investigation, interviewing witnesses and a review of the video footage, it found Professor Imam innocent of sexual harassment both under University policy as well as under legal strictures.” Not really.

What this petition by former and adjunct LUMS faculty fails to mention is that FORMER Professor Imam was found guilty of “highly unprofessional conduct” and “conduct unbecoming” of a faculty member at LUMS. The Committee absolved him of sexual harassment on a technicality, they applied a different definition of sexual harassment than the Ombudsman (though the LUMS Inquiry report never tells us their definition). Since the Committee was not trained in the nuances of the law such a difference is not surprising. The Ombudsman interpreted the Act to cover the incident of unzipping. However the Committee did not by any means find him innocent, in fact its findings are extremely damning.

Quoting the order passed by the Committee on April 30, 2014:

“There seems to be a pattern of behavior with Mr. Imam which is both very sad and very worrisome. While many students like him as a teacher and as someone who forces them to think critically and is very strict with students who do not come prepared, there are many complaints as well. The three area where, according to students, Mr. Imam uses extremely poor judgment, insensitivity, and crosses the limits of appropriate behavior are as follows:

  • Use of inappropriate jokes many times with sexual innuendoes and undertones, and obnoxious language. Almost all students felt that these jokes are extremely inappropriate for two reasons. First there are female students in class, and second Mr. Imam is a faculty member and not a fellow student. The students seem to behave in a far more mature fashion than their teacher. They do not like his “too friendly” and “too frank” approach.

[…]

  • Making fun of and ridiculing students ostensibly belonging to underprivileged section of Pakistan. Hence, NOP students, so called non-burger students, and even their families were made fun of both in public and private”

These are not my words. If Mr. Imam is reading this he knows what I left out and I did it simply because it will cause too much trouble for him. I do not wish to target him for something he is not accused of and which, given the volatile situation prevalent in this country, could cause problems for him. We are not vindictive, we just want the side of the complainant to be represented, I hope he can understand that.

The Committee’s judgment was rendered on April 30, 2014. It was represented to the complainant that the order would be delivered within 30 days of the commencement of inquiry. The order was delivered in the middle of complainant’s final exams, causes her great distress. The Committee also committed various breaches of procedure and showed insensitivity to the complainant. At one point the complainant was asked to produce the dress she was wearing at the time the incident took place. Given that the Committee did not even bother to call eye-witnesses, it seemed to be very eager on procuring the complainant’s dress. The “how she was dressed” argument is problematic when it comes to harassment of a sexual nature because it implies that the dress of the victim somehow played into the harassment.

The Committee was not clear on what policy or standard it was following as it itself concedes that will be governed by the “spirit of the three policies” (the existing LUMS Sexual Harassment Policy, the LUMS draft policy and the HEC policy). The Committee also concedes that it will rely on “good judgment” and “common sense”. While these are noble aspirations, they are in no positing an objective standard. The Committee formed by LUMS had no training in sexual harassment. Due to these concerns, the complainant decided to appeal to the Federal Ombudsman.

Resignation

The “you cannot fire someone who had already been fired” argument put forward by the ex-faculty falls flat on its face given the findings of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has stated that LUMS was not able to produce a single email that shows acceptance of resignation on part of Mr. Imam. This is why the Ombudsman was compelled to issue the direction to fire Mr. Imam.

The order clearly states that:

“he had resigned from the job on 09.04.2014 through an email sent to Vice Chancellor (at page 106 and107 of file) but this email in fact is not a resignation but seems to show his intention to resign in toxic environment. No proper resignation has been placed by respondent No. 3 even this intention of respondent No. 3 was not accepted by respondent No. 1 Vice Chancellor with remarks in his reply “You are too valuable faculty member and we will discussed this on my return” show that his intention for 1 resignation from job was not accepted. Neither any proper resignation nor its acceptance is also placed on record. He was continuing his job as advisor of appellant even during inquiry and at least till 20.08.2014 which apparently is a violation of clause X-C of Code of Conduct of Schedule of Act 2010 which specifically says that employer shall do its best to temporary makes adjustment so that accused and the complainant do not have to interact for official purpose during the investigation period.”

Worrisome Developments

Since the news broke, various people associated with Mr. Imam have threatened to “leak” the video in question online. Mr. Siddique threatened to put it on YouTube, another gentleman on Twitter said it will be online very soon. When the Ombudsman procured the video as evidence, it was examined by experts sensitive to gender issues and the dynamics of victim-blaming—the rest of the world is not. Having the video online for all of prosperity (even Mr. Imam showing it to all and sundry) is tantamount to opening up the victim to more abuse and harassment. Imagine how the complainant felt, to have something that personal shown to people as though it were entertainment. The complainant asked for it to confidential, yet it became people’s evening entertainment. These should be obvious things, it pains me to even spell them out. It is a piece of evidence that, beyond its discussion in the judgment or the Inquiry report, is to be kept secret. It is unforgiveable that it was made available to the Imam, who then felt himself entitled to share it with all his friends—with complete disregard for the privacy of the complainant.

