Sexual harassment has once again reared its ugly head in Pakistan as students, of the elitist Lahore Grammar School (LGS), have come forward with allegations of harassment and abuse at the hands of male teachers.
According to a report by Baaghi TV, a few students of LGS have taken a brave and much-needed step, and come forward with the allegations of sexual harassment, which they had experienced through the actions of their male teachers.
Many of these girls who came forward, study at LGS 1-A/1, and called out the so called teachers, whom they have been harassed by in classes, in auditorium, in the canteen, etc. One case came forward, in which the victim asked the administration of the school to take some action against her teacher, Sir Warraich who harassed her but was ultimately shut down by Miss Maira Rana (wife of actor Omair Rana) and Mrs. Shakil in order to protect their school’s reputation.
Baaghi TV has managed to attain the testimony of former LGS Head Girl of the 1-A/1 (Gulberg branch), who has in great detail, described the disturbing ordeal. The well explained testimony is as follows:
“I was Head Girl at LGS 1A1 from 2018-2019, and consequently spent more hours working closely with the administration than anyone could ever imagine. In light of students and alumni opening up about their experiences with harassment and abuse, I wanted to share my experience. Please read through till the end and help us get these people fired.
I was Head Girl at LGS 1A1 from 2018-2019, and consequently spent more hours working closely with the administration than anyone could ever imagine. In light of students and alumni opening up about their experiences with harassment and abuse, I wanted to share my experience. Please read through till the end and help us get these people fired.
To be honest, I feel a lot of conflicting emotions as I write this. It’s no secret that there were faculty and staff at 1A1 that made us feel uncomfortable. Mr. Umar, at the accounts office, was notorious. No one attending would be spared a warning from a senior or a current student, telling us that he was a creep, would stare at us, would make sexual remarks and that if we complained no one would listen.
Sir Umar was a creep. He would call me “Princess” or “pari” (fairy). He would stare at my chest. He would look me up and down as if he was making a mental catalogue of girls at this school.
If you went to 1A1, you know he had the kind of grin that would make your skin crawl. Being alone with him made me panic. If I ever entered the accounts office and he was the only one in the room, I always stood in the doorway. One foot out the door, one eye on any sharp objects nearby I could use to protect myself. Now I don’t know if he was capable of rape. But he certainly left no doubts as to what was on his mind and he didn’t have to say it, because we know what we felt when we were around him. Unsafe. Sexualised. Confused, because it was all so obvious and yet under the guise of a sweet, clueless old man who grew up in a different time and just didn’t know any better.
If I ever entered the accounts office and he was the only one in the room, I always stood in the doorway. One foot out the door, one eye on any sharp objects nearby I could use to protect myself. Now I don’t know if he was capable of rape. But he certainly left no doubts as to what was on his mind and he didn’t have to say it, because we know what we felt when we were around him. Unsafe. Sexualised.
There were other teachers well known for their crude, inappropriate, possibly illegal behaviour. There are countless stories about them you can access on social media if you choose to do so. I didn’t have encounters with them, but I have friends who did, and I believe them. 1A1 was (is) an all girls’ school. And no matter how you felt about your batchmates there was an unspoken rule: that if you felt Sir Umar, or any other faculty member was a creep, you would be safe if you went to the common room and told everyone what he said to you that day. We would discuss these things, then close the conversation saying that nothing would change.
This was the attitude. The student council and I worked with two junior administrators, Miss Maira Omair Rana and Miss Rubab Hasan and when we would agree or disagree on what we would do, or when we were to be instructed, we would go to the higher up: Mrs. Shakil, the principal. We didn’t always go directly to Mrs. Shakil. Sometimes we did. But we always felt helpless.
There was a trend at 1A1: If you had a complaint or a concern about Sir Umar, you would be asked to share it, then pacified with a non-solution that Mrs. Shakil would convince you was good enough. Then you would leave her office feeling confused, and as time passed you would be hit, in slow phases, by the realization that nothing happened. You’d go to her office saying you wanted to talk about him, she’d welcome you in her sickly sweet way, then say something along the lines of “What now, sweetheart?”
The pattern repeated. She would listen, grow more agitated as they grew more adamant, then finished by screaming.
Why, then, I decided to apply for and be head girl was a good question? I naively believed that our council and I could change things because we were genuinely talented and passionate. For Grammathon, my batchmates were so, so talented. More importantly, they did their best to produce something good. It was a high school event. It shouldn’t have been that important. It shouldn’t have put my batchmates through a confusing and terrifying ordeal, whereby a grown man bullied them. I won’t go into detail because it’s not my story to tell. The story that I’m telling is mine – and I was there in Mrs. Shakil’s office with him and them. We tried to say what we felt – that he shouldn’t have subjected them to the kind of verbal abuse that he did, in the time leading up to and during the event. The pattern repeated. She would listen, grow more agitated as they grew more adamant, then finished by screaming.
The pattern repeated. She would listen, grow more agitated as they grew more adamant, then finished by screaming.
Eventually, we were exhausted. I was exhausted. At a student council meeting (around 80 girls in the room) with our A level coordinator Miss Maira (or administrator I always confuse the two I’m SORRY) my batchmates brought Sir Umar up again.
This time, there was no stopping us. Girl after girl shared what he did and she (the administrator/coordinator again I’m sorry) was clearly emotionally affected. She asked us what we wanted to do. I wanted to go straight to Mrs. Ali, the director. We decided instead to write a letter, and to take it to Mrs. Shakil.
We told her what everyone said about Sir Umar. The inappropriate comments, the staring, the sexual harassment, the verbal abuse. We asked how it was possible that so many students could complain about a person and she could still allow business as usual. If I remember correctly, I even said that if he behaved this way with teachers or with her, things would be very different.
