The Bangladesh Reservation Policy Crisis

There are numerous countries all over the world, be it USA, Canada or Japan, who have adopted a system of affirmative action catering to a certain section of their population, with the primary motive to ensure social equity. However, often it is noticed that ‘Affirmative Action’ or as we popularly call it, the ‘Reservation system’, fails to provide the desired outcome. This failure creates uproar and agitations in the societal sphere, dividing the population into two groups – a section pro-reservation and the other demanding its complete abolishment. A system which is meant to closely knit the society and erase all lines of discrimination, unfortunately paints a gory picture and acts as an obstacle in the path of good governance.

India entered into its rejuvenated life after Independence, covered in the cloak of  Reservation for the depressed classes of the society. It is not unbelievable that Bangladesh, which was once a part of our subcontinent and is now our immediate neighbour, has an elaborate Reservation system as well, in their institution of Public Services. This policy has now created a huge furor in Bangladesh, disrupting its peace.

The Reservation Policy was introduced in Bangladesh right after the country gained independence after the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. In order to pay respect to the several freedom fighters who had rendered their service during the war-stricken period, a policy was introduced to reserve seats for them in the public services. With this began the quota system in the country. On September 5, 1972 the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs introduced an interim order declaring that while recruiting personnel in the public services – 20% of the seats will be occupied by candidates who possessed the required merit, 30% would be reserved for the freedom fighters, 10% would be reserved for war-affected women and 40% of the seats were to be set aside as district quotas. This policy was further reformed in the year 1978 where the seats based on merit were increased to 40%, seats for freedom fighters and war-affected women remained intact at 30% and 10% respectively , an additional 10% was reserved for women and finally the district quota was reduced to 10% . The year 1986 witnessed yet another amendment in this policy with the merit based positions being raised to 45%. The quota for freedom fighters remained unchanged while the reservation for war-affected women was abolished. Along with 10% seats for women, an additional 5% seats were set aside for the ethnic communities in the country. In the year 1997, the government introduced a quota system for the family and descendants of the freedom fighters of the 1971 War. The government further declared that if suitable candidates are not found for the reserved seats, they would remain vacant.

As it is evident from the data, the quota system has created a disparity in the Civil Services. While 56% of the seats are reserved for the various categories, only 44% seats are occupied based on actual merit and capacity. Thus the quota system culminated into the practice of inequality instead of social equality – occupancy based on reservation rather than fairness and quality of work.

As history teaches us, inequality in the social order is often followed by violent agitations demonstrated by the population. The Bangladeshi population too treaded the similar path with regard to their Reservation Policy. The students in the Central Universities, who happen to be the majority of the civil service aspirants entered the front seat and took over the control of the uproar which began from the month of February. Dhaka University, being the nerve centre of the campaigning, witnessed numerous students demanding reduction in the quota from 56% to 10% , filling of the vacant seats under quotas from the merit based candidate list, abolishing special recruitment quotas, an uniform age limit for government services and finally, transference of jobs only on the criteria of merit.

The initiative of the students of the Dhaka University was supported by the government-aided institutions from all over the country – Rajshahi, Chittagong, Khulna, Barishal, to name a few. The students carried out an elaborate campaign both in their university campuses as well as on social media. The entire country joined their hands in solidarity with the movement. However, the students struck a wrong chord, when they occupied the Shahbagh Area in the city which is the epicenter of the capital, Dhaka. As a repressive measure of the government to tackle the disruption, the police entered the scene in action, tear gassed and fired rubber bullets on the crowd, injuring nearly 100 protestors. After the police action was enhanced, the protest got out of control and further led to the deterioration of circumstances in the country.

The Bangladesh government, with the prime motive of settling the issue and receiving country-wide support right before the elections of 2018, decided to take a landmark step with regard to the decades-old Reservation Policy. In her first public statement on the incident, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh on 11th April, 2018 announced in the Parliament that – since students no longer want the quota system in the country, the policy will be scrapped off and there would be no such reservations in the Public Services. Such an assurance of the government has led to a double edged consequence. It has not only escalated the hopes of the people, but has also put the Sheikh Hasina led administration under the scrutiny of the public. Despite a positive attempt, the various protesting bodies are keen on a formal law being passed with regard to the issue. They are anxious to see formal actions rather than merely assuring words.

Bangladesh has undoubtedly taken a step towards progress with regard to abolishing the quota system. In the present decade, where people all over the word are harping on tenets like equality, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and the need for participative governance such a decision is a magnanimous victory of the opinion of the people in a democracy. Needless to say, the real triumph lies in the formal approval of the proposal. Hopefully, the government will place the demands of the people at the apex of their agenda and bring about overall development of the country.


Picture Credits: SamajLive

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