What did we so earnestly reform?

Bangladeshi tertiary level students have been asking for long to reform the quota system in civil service. With government’s indifference, students’ outbursts formed a country wide protest. At the protest’s pick, a questionable decision from the prime minister ended the uprising. Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree discusses different aspects of the protest.     

 

1200px-Quota_reform_protest_Dhaka_01LET us get one thing straight. The students’ protest this April for the reformation of quota system in civil service recruitment did not bring in what the students wanted. The students seem to have held protests with a majority of them not understanding what happened there. The protest was driven by self-interest of the majority, of course, while such a huge protest could have been against numerous crucial causes such as violence against women, corruption in law enforcement, lengthy justice delivery system et cetera which could free our country from a bit of corruption and crimes. But that is another discussion.

It was promising. A humongous number of students taking to the streets, surviving attacks by the police and ruling party student wing activists on the campuses were, in the truest sense, impressive. I for one was never bothered about the quota reformation as I nurture no wish to get into civil service. But I wholly supported the cause, as many others like me did, for the logicality of the protest. The quota distribution system was not an ideal one and it had to be reformed to benefit every other civil service employment seeker. Let us pin it down — no one wanted a total cancellation of the system.

But how come the student protesters are back into their study rooms with a content smile when they got what they never asked for? The central body of the protest took it to a level up and called the prime minister ‘mother of education’. The Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), ruling party student wing, on the other hand, I bet, was just doing its job. Starting from vandalising the protest on the first day, staging showdowns on the University of Dhaka campus, brandishing weapons in the utmost wish to scare the protesters — probably injure some, too, if they had the opportunity , changing their stance on the protest from ‘no’ to ‘yes’, like a third-degree bipolar patient, torturing and abusing students in halls of residence for joining the protest, et cetera — were enough to distract us, to distract students from smelling something bigger that was brewing. The BCL activists acted like a scarecrow, by both scaring and amusing the protesting students.

Yes, the movement failed in what it aimed at, and yes, a total cancellation of the quota system brings no good to any of us. Take a moment to ponder if you so need.

Reserving 56 per cent of the government jobs for quota holders is outrageous, no doubt. Let us look into the breakdown of the 56 per cent— one per cent is for the physically challenged, absolutely necessary without any need for discussion. Five per cent is for ethnic minorities, given the backward and unfriendly educational and economic structure these people live in, along with a sense of hostility from the settler Bengalis, no matter how much we want to see it otherwise, it is only but a rather fair way to give them the opportunity of making it to the core system and improving their condition. Ten per cent is for districts, this is an important one which seems unnecessarily extended on the surface but, in fact, is crucial, diversity of the employees in public work is mandatory for keeping the workplace balanced and also for ensuring that people from all over the country get a chance at this. Ten per cent is for women, which apparently was stated by the female protesters that they can do without, which may not be entirely wrong. If equal treatment can be ensured, our women mark their steps with extraordinary results and performances. It could be reduced down to five per cent, or not given at all; it probably would not have made a big difference for women.

Now, coming to the section which takes up almost a half of the quota. That is the freedom fighters’ quota, a 30 per cent of the entire civil service, offered for the children of freedom fighters and extended to their grandchildren too. It is of utmost importance that we give back something to our respected freedom fighters for whom we exist in an independent country. Having said that, two issues have to be taken into consideration here. First, a 30 per cent quota is an overtly generous amount for the children of about 70,000 freedom fighters, the number rose up to about 2.3 lakh in registration in later days though, where there are irregularities considering the beneficial outcomes. This is neither fair for the heroes who made the supreme sacrifice nor for the ordinary people. It only results in irregularities. Their children can definitely enjoy the benefits but there is no logic behind giving more privileges to the children whose father or mother had already been privileged. This is not logical and everyone would agree that this 30 per cent quota was the concern of the protesters. But there is no question of disrespecting the heroes of the country in this. Also, even any affirmative action that deemed necessary in a given context, like that of this quota, needs to be revised and reformed according to the demand of time. Also, with time, any affirmative action too, should be revised and reformed according to the demand of time.

 

A reformation is all that should have been done and no otherwise action was called for. But this is where everything changed since the reformation is a grey area and the students did not demand that the government should follow any rigid structure, basically because most of the protesters only knew what they want but not how they want it. The prime minister making a decision like this is only seemingly a win-win situation. The PM announced, in a parliament session, that the quota system would be entirely cancelled. This gives the government a support from majority of the students. They are happy with or without understanding the outcomes and the government can stay put with any conflicts with the students for a long time now until and if something bigger than this stirs up the protesting spirit in the students again.

What exactly might be the consequences now? The physically challenged people who were giving it a good fight and were possibly looking for settling their life down have lost a fair chance. The backward districts will soon slide further backwards without the opportunities and the civil service would fill up with educated people from developed areas like Dhaka and maybe Chittagong. It will be rather more centralised and the entire country will go a few steps back in the overall development. Life is hard for ethnic minorities and they are fighting for it every day. We hear about casualties at intervals of a few days brought down on them. If these people are not given any special opportunities, who knows, they might vanish from their land altogether someday.

Did the protesters really want this? Is this a present from the prime minister for the students for voicing their rights or is this a punishment? There have been reports of protesters being harassed by BCL activists on campus and in residential halls. Some of the core protesters have been picked up by the police for interrogation a few days earlier. The police reign over the students on their own campus. All these should only show that the protesters might not be left alone for the time to come.

What is done is done. Yes. But this protest leaves the students and citizens concerned with two major lessons. First, one has to go prepared; a thorough study of the matter at hand is mandatory before jumping into protests because only then factions could not create confusion. Second — if you deal with an authority who is unwilling to give you what you want, make a detailed case of what you want, why you want it. If this had been crystal clear, the students perhaps would have got a logical reformation, instead of a total cancellation.

 

Shaikha Shuhada Panzeree is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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