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The Incident

31 thoughts on “The Incident

  1. Bravo. Thanks for taking a reasoned stand. The part about not being vindictive is also commendable. I have a few minor technical suggestions. Now that you have this blog, please move your own incidence report here instead of your own personal FB account. Keep the FB note if you need it to document the posting date. I think it is OK to refer to your friend as the victim, but be consistent with whatever you choose. I think “victim” and “complaint” both appear. If you chose to clean that up, leave an “Edit” note at the end of the blog. It is good for LUMS that people like you are standing up.

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  2. S says:

    I am an ex-LUMS and Law and Policy Department student (and a girl) and have studied under half the faculty mentioned in the petition. I am more than familiar with the kind of environment that prevails in this department. Although I have never studied under Abid Hussain, I can say this much that LUMS Law and Policy Department has had several faculty disciplinary problems over the years (some academic, some related to inappropriate behavior). I know of not one but two professors who were dating students they taught, some other professors who would show open favoritism for some students while they would single out the other. I can go on an on about all sorts of behaviour that went on. Any LUMS Law Student, even the silent spectators will tell you the shocking level of unprofessionalism of most of the professors that taught there (some continue to teach while others have left)
    Such inappropriate behavior has openly been known about these professors but has always been brushed under the carpet or treated as ‘normal’. If you had a problem at any point and called out a professor, or complained to another professor, you would only end up facing a backlash as the faculty tends to close ranks pretty quickly.
    I am disappointed that this petition has been signed by Osama Siddique and Maryam Khan – two professors who I looked up too and studied under.But then again the faculty at LUMS has always operated like a clique and this is nothing new (although there are two liberal faculty cliques at each others throat for a while now).
    There is also a tendency for groupie-ish behaviour by some students who will become fascinated with a certain rockstar professor and unfortunately this is where the problem begins. Either the student tends to get taken advantage of or if you call out on an any inappropriate behavior you will be ostracized and shunned by the faculty and their peers. No one will reach out to protect you.
    When I studied there, my classmates and I always felt too intimidated to approach anyone to complain. While we loved LUMS and loved studying law, we desperately wanted to make the standards more professional and merit-based. The prevailing nepotism in this department meant that there was no one we could trust with our complaints interms of confidentiality and accountability. Reading about this case and its fallout brought back reminders of what we ourselves witnessed).
    The amount of victim-bashing and desperate attempts to salvage the professors reputation makes me realize that years down the line the problem and attitudes remains the same.
    The LUMS law faculty only cares about itself and no one else.

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  3. Aymen Saeed says:

    Mr. Imam needs to give a public apology, several times over. LUMS needs to ensure this or forever lose respect in the eyes of its alumni and current students. Time to do what you preach ivy-tower preachers!

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  4. Nausherwan Saleem says:

    Absolutely disgusting that the Committee asked the complainant to produce what she was wearing at the time of incident. I’m just shocked beyond words that the institution that I spent four years of my life in has repeatedly mismanaged and at times ridiculed every situation of a sensitive nature in its path during that time I was there and beyond.

    My gratitude goes out to the complainant for her courage.. and that she has nothing to worry about because she is well within her rights to complain. As for the faculty member in question, although I’ve never had any interaction with him, there have been several instructors who talk inappropriately at times in classes. However, none of them in my view ever got as personal as this guy. Shocking behavior.

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  5. After going through the 15 page order of Federal Ombudsman, I strongly feel that the order must be complied with in letter and spirit. A spotless character is first and foremost prerequisite for a teacher, brilliance comes second. The case has been handled pathetically at LUMS committee and the VC and the responsible persons should apologize and improve. (PS: My views are based on the facts as detailed in the ombudsman’s judgement).

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  6. Shareef Bacha says:

    Hello Shmyla,

    Any guidelines for us males regarding what the appropriate behaviour with the female gender is? Because now I’ve become really confused about what kind of jokes we can make, how we can act etc. Kal ko koi bhi aa kay sexual harassment ka ilzaam na laga day. Serious query.

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    1. That’s a legitimate question. There are different standards when it comes professors interacting with teachers or any superior interacting with a junior. So it really depends on the context. Secondly any advance that is unwelcome is harassment. Just make sure you’re respecting your colleague and their gender.

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      1. Shareef Bacha says:

        Yes, but how can we know for sure that an advance is unwelcome? What could be unwelcome for one female might be perfectly fine for another. Would it be unfair to ask females to make it extremely clear, immediately, when they perceive an advance as unwelcome? Or will we let fear and suspicion ruin comfortable interaction amongst the genders?

