INCIDENTS taking place one after another centring on general students seeking reforms in public service recruitment quota appear to portend ominous signs. While activists of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, attacked, in some places grievously, the general students, mired in uncertainty about their job in an environment where employment creation has almost stopped, as they sought reforms in public service recruitment quota, the students who were thus wounded are reported to have been denied treatment by public hospitals. Worse still, the government and leaders of the ruling political party have tried to brand them as forces acting against the spirit of the liberation war of Bangladesh, an easy way to dissociate the students who are willing to be part of the bureaucracy. But the worst was yet to come, which became manifest in the statement of the vice-chancellor of the University of Dhaka. The vice-chancellor M Akhtaruzzman, on Sunday, likened the students seeking reforms in the quota system with international religious extremists, of the likes of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab. He claims to have found an evil force active in the ‘so-called’ movement for quota reforms. Eminent citizens, perhaps rightly, talked down the vice-chancellor saying that his remark was ‘stupid’ and ‘irresponsible’.
The shipping minister, Shajahan Khan, meanwhile, found students seeking reforms in the quota system to be ‘anti-liberation war elements.’ Citizens, who include university teachers, meanwhile, said that the Dhaka University vice-chancellor plays the role of a ‘sycophant’ and ruling party ‘henchman’, who appears to be be ‘a disreputable member’ of the teacher community. Students holding peaceful protests to express their dissent coming to be so branded by a teacher is ‘unimaginable.’ Many of them said that the demand of the students was legitimate. They said that the law enforcers, instead of arresting Chhatra League activists who attacked the protesters, arrested wounded general students holding the protests. A section of teachers of both public and private universities and leftist student leaders, in such a situation, demanded that the government should withdraw ‘false’ cases filed against the protesters who were campaigning for ‘logical reforms in public service recruitment quota’. Hours after a rally of the university teachers, a metropolitan magistrate’s court in Dhaka remanded a leader of the quota reforms movement, Rashed Khan, in police custody for 10 days in two cases filed with the Shahbagh police. But the government seems to be failing to understand that it was rubbing the quota reforms movement up the wrong way. It should look into whether the quota system could be rationalised and reformed and create an environment in the private sector to facilitate job creation to head off such troubles in future.
The government, under the circumstances, should realise that coming down heavily on the protesters are signs of autocracy and high-handedness. It must withdraw the ‘false’ cases filed against the protesters, who voiced their concern about their employment through the quota reforms movement. It must also hold to account Chhatra League activists, and others behind them, who attacked the protesters and try to effect a meaningful resolution of the quota system in public service recruitment.
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