Allegation of sexual harassment against a teacher and protests

by Afsan Chowdhury | Published: 00:00, May 04,2019 | Updated: 00:50, May 04,2019


A TEACHER of the English literature in Chattogram University of Science and Technology and former professor of Chattogram Univesity for more than for decades, Professor Masud Mahmud, has been accused of sexual harassment by a section of his students. He has been accused of discussing sexuality-related issues ‘graphically’ which the students say amounts to harassment.
The students complained to the authorities and a state minister got involved and now the matter is with the police. Meanwhile, a Chattogram-based Bangla daily newspaper and a few online outfits covered the issue in a manner which many claim was unfair and vindictive.
At this point, many teachers and students have taken to the streets protesting at the allegation against Professor Mahmud. His supporters have called the entire matter a planned effort to malign the character of the teacher.

Media role in creating crisis
THE nature of the allegation is disturbing. The report that the daily newspaper published is, however, done poorly and will appear motivated. Handling over the case to the police for investigation without first conducting an internal enquiry is odd. Nothing says any such allegation can be taken into cognisance without preliminary establishment of the crimes.
The Bangla daily newspaper in question should have reported the matter more transparently and professionally. The report directly links the teacher with granting high grades in return for sexual favours without any proof. While its true that the professor did not respond to queries and made an angry outburst, the innuendo obvious in the report is ethically unacceptable. It is also true that the reporter did not reach him through proper authorities which Masud had insisted on. Nor are any of the allegations were confirmed. Given its sensitive nature, this report has tried to make Professor Mahmud seem guilty without trial.
If anything, the episode sends dangerous signals of using the media which in the end hurts media most.

Between two camps?
MEANWHILE, the accusers have faded a bit as supporters of Professor Masud Mahmud have mounted a campaign and taken to the streets in protests. Many of his Chattogram University colleagues have spoken out in his defence. Several colleagues and students have started a campaign on social media to counter the allegations.
Their essential point is: the person served Chattogram University for decades without a single blight on him but is now being accused of sexual harassment. As this refers to his teaching style and methods regarding his topic, ‘English literature,’ discussions on sexuality is natural. ‘Why should it suddenly become a case when it was not one for so many decades?’
Supporters, colleagues and students of Mahmud held a protest rally in Chattogram on April 1. Professor Mainul Hasan Chowdhury of Chattogram University’s English department said that such allegations against a man like Professor Masud Mahmud is absurd and malicious. ‘It’s natural that sexuality be discussed when discussing arts and literature.’
Dr Mohibul Aziz, chair of the Bangla department, agreed with the view and said that Professor Masud Mahmud is a man of great learning and a role model to other teachers. Insulting him is an insult to the entire teaching community.
Dr Masud Mahmud has himself addressed the issue in a Facebook posting on April 2. In that, he said, he remains a teacher and no harm to the students will come from him. However, he has stated that till his name is cleared, he will not be teaching.

Dark shadows beyond such allegations?
THE matter has now gone to the police in an unseemly development. Beyond the immediate issue of a complaint, it also raises a broader issue of the classroom environment and academic freedom.
Sexuality is taught in many classes and obviously this is something which even the school curriculum emphasises a lot nowadays. In fact, given the many allegations of sexual abuse, students are taught the topic at the school level for many reasons, including self-security.
But the darker shadow is not what may or may not happen but how such allegations may be used in our hugely politicised universities. Whatever may be the case here now under investigation, but ganging up and using students to malign a teacher could be the new way of teacher harassment and abuse. This will be a safe way to get rid of an ‘enemy’ and trash their reputation beyond repairs. The fear is that this type of incident is not going to be the last of such cases.
It is important that teachers — and students, if need be — form a committee and conduct their own investigation of the CUST case. Leaving it in police hands would be unwise as they will have no control over the thread of enquiry.
On the other hand, such a committee will also ensure a fair enquiry and the teacher’s fault, if any, can also be detected. Most importantly, it will show that teachers and students are ready to take responsibility for free and responsible teaching-learning.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

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