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    2. Hey Shareef Bacha, it’s better to not make a joke and risk sounding like a bore then to make a joke and risk sounding like a pervert. It’s better to err on the safer side. If you are confused let the woman set the tone. For example refrain from physical contact like hugs unless she initiates it showing that she’s okay with it. And here’s an obvious tip since you obviously missed it: Telling women to dress provocatively for you and unzipping their clothes will make you look like a text book pervert. Keep your hands to yourself. And learn to crack jokes that don’t have sexual innuendos. There are plenty of those out there.

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    3. Sharmeen Lari says:

      I feel a good way to gauge your limits will be to keep your mother / sister / daughter in mind and how would you feel if someone talks to them in the same way as you are talking to that female. It’s as simple as that.

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  7. Kash says:

    We protect the powerful and we ridicule the vulnerable. That is “safe” behavior as it doesnt put us in line of fire and “presumably” makes our comfortable lives going forward till One day we are the victims. Then we blame the callousness of the society at our misery and why/how Pakistan should be invaded or that God (forbid) doesnt exist.

    “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”

    ― Albert Einstein

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  8. This is an extremely disgusting act by not only the teacher but also the VC and LUMS management. It is as worst as it can get and deserved to be dealt with iron fist. My salutes to the brave lady to step up for her right. Sexual harassment of any sort, verbal abuse and anything that demeans a student is totally unacceptable and teachers should be constantly checked on that. Sadly ours is a society that thrives on victim shaming and demeans the ladies who try to stand up for themselves. I’m proud of you to take charge. My best wishes and prayers for the brave girl to find justice Inshallah. I have spread the petition via my twitter and FB accounts and hoping you get all the support. The people who have taken it lightly will bear the consequences not just in the world but hereafter as well. I’d urge you to take this matter to the Govt too. If you know anyone or maybe directly write to the CM and CJ. I’m with you along with my family and friends. All the best.

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  9. Agha says:

    I say name the bitch. You guys are all wankers. An oversensitive little tramp suddenly discovers she felt harassed over what was basically nothing. The likes of her should have posters mounted on billboards, letting everyone know who she is and how she is best avoided. Idiots.

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    1. Amna says:

      I wonder if Mr.Agha would feel the same way if his own sister or daughter happens to be a victim of an incident that is EXACTLY similar to this.
      P.S: He probably has neither which is probably why it’s rather easy for him to throw such derogatory comments.

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  10. Fatima Ahmed says:

    I believe that the professor should be given a serious warning if not fired. I myself would not be comfortable with a male teacher even tapping on my shoulder. Commenting on a female student’s attire and advancing to touch/ feel the material/embellishment is absolutely inappropriate and unprofessional. Strong action must be taken against such behaviour and misconduct so that it is an example for professors not only at LUMS but at all universities in Pakistan.

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  11. I am shocked and appalled to read this piece Shmyla! And yes, very thankful to you for your clear statement of the facts. Where can I find the Ombudsman’s order if I wanted to view it please?

    I also have to make a confession. I cane across the petition from the yeachers before this piece and I almost made up my mind that it must be some kind of misjnterpretation of words or intent and has been blown up so large. Your writing, therefore, was doubly shocking. In addition, being a former LUMS student and having always had a very safe and cordial professional relationshio with my peers and teachers, I just couldnt even imagine that a department could have all of its faculty siding with the wrong-doer. I never imagined less than professional treatment of any such complaint by the LUMS disciplinary committee aa well. I am upset that, if things are as you said they are, we in LUMS and even more so in Pakistan are worse off than I imagined.

    Finally, my support and appreciation for the complainant for raising her voice in face of such adversity. I hope that you and all your friends will stand by her in support through the struggle that follows even now (looking at some of the comments even on this post).

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  12. aqh says:

    Staying silent is best-don’t make a scene:you’re a girl live with it vs. I’m a girl I need to stand up for myself and say what’s right and wrong in a world and a country where “kusun neray kay Rubb neray” is everyone’s motto. I’m glad your friend decided to take the 2nd option. Thanks for sharing this-if I needed further motivation to finish my book this was it. And as for Mr. Agha whoever you are you remind me of my recent favourite quote “The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism”….

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  13. NV says:

    Ex-luminite here. if this is true.. the audacity is astonishing!!! broad daylight, in front of other students..damn.
    the saddest part definitely is the defamation that the incident has brought to lums. wished it never happened.

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  14. This I would say is the sickness of society that has advanced to all levels of society. Who could expect a civilized and gentle society when those who are teaching law at the foremost institution of the country themselves have no respect for it and no moral values as well. I see no difference between a rickshaw drivers gang and those faculty members who have helped tarnish the code of ethics of the complainant. It is very deep and frustrating. Those who are in power, even a mere professor is trying to exploit it by all means. I am highly concerned that for years to come, what will be the fate of our society. I always repent this that even those who inspire us are practically diplomats.

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