Balochistan University Harassment Case: A Collective Failure Of Institutions And Society

Within a democratic system, institutions are entrusted with the responsibility to dispense justice and to manage affairs related to the masses while withholding the sanctity of law higher than any kind of ‘personal stature’.

Educational institutions, along with the polity, hold a scared place in such a system. Institutions imparting higher education, however, remain an integral part of it. Students, on the other hand are treated as a part of society as a whole and not as a distinct entity. This juxtaposes students and society within a socio-political structure in a democracy. However, the recent sexual harassment case at University of Balochistan has been a denial of the entire debate that justifies the institutional and socio-political aspect as integral to the functioning of a democratic system.

The university administration has been trying to divert attention from the issue. In a dramatic move, the university has made it mandatory for students to wear uniform starting next session. At a time when university is confronting its worst crisis, such a move signals an outright ignorance of the sexual harassment case. It shows the complete failure of university administration to handle the case objectively. There are multiple factors creating hurdles for the case. Firstly, the Member of Provincial Assembly Mr. Sana Baloch had, soon after the case, indicated in his speech that there are politically motivated elements which are trying to create hurdles in registering a FIR against the culprits. Secondly, doubt was cast on the government with the establishment of the inquiry committee to investigate the issue further and since then the issue has taken the backburner.

A part from political prowess influencing the issue externally and internally, there remain a few essential factors which should be taken into account as well. Gender remains the most essential factor that has played an important role in the harassment case. The case, therefore, needs to be seen through the gendered lens. This is important for it brings feminist discourse to the issue which is quintessential for the case. Being the sole victims of sexual harassment [some exceptions do remain with respect to boys harassed too], female students encounter have gender bias working against them. Truly, this is because Balochistan has historically been ignored by feminist mobilization in the subcontinent.

For instance, before partition the educational movement (Aligarh Movement) spearheaded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan laid the foundation of educational for women. The question regarding women’s education was firstly raised by Shaikh Abdullah of Aligarh in the annual meeting of the Muhammadan Educational Conference (MEC) in 1886. Later on, with the efforts of Shaikh Abdullah (founder of Muhammadan Girls School of Aligarh) and the Begum of Bhopal, the Muhammadan Girls Schools thrived and nurtured.

Rubina Saigol, an acclaimed researcher, gives an insightful view of events that mobilized women in subcontinent. Saigol sheds light on two important events where women were given space to express themselves but the moments had been lacked vision with respect to women rights. The Pan-Islamic movement, Khilafat Movement (1919-1924), particularly created space for women to come in support of their male counterparts. The movement, as Saigol writes in Feminism and Women’s Movement in Pakistan, merely mobilized women as a support for the cause. Secondly, the most crucial period is the Pakistan Movement (1940-47) which favoured women participating in the freedom movement. In 1941, it was decided to form Muslim Girls Student Federation and this was launched by Abdul Qadir, Fatima Begum and Miss M. Qureshi. The organization, as noted by Saigol, helped create women’s sub-committee in the All India Muslim League. The events could not culminate in the emancipation of women from social, religious and cultural values of the patriarchy. However, it did mobilize upper class women who to challenge and stand against those that had undermined the struggle for women’s rights.

During all of this, when women constructed a legal and social identity for themselves, women in Balochistan remained isolated from these movements for their rights. The first printing press was established in 1888 in Balochistan and despite this the movements did not make way into Balochistan smoothly.  

Unfortunately, Balochistan, by remaining isolated from the influence of socio-political movements historically, faces a huge vacuum between society and students today. The aftermath of sexual harassment case in University of Balochistan is pathetic in terms of gaining support from the society as a whole. Students have been seen actively demanding justice for the victims whereas society seems to avoid the student’s pleas altogether. This broadly translates into treating students as a different entity that have deviated from the right path.

Indeed, Balochistan Government’s move to initiate awareness campaigns about sexual harassment in various campuses is a good step. However, mishandling the University of Balaochistan case and keeping it on backburner without having a clue around how to book the alleged and prime culprits, the government and its institutions must have chosen to ‘pluck the low hanging fruits’ instead.

The author is an Assistant Editor at Balochistan Voices.