Mixed reaction as Bangladesh ends civil service quota

Women, indigenous people and the disabled are among groups who no longer have a civil service job set aside for them
Mixed reaction as Bangladesh ends civil service quota

Ethnic indigenous students demand the preservation of a 5 percent quota for ethnic minority communities in the Bangladesh Civil Service on Sept. 29. The government scrapped the quota system on Oct. 3. (Photo courtesy of the Indigenous Quota Preservation Council)

Bangladesh's government has terminated a quota system that set aside places in the country's civil service, a move that has sparked opposition from groups who benefited from the system for decades.

A cabinet body headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League approved the ending of the quota system in first and second-grade Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) jobs on Oct. 3.

Since 1972, the government has preserved 56 percent of BCS jobs for several select groups — 30 percent for descendants of freedom fighters who in 1971 fought for Bangladesh independence from Pakistan, 10 percent for women, 10 percent for districts, 5 percent for indigenous peoples and 1 percent for disabled people.

The government's move has been broadly supported by Bangladeshi society who mostly saw the system as being unfair, outdated and discriminatory.

Rajib Ghosh, 30, a postgraduate job seeker in Dhaka, welcomed the government's decision but thought some aspects of the system could have been kept.

"I have been trying to get a government job but I failed because the jobs being held for select groups makes the competition tough. Now, I hope to a get a job based on my merit," Ghosh told ucanews.com.

"I think the government should preserve a quota only for ethnic minorities and disabled people." 

Liba Akter, 36, a junior officer at a bank in Dhaka, said the quota system put an end to her dream career before it even started.

"When I was a student and job seeker, I dreamed of becoming a police officer but I failed," Akter said, blaming the quota system. "The end of the system creates a chance for aspiring students and job seekers to land a good job based on their merits."

Hasan Al Mamun from the Bangladesh General Students' Rights Preservation Council said his group welcomed the government's decision.

"It is illogical and unethical that a country should reserve 56 percent of jobs for quota beneficiaries and 44 percent for others," Mamun told ucanews.com. 

But he would prefer the quota system to be reformed, not abolished. 


Opposition to move 

Street protests against the decision occurred in the capital Dhaka and several districts just hours after the government made its announcement.

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Among the protests was one carried out by dozens of descendants of freedom fighters who blocked a major Dhaka intercession demanding reinstatement of the 30 percent quota.

Atiqur Rahman, secretary of the Freedom Fighters Descendants Command group which led the Dhaka protests, said that scrapping the quota for freedom fighters is humiliating.

"The decision is disappointing. We believe this is a moral defeat against the forces who liberated the country," Rahman told ucanews.com, adding that the protest will continue until the quota is reinstated.

In the northern city of Rajshahi, students of Rajshahi University blocked a national highway in an attempt to pressure for a reversal of the decision.

Regarding the protests, PM Hasina told media that her government would only consider reinstating the quota system if there was a "successful movement" pushing for it.

Bishop Gervas Rozario of Rajshahi told ucanews.com that ending the quota is a blow to marginalized communities.

"Although we support merit-based jobs, we should take note that every country has a quota system for backward classes including indigenous peoples and disabled persons," said Bishop Rozario, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh.

Jibon Wiliam Gomes, a Catholic and prominent rights activist for people with disabilities, expressed concerns over the scrapping of the quota system.

"We welcome the government decision to prioritize merit in job placements but we are apprehensive that disabled people, despite their merit and qualifications, might face discrimination," Gomes said.  

"There are at least 10 million people with disabilities in the country, and keeping no quota would deprive them."

William Nokrek, an ethnic Garo Catholic and student activist, said quota scrapping would cause further marginalization of ethnic minorities.

"There are about 50 ethnic minority groups and 40 of them have no one in first and second-class government jobs, which means they are already backward and marginalized," said Nokrek. "This will worsen it." 

Irin Sultana, 29, a university postgraduate in Dhaka, said she had hoped that the quota for women would have helped her get a job.

"There are women who oppose the quota, but I can say there are many from low-income families who could greatly benefit from the system," she said.

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