Quota reform movement: Lazy decisions contain risk of diversion
Published : Tuesday, 10 July, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1597
Public services or more commonly known as government services is one of the most lucrative career options for the meritorious or even not so meritorious students of Bangladesh. To become a first class gazetted officer, these students need to go through an examination named Bangladesh Civil Services (BCS) exam. Every year thousands of students attend BCS exam to find a smooth entry into a rewarding career. Better payment, honour and guarantee of service make it the best career option while the main focus of the employees is serving the people.
From the inception of Bangladesh, a quota system is attached to the public services as Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman felt the need to improve the lives of the people living in hardship and also of people who contributed to this newborn country like; the freedom fighters, people living in backward areas etc. But this quota system has always chocked the path for the meritorious students to get entry to their most sought after career.
Right now, according to the existing government recruitment system, 30 per cent quota is reserved for the children or grandchildren of freedom fighters of Liberation War of 1971, 10 per cent for women, 10 per cent for district based population, 5 per cent for ethnic minorities and 1 per cent for people with disabilities. In total 56 per cent is reserved under quota allowing only 44 per cent positions left for competition based on merit.
Considering the current situation, the students of different public and private universities started protest over this quota system recently. These protests were demanding reforms in policies regarding recruitment in the Bangladesh government services. Initially it began at Shahbag and Dhaka University campus on 8 April, 2018. Later students throughout the country expressed their solidarity with the reformists and the protest program spread to other parts of Bangladesh within a few days.
The protests rapidly attained popularity among students of different universities and pressurised the government to changes its recruitment policy. Later, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared in the parliament that there will be no quota in the government services recruitment. This declaration came on April 11, 2018 amid huge pressure from the students as PM Hasina seemed to be pretty disturbed over the protests of the students which was actually accused to have a political colour and in the eyes of many government officials was suspicious.
It was a great victory for the students as they demanded a cut in the quota to the government but the full system was declared cancelled. But few wise ones were not satisfied only with the declaration of the PM rather they wanted it as gazette. Officials of the government also assured the students of quick publication of the gazette with this declaration. The students left the road with that assurance though continuously issuing threats of further protests if the gazette was not published soon. After that, we are approaching the completion of three months but the gazette was not published. And the BCS recruitment is going on incorporating the quota.
PM Sheikh Hasina has taken herself to such a height that she has established herself as the guardian of all the Bangladeshis in last few years. The students also placed their demands to her and did not stop until an announcement came from her rather than any of her accomplices. Upon her declaration, they removed themselves from the streets. But it is very sad that Prime Minister's decision was not officially acknowledged even after three months. And it created confusion among the students over its utilization and that led the students to return to the streets throughout the country recently.
Here are some aspects of this quota reform that we should understand. It was a logical demand of the students to reduce the quota especially considering 30 per cent quota for the children or grandchildren of the freedom fighters. The government could have given a thought on that to reduce the quota facility to an acceptable limit.
But that did not happen rather the PM declared to fully eliminate the quota which was according to many a decision based on disturbance of the politicisation of the quota reform protest rather than a logical thought over the existing quota system. There are still many backward groups of people who needs reserved places in government services like; people with disabilities and ethnic minorities. Hence, eliminating the quota facility was not completely logical if we consider the real logic behind keeping quota -- to help the under-privileged group.
Keeping all things aside, if we respect the decision of the Prime Minister, then it is very disgraceful that the decision was not acknowledged officially even after three months. It is not acceptable at all. There was supposed to be a committee to provide the proposals over this matter but that did not happen. This delay created rage among the students and forced them to be back on the streets. Remarks from different groups created huge confusions among them also and at a certain point it was evident that they could not depend on the decision of the Prime Minister anymore which is very pathetic considering her contributions and dedication towards the country and fellow countrymen.
Bangladeshi Premier is known for taking prompt decisions as was evident in the case of Padma Bridge, Rohingya issues, justice of war crimes and Bangabandhu's killing etc. Similar was the case with the quota reform protest. We can realise that, despite her commitment, due to some factors, the gazette was not published. Few groups or people might have influenced that process to be delayed. In this act, they have actually harmed the reputation of the government and the opposition forces are eager to capitalise the emotion of the students prior to the upcoming national election scheduled to be held during the last part of 2018. It is alarming that there lies a huge possibility of this protest to turn political very soon and we have already seen some symptoms of that.
The ruling party Awami League's student wing Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL)'s role is bringing further disgrace for the government. The members of BCL are also students. They are supposed to promote the good works of the government in educational institutions. But unfortunately they got involved in violent clashes with the students. Their clashes with the students have turned this protest as fight against the government's will which was not at all the scenario when this protest started.
Unfortunately, BCL has placed itself in a position which is against the general students and failed to play the role of being the face of the students of different educational institutes of Bangladesh. It was shameful that protest leaders including female protesters were tortured and molested by BCL activists. Such activities will definitely enrage the students against the government and also will detach them from the general students.
The role of intellectuals and analysts should have been more proactive as they know better if quota is required or not. They can explain different aspects of the quota reform and may present a proposal to the PM. It is much easier for them to connect with both the students and the government due to their roles in different areas of this nation. We have also made some recommendations on the quota reform in a previous writing titled 'Quota reform or elimination needs a rational perspective' published on April 17, 2018 at the Daily Observer but no solid and prompt steps were found till now.
The leaders of the government must be very careful to make any remark on the reformists. Their remarks can boost rage among the students as well as can turn the protest violent and uncontrollable. Few comments of them already sparked the peaceful protest towards violence. The government must be compassionate to the students and should initiate fruitful dialogues with the protesters.
There is no way that anger would solve the problem from any angle, especially prior to the general election. The role of law enforcers should be also to contain the protest rather than ignite it. They should work hard to stop any violence targeted towards the students.
Recently a committee was formed to propose solution to the quota reform demands and members of that committee said that they will collect the information of quota system from home and abroad. They are hopeful to complete their works within 15 days. But it is already too late and this delay is conflictual to the decision of the PM.
Students played a great role in the language movement in 1952, liberation war in 1971, movement against autocratic regime in 1989-90, the justice of war criminals movement and in every mentionable movement of different logical demands. We can never forget their contribution in taking this country forward. PM Sheikh Hasina should immediately intervene to fulfil the logical demand of the students so that they can return to their education at the earliest. We hope the students of Bangladesh keep working to take our country forward and accomplish every goal we set.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)