Dr Sahar Ansari found guilty of sexually harassing fellow KU professor

Karachi:29 January:A three-member committee at the University of Karachi has found Professor Sahar Ansari, a visiting faculty member and famous literary personality, guilty of sexually harassing a female assistant professor at the varsity’s Pakistan Study Centre and stopping just short of suggesting his removal, has recommended that he be kept away from varsity activities.

The alleged harassment incidents occurred roughly two years ago and have been investigated by two committees since then. In April 2016, Dr Navin G Haider had filed a complaint to the then vice chancellor Dr Muhammad Qaiser against the visiting professor. To investigate the complaint, a committee headed by Dr Rahila Anjum was ultimately formed, which in May 2016 gave a clean chit to the accused professor.

However, Dr Navin approached the Provincial Ombudsman for the Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace Justice (Retd) Shahnawaz Tariq and on August 21, 2017, he rejected the KU committee’s inquiry report and directed the KU vice chancellor to form a new one to investigate Dr Navin’s complaint against Ansari under the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010.

On the ombudsman’s directive, KU formed a committee comprising Centre of Excellence for Women’s Studies Chairperson Professor Nasreen Aslam Shah, KU Deputy Registrar Ashraf Ali and Karachi University Teachers Society President Prof Dr Jamil Hassan Kazmi.

Subsequently, on November 24, 2017, Navin submitted a written complaint to the new committee stating that the harassment incidents started when Ansari shook her hand using the pretext of Friendship Day sometime in February 2016.

According to Navin, it was a one-off incident, a way for Ansari to lure her into a handshake in “an isolated environment” and “the handshake was made to initiate an uninvited and uncalled for conversation.” She added that Ansari deliberately held her hand beyond the duration of a normal handshake, and as a result of that incident, she felt uncomfortable in his presence and began avoiding him.

Navin’s statement further added that on March 14, 2016 she was walking towards the office of the then head of Pakistan Study Centre and Ansari was on his way out. She saw him as she was passing through the PA’s room which is situated next to the entrance of the director’s office. Navin said that she moved to the side to give Ansari space to pass, but instead of walking to the door he turned towards her and came nearer.

“[He] held my shoulders and pushed me back against the PA table. He began talking to me and said “Aap hichkicha kiun rahi hain” [why are you hesitant],” Navin wrote. She further said that she was horrified at Ansari’s behaviour and yelled at him loudly, saying “What are you doing? Are you mad? Do you have no shame?”

She added that she pushed him back and ran out of the room into the corridor and was in such a frenzy that she went back to her room and stayed there till she calmed down. Following the incident she went to the centre’s director Muhammad Jaffar Ahmed and told him what had happened, but no action was taken against Ansari so she submitted a written complaint to the then VC, Navin wrote.

The probe body examined her statement and issued a notice to Ansari under the anti-harassment law to submit his written response.

In his response submitted on December 13, Ansari rejected the allegations and stated that he had extended his hand to Navin for a handshake, which he claimed was usually how they greeted each other, but on that day she refrained from shaking his hand which he found to be a “strange attitude from her.”

He claimed that Navin was using the anti-harassment law for her own benefit and was making up a false story in which she has been changing statements.

According to Ansari, she told the then director Jaffar Ahmed that he moved towards her; then she told the former VC Dr Muhammad Qaiser that he lunged at her; then she said that he [Ansari] held both her shoulders and attempted to lay her on the PA’s table.

“The aim of her story is to create agitation among students, boycott classes and launch a social media campaign against me and Muhammad Jaffar,” he wrote to the committee. He added that Navin had told the earlier inquiry committee that she was bothered by that fact that Jaffar was retiring as the centre’s director and his wife Dr Anwar Shaheen would replace him, which would affect her negatively.

“I am 76 years old and I have had an open heart surgery. Because of arthritis, I walk like a cripple and can fall down if I don’t have support,” Ansari wrote in his defence, adding that a healthy woman such as Navin could’ve easily pushed him away. Further trying to cast doubt on the veracity of the incident, Ansari questioned why Navin did not resist or shout loudly for help. “If she had done so, Muhammad Jaffar would have come out of his office and Ms Navin would have had an eyewitness,” he claimed.

