DU sexual harassment: Student yet to get justice as probe drags on

A Dhaka University student, who brought an allegation of sexual harassment against a teacher in December last year, is yet to get justice as the university's anti-sexual harassment cell could not finish its probe eight months on.

An initial fact-finding committee found proof of the allegation made against Muhammad Sazzad Hossain Siddiqui, an associate professor of the peace and conflict studies department. The committee was headed by the dean of the social sciences faculty upon the vice-chancellor's direction.

Meanwhile, the anti-sexual harassment cell, which was reformed on February 23 according to the VC's orders, is yet to draw a conclusion.

Prof Zeenat Huda, of the sociology department and provost of Ruqayyah Hall, has been heading the cell.

The victim alleged the members of the cell are prolonging the investigation since she will be done with her studies in a few months. She also raised allegations of misbehaviour against them.

Speaking to The Daily Star, she said, "A few months ago, the teacher [against whom the allegation was brought] told some students that he 'would see where this investigation goes' once my studentship is over. It seems I will not get justice …"

As per the 2009 sexual harassment protection policy adopted for educational institutions upon an HC directive, the committee concerned must submit a probe report within a maximum of 60 working days and must notify the authorities in seven working days if it fails to probe or the issue is not worth investigating.

The DU anti-sexual harassment cell seems to have breached that policy.

The victim further claimed she was mistreated whenever she went to speak to the head of the cell.

She said Zeenat Huda, the head of the cell, every time asked her questions such as: "Why did you submit the complaint directly to the vice-chancellor instead of the chairperson of the department? Which teacher made you do this? There was no CCTV at the place of the incident, how are we going to prove [the allegation]?"

The student added, "During one of these times, the teacher [Muhammad Sazzad Hossain Siddiqui] even sat near me, although I requested him to keep his distance. Even he questioned me along with the other members [of the cell]. When I tried to respond, they would stop me and call me 'rude'."

The student's father said, "We don't know what this probe committee wants. They are intentionally delaying the investigation. All we know is that 'justice delayed is justice denied'."

However, Muhammad Sazzad Hossain Siddiqui claimed he never told anyone that the student would not get justice after her studentship expires.

"The delay is bothering me as well. How long will I bear the burden of this false allegation? But I have nothing to do. As per the law, I have to comply with the authorities, or there will be another issue."

Contacted, Prof Zeenat told the Daily Star, "I already know about the time limit … The allegation is under investigation. I don't want to make any further comments as it is a very confidential issue."

Meanwhile, Dr Kaberi Gayen, professor and former chairperson of the mass communication and journalism department, said, "The victim has the right to justice … The investigation should have been completed within the stipulated time in order to prevent further instances of sexual harassment."

DU VC Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman told The Daily Star, "It is expected that the probe committee will work independently according to ethics and the law. I will follow its activities and remind them [about the probe]. Further delay may arise complications."