Sexual Harassment case at LUMS: All the facts
News broke out this past week of a LUMS Professor being found guilty of sexual harassment by the federal ombudsman. The news alleges that the Federal Ombudsman directed LUMS to remove the teacher from service.
Previously, the inquiry committee set up by LUMS had found the incident 'unbecoming of a professional' but not sexual harassment. The appellant challenged this decision with the federal ombudsman.
I wrote an article about instances of sexual harassment at LUMS that I encountered while I was there, hoping to start a larger conversation about sexual harassment in Pakistan.
However, since then some former faculty members have come out in support of Abid Hussain Imam, the professor found guilty of sexual harassment by the Federal Ombudsman. They came out with a public statement yesterday.
The statement states that the signatories are of the opinion that incident does not amount to sexual harassment, and that the reporting on the subject does a great disservice to their colleague, Mr. Abid Hussain Imam.
The statement has sent the world of social media in a frenzy, with allegations on the people involved from both sides. I wish to clarify the facts of the matter to rid people of the confusion they find themselves in from these two differing reports.
1. How is sexual harassment defined?
We will come back to the big question of whether it was sexual harassment or not at the end but for now, let us just set the context for it.
The appeal was filed under the 'The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010'.
The act defines harassment as follows,
"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;"
2. The importance of consent.
Notice that the act uses the word 'unwelcome', making the question of consent crucial to the debate.
The opinion offered by the former colleagues of Abid Hussain Imam, and the opinion of Mr. Abid Hussain Imam himself, are both irrelevant in this case. The question is not what they deem to be harassment but rather what the victim perceived as harassment.
The former colleagues have tried to shift the debate from the question of 'whether the victim felt sexually harassed by the guilty party or not' to 'what behaviour may be deemed acceptable in a professional environment' whereas the law clearly states that if the advance is unwelcome then it is deemed to be harassment.
Since the victim in this scenario felt sexually harassed by Abid Hussain Imam, it would come under the purview of this law.
4. Was the contact intended to be sexual?
As shown above, this question is irrelevant to the debate but it is a question that is being discussed with much vigour on social media, and forms the basic tenant of the public statement by his former colleagues.
The law does not take into account the intention of the perpetrator but rather whether it was 'welcome' or not. In this scenario, the victim did not welcome any advance.
The former colleagues have also acted with malafide intent by delibrately suppressing the facts. They fail to mention that before the physical contact, Abid Hussain Imam remarked, "You look very fashionable."
This statement immediately preceding the physical contact changes the light in which one is likely to see the physical contact.
3. Extent of physical contact.
The public statement seeks to belittle the incident by stating it as. "Professor Imam is seen momentarily putting his hand on the shoulder of one of the assembled students."
However, the evidence clearly shows that the victim tried to move away after Abid Hussain Imam's remark but the guilty party 'gripped into the 3 inch zipper detail on her shoulder and while saying that "is that real" all of sudden pulled it down and uncovered her
These facts were accepted by the counsel of Abid Hussain Imam as being true in front of the Federal Ombudsman.
In light of this evidence, I fail to understand how the former colleagues define this as, "briefest tap on the student’s shoulder."
However, as per the law there is no requirement of any physical contact whatsoever. Just the fact that Abid Hussain Imam remarked about how fashionable a student looks could have theoretically been enough to classify his behaviour as harassment.
The word used by the law is 'sexual advance', the verbal remark and the physical contact should be understood together in order to understand how they both together can be classified as a sexual advance.
5. Did the incident take place in a public area?
Yes, not in 'broad daylight' as the statement reads but rather the corridor of the law department that has restricted access. You must swipe a card to be granted entry into the department.
Once again the former colleagues of Abid Hussain Imam are trying to bring unnecessary and irrelevant details to confuse the audience.
There are instances of sexual harassment in market places daily in Pakistan, the fact that they take place in a public place does not change anything. Neither does the fact that most of these women do not react.
Sexual harassment can cause emotional trauma that may not manifest itself immediately, or the victim may choose not to react in the moment for fear of creating the scene, or victim-blaming or victim-shaming.
6. What was the defense of Abid Hussain Imam?
Apart from arguing that it was not intended to be sexual, and there was no fear on the face of the victim. Both points that I have already discussed.
The counsel of Abid Hussain Imam tried to move the jurisdiction away from the federal ombudsman by trying to argue that they cannot adjudicate on the matter. The also argued that the case cannot be heard by the Federal Ombudsman because of the time limitations imposed by the law.
The Federal Ombudsman refuted both these claims. However, the former colleagues of Abid Hussain Imam see the position taken by Federal Ombudsman as unlawful.
Clearly, they are trying to deny justice to the victim based on a technicality.