We asked how it was possible that so many students could complain about a person and she could still allow business as usual. If I remember correctly, I even said that if he behaved this way with teachers or with her, things would be very different.
She became agitated. She was frustrated. She asked us angrily what we wanted to do, if we wanted him fired, if we wanted to go to Mrs. Ali. She didn’t allow us to go straight to Mrs. Ali. I think she said she’d give Mrs. Ali our letter herself, in private. I got the feeling she would do no such thing, because she didn’t want Mrs. Ali to hear. That’s just my personal inkling, though.
My batchmates (the senior student council members) tried their best to talk back to her. We tried to get our words in, but as she got angrier she wouldn’t even let us speak. If you’ve ever been at the receiving end of Mrs. Shakil’s anger, you know what I’m talking about.
She said girls complain about him, but he just doesn’t know any better. Maybe it’s because we dress a certain way. Maybe he’s just from a different background, a different generation of men. She slams her table and says he’s an excellent accountant. She says he knows the name and face of every girl in this school (I wonder why!) and that he is an indispensable employee. They just don’t want to lose him as an asset to 1A1.
I witnessed this woman listen to her students plead for safety and for accountability for the man who made them feel unwelcome. She shut them down because he was a good accountant. Along the lines of all this we were screamed at, then told we could collect witness statements and make a letter for Mrs. Ali. We left feeling confused. I think we knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.
Then, some time later, his office was moved from the main area to some tiny little corner of campus so we wouldn’t have to be around him. It seemed like there was nothing more to do.
When my batchmates and I went to Miss Maira and Miss Rubab in private, I could tell by their tone and the look in their eyes that they knew this was wrong.
As I write this, I feel conflicted. They were, in so many ways, like mothers. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that, like so many real mothers, they were flawed, and did damage in ways I can’t even begin to measure. When my batchmates and I went to Miss Maira and Miss Rubab in private, I could tell by their tone and the look in their eyes that they knew this was wrong. Miss Rubab shared with me that she had watched, over the years, every batch at 1A1 make these exact complaints and it would never work out. I don’t think I should share more of what they told me in confidence. I punctuate this by saying that I have an immense amount of respect for the women who built my school, and who keep it running. However, I had never felt more disappointed than I did in those days. I felt that they had let us down. I felt emotional whiplash: working so closely with women who assured me that they were listening, then silencing me the next.
There was a culture of authority, and of safeguarding it. And even though I’m sure they thought they had our best interests at heart, they were working under some invisible, transcendent hand that forced them to preserve order rather than listen to the changing tide. As a student, especially as Head Girl, I was to revere Mrs. Shakil, respect her and listen to her. I simply made my case and my batch’s case and tried my best to have her listen.
Authority figures in elite private schools in Lahore have a strange grip over you. They were women who worked within the systems they were given and succeeded. They had to fight nail and tooth for the status they have now, and I respect it. But I don’t respect their inability to acknowledge that times are changing.
Most of the time though, and I’m sure other council members can attest to this, we would walk into her office knowing she’d already made her mind up, and we were just there to assure everyone that there were “representatives” that would negotiate with her. This was one of those times.
Authority figures in elite private schools in Lahore have a strange grip over you. They were women who worked within the systems they were given and succeeded. They had to fight nail and tooth for the status they have now, and I respect it. But I don’t respect their inability to acknowledge that times are changing. They need to keep up. They are different from the women of my generation, who are slowly learning that they don’t need to take disrespect for granted. 1A1 operates on a reward system, a culture of loyalty. Mrs. Shakil didn’t fire a man who made us feel unsafe because he was a good employee.
This culture replicates itself such that you can’t trust any teacher or administrator to vouch for you, because ultimately they have jobs and reputations and salaries to protect. So when no one vouches for you, you do not learn how to vouch for yourself.
Being Head Girl at 1A1 was a daily battle. Every time I trudged over to Mrs. Shakil’s office to make our case, I would leave manipulated and silenced. It’s a strange role I was given. I had to work under an authority figure who believed my role was to do her bidding. As she realised I wouldn’t do that, she managed to manipulate and confuse me into thinking that she would listen to me. There was always another task I was given: “Beta, if you submit an official statement letter about these allegations, I’ll listen to you.” “Beta, wait till Monday, I’ll go to Mrs. Ali myself and vouch for you.” None of these promises were fulfilled, at least not to my knowledge.
Schools are here to teach us, but they shouldn’t teach us to be complacent. As students and as women, we deserve to steer the way we are taught, and the way we are treated.
All that happened was that I was left feeling sick to my stomach. It took graduating and observing the activist culture at Duke to realise I had simply accepted that our school administration wouldn’t listen to us. It took separating myself from that culture for a year to realise how badly we were manipulated. We didn’t even realise the ways in which we were put down and forced to comply. We were confused and divided into submission.
That day I left her office feeling like a failure. And as I graduated, I left 1A1 feeling like a failure. I had failed to protect myself and my batchmates and my juniors from a culture that treated us as if we weren’t supposed to have opinions. I still have to learn not to blame myself.
Schools are here to teach us, but they shouldn’t teach us to be complacent. As students and as women, we deserve to steer the way we are taught, and the way we are treated. I’m really proud of juniors and alumni for seizing this moment to speak up. I’m sorry for disappearing/being unavailable in the last year. I just wore myself out trying to change these things, but my failure in doing so really hit me, and I wanted to escape from that. Now that I’ve had time to deal with my personal struggles and mental health issues in quarantine, I’m ready to share all of this, and to help anyone who wants to change 1A1 once and for all.
And one last opinion that people may agree or disagree with.
I think it’s time for Mrs. Shakil to go.”
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