The outcome of four months of protests for reforms on the quota system in government jobs—with protestors having to endure arbitrary arrests, subsequent imprisonment, suspension from universities and torture at the hands of law enforcers ruling party cadres—finally took shape on September 17, 2018. Cabinet Secretary M Shafiul Alam who led a high-powered government committee to reform the existing quota system in public service, stated that it recommended that the quota system be abolished for class-1 and class-2 jobs in civil service. “Our findings are that there should be no quota for appointments to the posts in 9th to 13th grade, previously dubbed as first class and second-class jobs,” he said.This recommendation has already been sent to the Prime Minister's office and is awaiting her approval.
Muhammad Sadique, chairman, Bangladesh Public Service Commission, commented that the government's decision on the quota system would be implemented in the recruitment of government officers through the 40th Bangladesh Civil Service exam. The circular of the exam was issued on September 11, 2018. The students of Bangladesh Chhatra Adhikar Sangrakhhan Parishad—the platform that spearheaded the movement to reform the existing quota system, which preserves 56 percent of government jobs for candidates from various quotas—has been demanding speedy implementation of the recommendation by publishing the government gazette. They have also warned that they would launch fresh agitations if the gazette is not published in the soonest possible time and if it is not applied in the recruitment through 40th BCS exam.
Unfortunately, the leaders of the Parishad and government officials alike have ignored the fact that the students' demand was not to abolish the provision of quotas altogether but to reform the existing quota system.
According to the current system, of the 56 percent quota, 30 percent are preserved for the children and grandchildren of the freedom fighters, 10 percent for women, 10 percent for people from under-privileged districts, five percent for candidates from indigenous communities and only one percent for people with disabilities. Since the progeny of freedom fighters, regardless of their socio-economic status, get the highest share of quota, it is almost impossible to reform the quota system without cutting their share. The suggestion that the system be reformed was thus condemned by the ruling party leaders and several intellectuals who insisted the protesters were “disrespectful” of the “essence of Bangladesh's Liberation War”.
The government tackled the protest with an iron hand. On April 8, 2018 at least 75 students were injured in the Dhaka University campus due to brutal police action against the protesting students. This incident instigated further violent protests all over the country. Hundreds and thousands of students from public and private universities took to the streets demanding reforms in the quota system. Classes were abandoned, universities shut down, and important roads throughout the country remained blocked for three days by protesting students.
When on April 11, 2018 the Prime Minister declared that all sorts of quotas would be scrapped, the protesters, already under pressure from police action, battered by the unrestricted encounter with the ruling party cadres often armed and under unofficial threats from their academic institutions, had to withdraw the protest. They also welcomed the decision of abolishing the quota system, which was inconsistent with their original demand.
Later, the students' further initiative to revive the protest to ensure proper reformation of the quota system was subdued brutally. At least 16 leaders and activists of the Parishad were arrested and imprisoned by the law enforcement agencies. At least 39 students of different academic institutions were temporarily suspended due to their involvement or overt support to the movement. Hundreds of them have been warned of suspension or departmental action if they exhibit further involvement. In this way, the rational movement that demanded equity in employment opportunities, which has been affirmed by the constitution, lost its direction.
In Bangladesh, where economic development is so uneven that it contributes to creation of the highest number of ultra-wealthy people globally and at the same time leaves more than 63 million people of the country below the poverty line, there should be no doubt of the importance of a rational quota system for the under-privileged population of the country. And, some of the most deprived parts of Bangladesh's population are its female population, indigenous population, and people with disabilities.
On March 6, 2018 UNICEF published a report where it revealed that Bangladesh stands fourth in child marriage prevalence only outranked by Niger, Central African Republic and Chad. Here, one in every five girl child is married before they are 18. According to a 2017 report by Global Partnership for Education, when a girl marries early (before 18), her possibility to complete secondary school typically reduces by four to 10 percentage points, depending on the country or region. In Bangladesh, the situation is worse. According to Bangladesh Education Statistics-2017 by Bangladesh Bureau of Educational Information and Statistics, a whopping 42 percent of girls who are enrolled in grade VI, drop out before completing their secondary education.
Bangladesh is home to 1.5 million indigenous people who mostly live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. According to 7th Five Year Plan of the country, only 7.8 percent of all people in CHT can complete primary education and only 2.4 percent of them can complete secondary education. More than half of all the household members (55.2 percent) have never gone to any form of educational institution.
On the other hand, children with disabilities are also one of the most marginalised sections of Bangladesh's population. Although Bangladesh government's National Education Policy 2010 and the Comprehensive Early Childhood Care and Development Policy emphasised inclusive education, there is hardly any discussion on employment of people with disabilities who constitute 10 percent of the country's population. The prevalence of disability is more than 6 percent among those below the age of 18 and 14 percent among those above this age. According to a study titled “Educating Children in Difficult Circumstances: Children with Disabilities” conducted by the Ministry of Education, only 11 percent children with disabilities within school going age gain access to education every year. Female children with disabilities are doubly marginalised. Less than five percent of them can ever go to school.
For this huge number of deprived populations, a quota in the job market should be recognised as a fundamental right by any state which is now about to be abolished entirely in Bangladesh. The existing quota system offers only 10 percent reservation for female candidates, five percent reservation for indigenous candidates and one percent for disabled candidates. A rational reformation of the quota system, which the students have been demanding for decades, should have ensured more opportunities for these disadvantaged people. Even, during her parliamentary speech on April 11, the Prime Minister assured that her government would ensure special arrangement for the employment of minorities and physically challenged in the public service recruitment system. However, there is no mention of this special arrangement in the report which recommends to abolish quota for class-1 and class-2 government jobs. The committee is choosing to meet the protestors halfway, but there is no middle ground when it comes to ensuring equity in employment in the public sector.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org