7. Based on all this evidence, why did the inquiry not find Abid Hussain Imam guilty of sexual harassment?
This is a question I am asking myself. One of the reasons stated is that they feared losing a brilliant teacher.
The Vice-chancellor of LUMS, Mr. Sohail Naqvi, personally intervened and tried to ensure that Abid Hussain Imam stays at LUMS.
Pakistan today also reports that, "Abid Hussain Imam is the son of senior politicians Syeda Abida Hussain and Syed Fakhar Imam and is also related to Syed Babar Ali, the pro-vice chancellor of LUMS. His mother Abida Hussain has served at various important positions, including Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States."
All these are facts, I will leave to you to decide for yourself why the inquiry committee failed in its fundamental duty.
8. Criticism of the inquiry committee by the former colleagues for looking at the past actions of Abid Hussain Imam?
The law also defines harassment as, "creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."
The fact that the inquiry committee heard testimonies by students stating that they were abused in the past by Abid Hussain Imam, their culture and their religion were insulted by him.
According to his students, he has a particular disdain for for religious people and poor people. Here is an exchange narrated to us by one of his former students,
"In a classroom full of students, when a student remarked that he was from the National Outreach Programme, and he did not bring the coursebook to class because he could not afford to buy one. Mr Abid Hussain Imam remarked, "Then why don't you leave LUMS and go back to the village from where you came."
Abid Hussain Imam has also told students in the past that they are worthless, and that they will never amount to anything.
One brave person took to the case to the Federal Ombudsman but clearly there are numerous instances where Abid Hussain Imam's behaviour may be classified as creating a hostile work environment.
9. Was the student threatened not to report the instance?
The definition of the statement also states, "the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request or is made a condition for employment;"
One can argue that the behaviour of the university threatening the victim not to pursue the case with the Federal Ombudsman also classifies as harassment. Mr. Sohail Naqvi, the VC of LUMS can also be found guilty of harassment under this law.
Abid Hussain Imam also had an earlier instance of threatening a student by saying he would ensure she does not get into any University for her Masters if she did not do what he was asking her to do. His request was related to work, and not of a sexual nature but it is being stated to show Abid Hussain Imam's potential to threat students, and the power and influence he wields in society due to his lineage.
10. Does Abid Hussain Imam have a history of sexual advances with students?
The statement states that Abid Hussain Imam enjoys a great relationship with the students but the Federal ombudsman found that he regularly made "inappropriate jokes, many times with sexual innuendos and undertones and obnoxious language."
Students have also come out to say how he regularly remarked on how they looked, their relationships and their behaviour. He even once inquired whether a student slept with somebody and once asked whether he could sit in a student's lap.
I do not think Abid Hussain Imam's claims that these remarks were made in jest, and not intended to be sexual matter. The fact that these students are coming out against him shows that the great relationship he thinks he enjoys with the students is a lie.
11. Did he resign?
The statement states that he voluntarily resigned after the inquiry committee found his behaviour unprofessional. The first contradiction is that Abid Hussain Imam's counsel submitted before the Federal Ombudsman that they accepted the ruling of the Inquiry Committee, whereas Abid Hussain Imam threatened to resign after the ruling.
Taking a leaf out of the book of our politicians, Abid Hussain Imam threw a tantrum and sent an email to the VC, the email was not a resignation but a threat to resign.
the VC did not accept his resignation and remarked, ""You are too valuable faculty
member and we will discussed this on my return"
12. Did LUMS try to supress evidence?
Yes, the Federal Ombudsman remarks that LUMS did not deliberately give the voice recording of the video.
If the voice recording of the video does not exist then Osama Siddique's claims that he saw in the video that Abid Hussain Imam immediately apologized are lies.
13. Was Abid Hussain Imam targeted for his religious views?
No Evidence proving that was presented by his counsel.
14. Was it sexual harassment?
These are all the facts of the case, based on the evidence. I believe the former colleagues of Abid Hussain Imam are deliberately trying to suppress evidence, looking to protect their friend, acting like an Old Boys club.
I hope all these facts clarify your position on the matter. After going through all the evidence, I atleast find myself agreeing with one thing from the public statement signed by the former colleagues of Abid Hussain Imam.
We collectively believe that, given the witness accounts as well as the video recording, there was no other possible outcome to this investigation.We collectively believe that, given the witness accounts as well as the video recording, there was no other possible outcome to this investigation."
Yes Sir, based on all the facts there could have been only one possible outcome.
Note: A previous version of this post stated that Waqas Mir was the counsel for Abid Hussain Imam in front of the Federal Ombudsman, Mr Waqas has since confirmed that he was merely the counsel for Abid Hussain in front of the inquiry committee, and not the Federal Ombudsman. The error on my part has been rectified, and I apologize for any inconvenience caused to Mr Waqas Mir, or anyone else, for this oversight on my part.