A timely quota reformation discussion

General students of Bangladesh have demonstrated their unity on the civil service quota reformation issue. However large the movement was, they apparently lacked intellectual backup and a constructive suggestion plan about how the government might reform the existing system. In light of that, Student’s Federation of Bangladesh organised an open discussion to sketch out a rough plan for the quota reformation, opposing the prime minister’s decision of completely abolishing the quota. Nahid Riyasad writes about the initiative.  


 During the discussion session at Munir Chowdhury Auditorium, TSC, University of Dhaka.

During the discussion session at Munir Chowdhury Auditorium, TSC, University of Dhaka.

Quota reformation movement by general students of Bangladesh rocked the nation last month. This movement has been going on for a good part of a decade now; however, the authority did not pay any heed to them. This time, on the face of cumulative protests across the country, it halted the nation thus attracting government’s attention. Though the protesters demanded a reformation, prime minister’s comment, which seems to be out of grudge, in the parliament momentarily stopped the movement. However, the manner is questionable to many. Moreover, even after a month, concerned secretaries, according to media reports, have not yet received any written command from the higher authority. This, presumably, enrages the students and indicates government’s unwillingness to solve the problem.

The movement, under the banner of Bangladesh General Students’ Rights Protection Forum, has managed to unite students from universities across the country. They demanded that the existing quota system in civil service, which is 56 per cent at this moment, should be reformed, though, they failed to hand out any constructive reformation strategy. They demanded 10 per cent quota but did not specify how this should be allotted. In order to fill this intellectual gap, left-leaning student political organisation Student’s Federation of Bangladesh on Thursday, May 10, arranged a discussion programme, at the University of Dhaka. This open discussion session was aimed to sketch out a plan of how the quota can be reformed, which quotas are absolute necessary and which ones should be rearranged.

‘Quota system is not discriminatory, rather, it acts as a tool to the administration, in order to dispel discrimination,’ said one speaker while adding that the movement never wanted an absolute abolition, rather, it wanted a reformation. ‘When you have chunks of population lagging behind for reasons, you have to have quota in order to give them a head-start, in our case, the indigenous and women quota,’ asserted another speaker.

In favour of quota system, GM Jilani Shuvo, president of Bangladesh Student’s Union said that it is government’s responsibility to find out the reasons of the people lagging behind, until then, the quota system is absolutely necessary. Our premier has brushed off the necessity of quota system in the parliament, as if she is holding grudge against the protesters. Jilani stated, ‘Unfortunately, this is not expected from the prime minister of a democratic nation, this rather exposes the autocratic face of the government. Most importantly, reforming or introducing an act on verbal approval of a person is unconstitutional, too.’ Moreover, given the contemporary scenario of Bangladesh, abolishing women, indigenous and physically-challenged quota is nothing but a crime. He ends by saying that should the government had initiated to reform the existing quota system, we did not have to take to the roads.

Jilani also expressed his organisation’s view on the quota reformation, ‘We don’t think a simple reformation in the quota system can bring any difference in the employment sector. Every year, around 20-22 lakhs students enter the job market, 30-40 percent of them manage to secure jobs, others – a large 60 per cent remain unemployed, Jilani informed saying, this large number will not be employed with only a quota reformation.

In order to tackle the unemployment problem of Bangladesh, we need to focus on specialised education designed exclusively for our needs, expansion of local industries and business and government’s true intention to handle the problem are absolute must.

With indication to the prime minister’s decision in the parliament, another speaker said that prime minister verbally abolished the quota system, well, but what will happen to those underprivileged people? Does the government have any alternative plan to boost that population? If not, whose responsibility is that? Another speaker indicated the comment of the secretary of public service commission and said that even the secretary doesn’t know about anything, how do we expect to get a gazette based on the prime minister’s comment?

Speakers have talked about another suspicion, many of them, worriedly mentioned that this is the year of parliament election. They do not think the present government has any intention to do anything with the existing quota system, at least not before the national election.

Roksana Parvin Shumi, a member of Nari Sanghati, elaborately discussed the importance of women quota in the civil service. ‘Women are found at the top of the academic results, in many departments across different universities. Are the results being translated into the job sector? If not, why?’ she asks. Shumi also brings her personal experience as a working woman, ‘There are employers who would reject a resume based exclusively on the applicant’s sexual orientation, which is unfortunate and unacceptable,’ she asserted. The government has said that it is recruiting 60 per cent primary level teachers from women, but, how about other sectors? This existing scenario demands 10 per cent quota for the women given the layers of discrimination they have to face in different levels, if not more.

Nirupa Chakma, president of Hill Women’s Federation exposed the reality and importance of the indigenous quota. ‘Transfer to remote Chittagong Hill Tracts is still a very established form of punishment in civil service of Bangladesh, you will find in the media reports that anyone responsible for certain misconduct in the government agencies are transferred to CHT,’ after that she posed a question, ‘now you tell me, how well will that area run with a whole administration full of faulty officers?’ Indigenous people are still lacking infrastructural problems and they do have their own way of life. In order to give them the space in the public administration, they deserve that quota.

The major concern of the protesters was the freedom fighters quota, which is at the moment, a whopping 30 per cent of the entire public administration. Speakers expressed their worry because this practice is bound to create a community which is obedient to the government. However, they do not reject the contribution of the freedom fighters, rather, they suggested that their sacrifice should be recognised from the state and compensated for their sacrifices. In the contemporary scenario, nearly after half a century of the independence, it is evident that most of the freedom fighters have spent their lives and their children even their grand-children are enjoying this quota. Now, speakers asked that if the freedom fighters’ children receive the quota facility, their grand-children are no longer from the underprivileged part. Moreover, this triggered the influx of fake freedom fighter’s certificate holder thus exploitation of the quota system.

Despite the large number of crowds on the streets during the movement, in such a constructive discussion session, the attendance was eye wateringly low. This session, apparently, was a fantastic chance for the general students to put forward their suggestion thus engaging in a meaningful discussion, which could only strengthen their theoretical understanding of this movement.

Many of the participants have asked a burning question though – quota is to decrease discrimination, what are the actions of governments to marginalise these discriminations? In order to identify the factors of the discrimination, the government should form a task force, employ researchers to find out the problems and plausible solution to boot up the advancement of the lagging behind population-women, indigenous people and physically challenged. The speakers urged to fill those gaps up and then the quota can be entirely dissolved, until then, quota system is a must in our system, though, after a systematic reformation.

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.


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