Sunday’s violent clash at Dhaka University between police and protesters seeking changes to the existing quota system in government recruitment tests put the spotlight again on the contentious issue.
What is quota system?
Quota is usually a system put in place to give preference to members of minority groups. In Bangladesh, it was introduced to ensure inclusion of all communities into mainstream education and development.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman introduced quota for freedom fighters in 1972 but it was scrapped three years later after his assassination. There was no quota for freedom fighters for the next 24 years.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu, re-introduced the system of quotas for freedom fighters in 1996.
How do the quotas work?
The current system reserves 56% government jobs for some selected groups, depriving many deserving candidates from entering the public service sector and universities.
At present, 30% seats are reserved for the descendants of the freedom fighters. There is also 10% "zila quota." Another 10% is reserved for women and 5% for the ethnic minorities.
If the 55% quota is not filled, 1% goes to the physically challenged.
However, these government posts remain vacant if candidates from these selected groups fail in the recruitment tests.
Who are the protesters?
Students and job seekers have long been protesting against the system, demanding that quota be reduced from 56 to 10%.
The main participants in the quota reform demonstrations are students of different universities and colleges. They have been joined by job seekers from different parts of the country who feel the system is discriminating against them.
The protests initially took place at public universities and colleges but the demonstrators later came together to wage a bigger movement from the beginning of March.
What are their demands?
They are mainly demonstrating to press home five demands.
1. Bringing down the reserved seats from 56 to 10% and recruit 90% on merit basis
2. Fill vacant posts under quotas from the merit list
3. Stop special recruitment under a certain quota
4. Introduction of uniform age limit in government jobs
5. Transfer jobs under quotas to a different candidate only on the basis of merit
How did the protest become violent?
Demonstrators thronged Shahbagh Sunday noon planning to stand on the road until their demands were met. But a clash broke out when police tried to disperse the protesters, leaving at least 50 people injured.
A rumor was spread that one Siddique, a residential student of Dhaka University’s Mohsin Hall, was killed in police action. This added fuel to the fire.
Siddique started a Facebook live video and tried other means to assure everyone that he was alive and well but the message did not reach the protesters.
Hasan Al Mamun, convener of the movement, claimed that the quota reform demonstrators did not vandalize the vice-chancellor’s residence. “Those involved with it are outsiders,” he claimed.
What is the government’s stance?
A senior ruling party leader went to the scene on Sunday night and said that the prime minister had ordered the Awami League general secretary to sit with the demonstrators.
Recently, an Awami League presidium member, declining to be named, told the Dhaka Tribune’s Fazlur Rahman Raju that the government was planning to review the existing quota system ahead of the national polls.
Ruling party leaders had also claimed that the government had plans to fill up all the vacant public service posts.
There has been no official announcement in this regard yet.