Demanding immediate gazette notification on abolition of quota system in government jobs, the quota reformists took to the streets again, beginning an indefinite strike at universities and colleges across the country yesterday.
In the capital, the protesters blocked the busy Shahbagh intersection for six hours from around 1:00pm, obstructing vehicular movement and causing sufferings to commuters.
They left the streets around 7:00pm respecting the assurance from the prime minister, said Nurul Huq Nur, joint convener of Bangladesh Sadharan Chhatra Adhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad, the platform spearheading the movement.
But the indefinite strike at universities and colleges boycotting all academic activities will go on until the gazette notification is published, he said at a press conference at Shahbagh.
“The premier conveyed us a message through the government high-ups that the gazette notification will be published soon and we have full faith in her,” Nur added.
However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed resentment at the quota movement during the cabinet meeting yesterday, said sources.
“I announced the decision to abolish the quota system and it would be implemented. But it needs some time. Staging protests and issuing ultimatum despite my assurance are not logical,” Hasina was quoted by a minister as saying at the meeting.
The PM was speaking at an unscheduled discussion participated by several ministers.
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed suggested implementing the prime minister's decision immediately and said a vested quarter is spreading confusion over the issue, added the sources.
Briefing the press after the meeting, Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam said there will be a decision soon. "No decision was taken at the meeting over quota system but it is in progress. It might happen in the next few days,” he said.
"So far I have heard,” he added, “the summary of the proposal over the quota system has already been sent from the public administration ministry [to the Prime Minister's Office] and the decision will be known soon."
At another briefing, Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said the quota issue was discussed at the cabinet meeting where the prime minister was suggested: “Abolish the quota first. After one or two years, a decision can be taken through reviewing the outcome of the abolition.”
The minister said the PM was very busy in the last few days, which delayed the decision.
On Sunday, the quota reformists called boycotts of classes and examinations in all universities and colleges across the country from today for an indefinite period.
Yesterday, more than 3,000 protesters -- mostly from Dhaka University and other colleges in the capital -- brought out a procession from in front of the DU Central Library around 11:00am.
They marched towards each faculty and were joined by students who came out of classrooms. Some exams, which started before 11:00am, however continued.
After marching different roads through Dowel Chattar, Shaheed Minar, High Court and Matsya Bhaban areas, the protesters took position at Shahbagh intersection. By afternoon, several hundred more joined the demo.
Around 3:00pm, a team of DB police came to Shahbagh and stayed in front of BIRDEM Hospital for hours. Earlier, a central leader of the BCL, a pro-government student organisation, wanted to cross the intersection on bike, but the protesters stopped him. Some heated exchanges took place between him and the protesters.
The demonstrators vowed not to leave the street until the gazette is published. Traffic was severely disrupted for several hours as no vehicle was allowed to cross the intersection, except for ambulances.
The protesters alleged that the government was dilly-dallying even after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in parliament on April 11 had declared that the quota system would be scrapped.
“We wanted quota reform but the prime minister declared to scrap it. We welcomed her statement. We issued several ultimatums for publishing the gazette notification. But no visible progress was seen even in 33 days after the premier's announcement,” said Muhammad Rashed Khan, another joint convener of the platform.
He said they were compelled to take to the streets as many high officials of government made confusing remarks regarding the gazette.
Nurul Huq Nur said the government may keep 15 percent quota after reform but the percentage should not be more than that. “We don't want the scrapping of quota, and students won't accept more than 15 percent.”
He hoped that the prime minister will look into their five-point demand, including reducing the quota privilege to 10 percent from 56, for what they have been demonstrating since February 17.
Demonstrations also took place in different colleges and universities across the country.
In Jahangirnagar University, over 300 protesters brought out a procession on the campus, carrying banners that read “No more delay, issue gazette notification”, reports our JU correspondent.
In Chittagong University, quota reformists staged a sit-in on the rail tracks, obstructing the CU shuttle train service since 8:00am. In Rajshahi University, more than 300 students brought out a procession on the campus around 2:50pm, reports our correspondents.
Meanwhile, the official Facebook group of quota reform protest got hacked. Fake profiles were created under the names of the quota demo leaders and made admins of the group.
Contacted by our DU correspondent, Bangladesh Sadharan Chhatra Adhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad Convener Hasan Al Mamun said the group was hacked around midnight. They have created a backup group and were trying to recover the original one.
Earlier on Wednesday, the protesters formed human chains in colleges and universities countrywide and threatened to begin demonstrations from Sunday if the government failed to publish the gazette notification by Thursday.
They called for fresh demonstrations after Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam on May 7 said there was no progress on the gazette publication.
Mozammel Haque Khan, senior secretary of the public administration ministry, repeated almost the same statement the next day. On Thursday, he said a proposal for forming a committee was sent to the Prime Minister's Office.
On April 27, Awami League Joint General Secretary Jahangir Kabir Nanak met the protesters and assured them that the government would publish the gazette notification when the prime minister, who was in Australia at the time, would return.
Following the assurance, the leaders of the quota reform movement postponed their agitation until May 7.
In early April, students of public and private universities across the country staged massive demonstrations. On the night of April 8, violence flared up on DU campus and police charged truncheons and fired teargas shells at protesters injuring at least 163.
Currently, 44 percent of the public service recruitments are reserved for merit list and 56 percent for various quotas.