‘Harassment’ misused

Some years back, I happened to read an Urdu novel by a famous female novelist. She wrote, “A man is never helpless, he gets whatever he craves for in his life”. The theme of the novel explicitly gloats over the coquettish nature of a man who keeps changing his loyalties.

A slew of such anecdotes pervade our TV dramas where a man is shown to be a jocose who jilts multiple ladies at a time. The theme stretches the story to such an ignominious extent where the writer goes as far as to delineate the characters of a father or a husband as philanderers.

Such literature has terribly influenced the thinking patterns of our society as a whole. Men have been painted as debauchees. This is why when a female puts an accusation of harassment over a man, we are already in an ambush, ready to attack the villain with all our nerves we can muster up without least inkling that the woman may be crafting this with an implicit design to serve her ulterior motives.

Such a license to declare a man guilty has taken the life of a teacher in Lahore.

Prof. Afzal used to teach English at Govt. M.A.O. College, Lahore. His female student levelled charge of harassment against him. An inquiry committee was constituted to probe the matter.

The accuser, who had earlier blamed the professor with the charge of ‘staring’ – and that can ironically be harassment as this implies making the victim uncomfortable, later told the investigation team that the professor used to deduct students’ marks because of low attendance. She also gave a written statement that Prof. Afzal is innocent and false accusations were hurled against him.

The committee verbally exonerated the teacher, but he wanted written evidence calling off false accusations against him. The process remained in limbo, Heaven knows for what?

On the 8th day of this month, he delivered a letter to the investigation in-charge and disappeared forthwith. Next day, everybody was stunned at the tragic news of his suicide.

After his death, the whole social media came out like a deluge to support the deceased Prof. Afzal who had to give his life to smash the fabricated social ethos where one is evermore swift enough to reach the conclusion of issuing a decree and labelling a man as sexual harasser whenever a woman blames him for that.

In the letter which he wrote before suicide, he said, “It will help other professors from getting similar allegations when they are strict with students and give marks according to performance.”

It is hoped that Mr. Afzal’s sacrifice for a cause will not go in vain. There is a rapid awareness campaign on social media condemning the false accusations of sexual harassment cases. Blaming a person without an iota of evidence meant to extract the requisite gain or settle the personal vendetta is like acting as a lynch mob that gives its verdict even before the case is filed. Such a lynching-psychology has tarnished the images of many innocents who could not commit suicide to prove the otherwise.

Another victim of allegation of harassment is Ali Zafar, a notable singer and model. He had to bear up the most painful times of his life when Meesha Shafi, his colleague, placed charges of sexual harassment on him. The Lahore Court dismissed Ms Shafi’s case of harassment calling it “incompetent and without merit”.

Hamza Ali Abbasi, a TV star, cogently deliberates on the contours of ‘harassment’ in regard to the case of Ali Zafar. He says that the community they belong to is quite different from the common folk where the people are not generally comfortable with the norms which go well in showbiz community. He wonders how the word ‘harassment’ is manipulated.

Two years ago, a doctor was fired from Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) for sending a friend’s request to a celebrity’s sister on Facebook, for it was projected as a case of harassment. The celebrity tweeted, “There are zero boundaries in Pakistan. Last night my sister went to AKU emergency and the doctor who tended to her tried to add her on Facebook. Unfortunately the doctor messed with the wrong woman in the wrong family and I will definitely report him! Harassment has to stop!”

This is how the word ‘harassment’ gets exploited and families get disrupted as the false charge opens up its rancour. Some say that ‘staring and ogling” is harassment, while others that sending ‘a friend’s request’ is a crime, whereas it can arguably be put that such a request can cheerfully be shoved under a carpet without making frowns.

Such baseless allegations, no doubt, mar the credibility of genuine cases of harassment where a devil-incarnate trespasses his limits and assaults a woman. The most significant in this regard is to empower the middle class women so that they may come forward, shunning away the fake taboos, and name the harasser.

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