In-person appearances

On December 14, 2017, the committee members reviewed both Dr Navin’s written complaint and Dr Ansari’s response and directed both of them to appear in-person before the inquiry committee.

Navin appeared on December 19 to record her statement. She repeated all the details from the March 14 incident in the PA’s room. She also said Ansari visited Jaffar’s office often and used to look into her office as well. According to her, a friend named Samina was usually sitting with her in the room and Ansari would also try to strike up a conversation with her too and say that he had seen her somewhere before.

Navin further said that one day when she was alone, he came into her room and said it was Friendship Day and he had dropped by to wish her. She added that since he was senior she stood up in respect and when he extended his hand for a handshake she extended hers too out of courtesy, but he kept holding her hand for a long time and she had to pull it away from his grip. According to Navin, after the handshake incident she began avoiding him.

The following day on December 20, Ansari appeared before the committee to record his statement. He said that he had known Navin for the past eight years and he usually exchanged pleasantries with her when he passed by her room. He claimed that sometimes when she invited him for tea he would go in and she would shake his hand.

He added that he was leaving Jaffar’s room and she was entering it so as per their routine, he extended his hand, but she didn’t take it. Ansari said that he asked what was wrong but upon getting no response from her he left and then Jaffar later called him and said she had complained that he had harassed her.

In his statement to the committee, he also lashed out at artist and activist Sheema Kermani saying that she had told the ombudsman that he [Ansari] had tried to come close to her and had touched her. He showed a photo of him and Sheema on his phone saying she had wanted to take that photo at an international conference last year.

“Who is nearer to whom in the photo, the committee’s members can easily decide,” he said, according to a copy of the appearance’s transcript available with The News.

“I have shown you photos of the champion for women rights. It was not mutual, she was coming close to me [in the photo] and if someone is coming close to me I have no objection. People even hug me and love me. You are not aware that I am not an illiterate person. People feel proud to take photos with me,” he said to the committee.

According to the meeting’s transcript, when he was told that he was getting personal, Ansari said the committee members were asking “illogical” questions. When he was questioned about his tone, he said that a truthful person would speak just like him and added that he had the option to go to court as well.

Other witnesses

The inquiry committee also visited Pakistan Study Centre and questioned employees and students there and also asked for their written statements.

Computer operator Faizan informed the committee that some three years ago, he had seen Ansari walking with a bunch of students and he had seen the professor run his hand over the back of a female student who was talking to him.

Assistant librarian Tahir Butt said that two female students had complained to him separately. One who was visiting from another department had complained that he had been looking at her and singing songs, while the other had said that the professor had touched her inappropriately.

Student Aeysha told the inquiry committee that Ansari had taken her number and called her between 9pm and 11pm, had also offered to take her for lunch and offered her a pick and drop facility. Another student Samina said that when he met her he claimed he had seen her somewhere and asked for her number. She added she gave him the wrong phone number.

Recommendations

In its report, the committee concluded that Navin had indeed complained to the relevant authorities – first to the centre’s director verbally and then a written complaint to the VC.

It added Ansari had admitted in his statement that handshaking and hugging was normal for him and he wouldn’t mind if someone wants to stand close to him or hug him, therefore, he likely considered his behaviour with Navin a usual matter of routine, but she construed it as harassment.

It also observed that Navin appeared before the probe body with witnesses but Ansari refused to appear with witnesses and also said that he didn’t care what the committee would decide.

In its report, the committee noted that any civilised society, especially a prestigious educational institute like KU, would not allow anyone to utilise their fame to harass students or staff.

The report further states that a large number of female students were enrolled at the university and such incidents of harassment are not addressed on time, parents may be inclined to not send their daughters for education there.

In light of witnesses and statements, the inquiry committee has reached the decision that Navin’s statement was true while Ansari repeatedly said that hugging and handshaking are not objectionable actions, the report added.

Stating that it is important for the KU administration to maintain its respectable status and take steps to prevent such acts from happening in the future, the committee recommended that Ansari should be barred from being part of academic and literary activities at KU.The news.