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8 days ago

Why has quota reform struggle resumed?

Students and job seekers at a demonstration in Dhaka on Saturday protesting the         reinstatement of the quota system in public job
Students and job seekers at a demonstration in Dhaka on Saturday protesting the         reinstatement of the quota system in public job Photo : FE

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Student unrest protesting reinstatement of quota system in government jobs has again erupted on the country's university campuses. And as it happened in 2018, when the protest against quota system in government jobs first began, it has spilled over from the campus into the streets blocking highways, railways, holding sit-ins and staging various forms of protest demonstrations. The reason for the resumption of the quota reform movement is that last month (on June 5) the High Court declared illegal the government circular (of October 4, 2018) that cancelled the 30 per cent quota provision for freedom fighters' children in government service (from 9th to 13th grades). Notably, the High Court order came after some freedom fighters' children in 2021 lodged a writ with the apex court challenging part of 2018's government circular that cancelled freedom fighters' quota.

Following the High Court verdict that reinstated 30 per cent quota provision for freedom fighters' descendants, the students now studying in different universities and higher educational institutions  along with the veterans of 2018's quota movement  have taken to the streets staging demonstrations to reform quota  system. Interestingly, at the height of 2018's movement, the government abolished the entire quota system in civil service, though the students were only demanding a reform of existing quota system, not its abolishment. But the government cancelled the entire system that paved the way for challenging the government order by one of the aggrieved parties, the children of freedom fighters. The state representative's petition seeking stay of the High Court order has not been entertained by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in a hearing on July 4.This has caused to further intensify the quota reform movement whereby a student strike has been called boycotting all classes and examinations in the universities from Sunday (July 7). According to the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2022, about 0.8 million graduates are unemployed in the country. And the number of those unemployed graduates has certainly increased since the last survey was done by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). But the question is how is the government going to accommodate those among so many unemployed university degree holders, who aspire to have a career in government service, if more than 50 per cent of those jobs are out of their reach if only due to the existence of the quota system? Consider that till 2018, 56 per cent of government jobs were reserved under the quota system in which 30 per cent were for freedom fighters, 10 per cent for women, 10 per cent for the different administrative  districts, 5 per cent for the small ethnic groups and 1 per cent for the physically challenged. And the remaining 44 per cent government jobs were open to jobseekers who would be recruited on the basis of their merit through competitive tests.

Given the culture of nepotism and favouritism and rampant corruption that the entire social system is beholden to, the dream of entering the civil service through a fair, merit-based competition is a veritable wild goose chase for the normal job seekers. So, it is not without reason that the agitating Dhaka University students have started their demonstration under the banner of what they termed 'Student movement against discrimination'.

However, quota system in government service is not quite an anathema. The system has been in existence not just in the case of jobs, government or otherwise. In fact, It is a socially accepted norm of providing the opportunity for inclusion to all sections of a society in education, employment, business, cultural activity, you name it. And the greater objective of this approach is to address the problem of existing social disparity and discrimination against the minority, the backward and variously handicapped sections of the community. Had it not been for such special arrangements for, say, women in general, members of the small ethnic communities, religious and other minorities, they would have meanwhile  been totally crowded out of the mainstream. From that point of view, quota provision has definitely its positive contribution to society. Freedom fighters, though they fought in the liberation war selflessly, have a claim to government jobs. Their children, too, may be allowed to enjoy such opportunities just to honour the sacrifices their parents made for the nation's independence. Even then, such special entitlements need to have a rational limit. Otherwise, that would be a disservice not only for the majority of the public but also an instance of disrespect to the valiant and selfless freedom fighters themselves. After all, the freedom fighters did not risk, even lay down, their lives for any material interest. In that case, any thought of further extending the job quota for the freedom fighters' grandchildren, great grandchildren and thereby create a vested group claiming the lion's share of government jobs and other privileges is quiteirrational. The question arises because one often hears of such claims.

That apart, sometimes the claims are not even genuine. In fact, that has already been made plain from the repeated revisions being made of the list of freedom fighters for the simple reason that many of the names enlisted as freedom fighters have been found to be fake. And the situation has made it hard for the government to prepare a list of genuine freedom fighters. So, now more than ensuring government job quota for freedom fighters and their children, the priority should now be given to the issue of preparing a list of freedom fighters that is free from mistakes.

But are the freedom fighters limited only to graduates from universities and colleges who mostly belong to the social stratum known as the middle class? To be frank, all the clamour for jobs and other kinds of entitlement comes mostly from freedom fighters or their children who are members of that social bracket. What about the freedom fighters from the peasantry and other underprivileged sections of society and their children who are either unlettered or, if at all, school dropouts? Their voices are never heard. Will the pro-quota fighters also consider their claims to jobs and other social privileges?

The demands freshly raised by students for a reform of the existing quota system in the first- and second-class government jobs deserve a patient hearing from all the authorities concerned. For it is a burning issue for the hundreds of thousands of educated unemployed of the country.

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