THE protests that began pushing for reforms in public recruitment quota on ended, sort of, on Wednesday, with the prime minister announcing, in the parliament, that there would be no quota in public jobs and that ways would be explored for national minorities and people with disabilities in job placement.
The prime minister’s announcement apparently left many, even the protesters, more being sad than happy. They had for the days held protests, seeking reforms, or reduction, in the quota in public recruitment, which had been there since 1972. Since its introduction, the quota system had several modifications at intervals.
The system as it was introduced in 1972 set out that 20 per cent of public jobs would go to general candidates based on merit, 30 per cent to freedom fighters, 10 per cent to women affected by the liberation war and 40 per cent would be decided on the districts the candidates were from. About a decade and a half later, a 10 per cent quota for women was introduced and again, a decade later, the quota for women affected by the liberation war was abolished.
A 5 per cent quota was then meant for national minorities. The case for quota for women and national minorities were clear efforts to make positive discrimination in promoting women and having a balance in people from national minorities in public jobs.
The quota that was set aside for freedom fighters was made, in 1997, to apply to children of the freedom fighters, which has now been extended to grandchildren. Until the latest announcement, 44 per cent is meant for merit and the remaining 56 per cent is filled in based on a complex quota system, with many factors being at play.
Simply put, 30 per cent of the jobs fall in the freedom fighter’s quota, 10 per cent in the district quota, 10 per cent in women’s quota, 5 per cent in national minority quota and 1 per cent in the quota for people with disabilities, the last one is conditional and consequent on other quotas being fulfilled or not.
Student protests pushing for reforms in or rationalisation of the public recruitment quota system is nothing new. Such protests have flared up at intervals; this time it has intensified enough to hamper traffic in the capital city and elsewhere for a couple of days. The protests, because of police attack, some ministerial comments and some other incidents that happened on the campus of the University of Dhaka, spilled over to other campuses, mainly Jahangirnagar University, the University of Rajshahi, the University of Chittagong and Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.
Many of the noted educationists and educationalists and former ranking bureaucrats, along with a sizeable portion of the public, believe that the system of public recruitment quota should be reformed as many of the issues have already become inordinate or not warranted. While they kept voicing their concern about the issues, a section of the media outlets, especially private television channels, appeared to be toeing the line of the government, trying to elicit public comments about the impact of the snarl-up that the protests caused on public life.
While the main objective of the protests was to push for a reduction in, or rationalisation of, the quota from 56 per cent to 10 per cent or so, although many who were even leading the protests in some places are heard to have said that they were pushing for the cancellation of quota in public recruitment, the government has finally, and abruptly as it seemed, decided to do away with the quota system. The prime minister is reported to have said even a few days earlier that there would no change in the quota system.
Here begins the problem. Quota should remain, in a reduced proportion and on a rationalised scale though, in some areas, especially employment and education, where it ensures the numerical requirements to make positive discrimination, or affirmative action, by the government, in striking a balance of a sort in public jobs.
Quotas are established to hire, promote, admit or graduate members of one or more particular groups of diminish discrimination and to address under-representation. The government in many of its advertisements for job, even for non-cadre ranking officers, often say that people from certain districts need not apply.
The government does this not out of any hatred for some districts and love for some others. The government tries to ensure that there is a balanced representation of people from all districts. When people from some districts are adequate, it tries to take people from other districts to strike the balance.
This, in the civil service recruitment, is kind of district quota, which is applied to districts that are considered backward, or lagging behind in having many people in government jobs.
And the government needs to have this in place to mitigate its other failures. It has not as yet been possible for the government to afford all the areas, or districts, the same sort facilities, often educational, and development, which could, and do, hold people from some areas from making the progress as expected. This district quota plays as a safeguard.
In a patriarchal society such as Bangladesh’s which still mostly does not view women as it views mean, it has always been mostly difficult for women to have an equitable share of job participation. The quota for women is a kind of remedy to this problem. The quota for women ensures that women come forward and the system should be there until their participation in the civil service is considered adequate. The quota might continue in a reduced form for all the time to come so that the support remains.
The quota for people from national minorities and people with disabilities also meets the purpose of making positive discrimination. For a balanced development on all fronts, this positive discrimination, both in employment and education, is more than required when the government fails to ensure that all the citizens have the same sort of facilities in all spheres of their lives.
As for freedom fighters, they have made the supreme sacrifice in their lives, and in their time, for an independent Bangladesh. The reward and the honour they deserve for what they did far outweighs the mechanism that is in place for making positive discrimination. There are better ways to honour and reward them. The government must do what fits in with honouring the freedom fighters and their descendent.
But quota in some of the cases need to be there to ensure equity in society by way of positive discrimination. It needs to be there to treat under-representation. It needs to be there to graduate members of backward groups. It needs to be there for a balanced representation. It is earnestly hoped that the government should rationalise the quota in public recruitment by not completely doing away with it. And it must do the job judiciously.
With no quota being in place, and no subsumed behind-the-scenes interference, public recruitment could only see a situation where the entire public service would be dominated by people from a handful of places, mostly Dhaka, from a handful of educational institutions, mainly the University of Dhaka, and people of families having good educational background.
Others remaining outside would feel no urge to graduate, as they would see it would be impossible for them to do so. People living in backward areas, with no adequate means of living and educational facilities, would perhaps remain stuck, with the government, as manager of the state, having no means to attend to the issues in a meaningful way.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.