Bangla blockade: Government created the quota chaos

Students and job aspirants in the movement demanding cancellation of the quota system for government jobs have called for a Bangla blockade

The term "bandh" was one time popular in West Bengal, India. When the opposition party went against any policy of the government, they would declare a "bandh". In Bangladesh we would refer to this as hartal or blockade.

That "bandh" is back in Bangladesh after many years. The students and job aspirants in the movement demanding that the quota system in government service be revoked, have now called for a Bangla blockade. This is a sort of move to bring things to a standstill. Over the past three years the opposition could not muster up such a stern programme against the government's oppression and repression.  

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The anti-quota students have displayed their mettle. All the institutions of higher education in the country have come to a standstill. On one hand there is the anti-quota movement, and on the other there is the movement against the teachers' pension scheme. There has probably not been such a big movement on campus since the fall of Ershad.

Youth do not accept submission in their movement. We have seen the strength of youth since the 1952 language movement. It was the youth who lent leadership to the education movement of 1962 and the mass uprising of 1969. It was they who brought the demonstrating political parties together in the anti-Ershad movement.

It was the students and the youth also who led the two successful movements carried out during this Awami League government. Both of the movements were held in 2018. The first was the anti-quota movement and the next was the movement for safe roads. The anti-quota movement was initiated by an organisation called Sadharan Chhatra Odhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad (Council to Protect the Rights of General Students). Later one of the main leaders of this council, Nurul Haque, went on to win the post of VP in the DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Students Union) election. That politics is now fractured and divided, but their beginnings were good.

It is the shortsighted decision of the government that has led to the present nationwide turmoil over the quota system. The demonstrators never wanted the entire quota system to be cancelled. They had called for quota reforms. At that time 56 per cent of the recruitments were through quota and 44 per cent based on merit. The demonstrators had demanded that the 56 per cent be cut down to 10 per cent. They had even agreed to 15 per cent. But the government in a fit of anger, revoked the entire quota system, instigating dissatisfaction among the families of freedom fighters, women and members of the ethnic minority communities. Had the entire quota system not been cancelled in full, then perhaps today's situation would not have arisen.

The government has double standards regarding the quota system. It would have been wise to have a uniform policy regarding quota, or no quota, in government service. But while the government abolished the quota for the class one and class II, it kept it intact for the class III and class IV class posts in government service. There are also allegations of corruption in the recruitment in these positions.

The government which is so determined to retain the quota for the families of freedom fighters, is silent when it comes to the families of the martyrs. There are no facilities for them at all. Families of martyrs and families of freedom fighters have been categorised separately. It is an open secret how non-freedom fighters wangled freedom fighter certificates to get quota and age advantages. Several former secretaries were caught using false certificates to get their tenure in service extended.

The list of freedom fighters is the best example of how a good thing is destroyed. A new list is drawn up under every government and new names are added. Some people who have been issued freedom fighter certificates, were only five or six years old in 1971.

The government's stand on the quota issue is still not clear. In court they have stood in favour of abolishing the quota system. Yet those in the movement making the same demand, are being harassed in various ways. Attorney general Amin Uddin said in court, cancellling the quota is the government's decision on principle. They have appealed to keep this decision intact.

The question then is, if the government is in favour of abolishing the quota, why are Chhatra League men obstructing the anti-quota demonstrators. This is a double-standard stance of the government.

In 2018 the government revoked the quota system in face of the students' movement. If they now move away from that stand, this will amount to betraying the students. The government has appealed against the High Court ruling. Until the final settlement of the matter, it cannot be said that the court is in favour of quota. In many instances, the Appellate Division revokes the ruling of the High Court.

We must all keep in mind, there is no court above the court of the people. In 2013 the international war crimes tribunal had sentenced Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah to life-term imprisonment. A movement against that verdict built up in Shahbagh. If that movement is not unconstitutional, why should the anti-quota movement be unconstitutional?

It is only natural for any opposition party to lend a hand to a movement supported by the people. Awami League would have done the same if it had been in the opposition

Highlighting the justification of the movement, leader of the Student Movement against Discrimination, Nahid Islam, mentioned their four-point demand. This included a cancellation of the quota system declared by the government in 2018 and reinstating the order for merit-based recruitment, providing special opportunities only for backward communities in keeping with the constitution, not using the quota provision more than once in the public service examinations, and ensuring merit-based recruitment in posts where no quota candidate qualified.

Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader said, failing in its movement, BNP is now relying on the quota and pension scheme movements. His claim may not be entirely baseless. It is only natural for any opposition party to lend a hand to a movement supported by the people. Awami League would have done the same if it had been in the opposition.

The question is, upon whom is Awami League relying?

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet  

* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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