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Why is the discussion about quotas focused only on government jobs?

Amin Al  Rasheed

Amin Al Rasheed

Tue, 9 Jul 24

In April 1971, Captain Mahmud Hossain Akand of the army, the eldest son of A.K. Mosharraf Hossain Akand (1917-1995), a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee of Bangladesh, was brutally killed by the Pakistani army at Chittagong Cantonment.

After the country gained independence, the government of Bangabandhu took the initiative to gift houses in the capital to some distinguished individuals. Among them was Mosharraf Hossain Akand, who was older than Bangabandhu and known as an honest and principled lawyer. Bangabandhu instructed the officers involved that, since Akand Saheb's son had been martyred, the most beautiful house among those listed should be allocated to this bereaved father. However, Mosharraf Hossain Akand did not accept the house. He told Bangabandhu, "My child is much more valuable to me than a house. I cannot accept a house in exchange for my child. Countless fathers like me have lost their children in the Liberation War. It will not be possible to give a house to everyone."

I heard this story from Mosharraf Hossain Akand's younger son, Masud Alam Akand. Regarding the anti-quota movement in government jobs, he said, "Freedom fighters did not go to war for a house or for their children's government jobs."

This is one side of the coin. The other side is that the respect the state was supposed to show to the valiant freedom fighters as the nation's greatest sons was largely absent for a long time after the assassination of Bangabandhu and his family in 1975. Although there was a quota for the children of freedom fighters in government jobs, this rule was violated for years. In fact, there are allegations that, during certain administrations, many people did not get jobs because of their identity as children of freedom fighters.

At this moment, the ongoing anti-quota movement—which began in 2018 and led the government to issue a notification abolishing the quota in government jobs—has created a similar situation. This is because the High Court has declared the government's notification illegal. Several questions are emerging from this issue, such as:

1. What does the Constitution of Bangladesh say about quotas or special privileges in government jobs?

2. Since the court has declared the government's notification illegal, will the previous 56% quota in government jobs be reinstated? Can the government make any decisions on this matter before the final resolution by the Appellate Division?

3. Given the arguments that led to the anti-quota movement in 2018, have all appointments in government jobs over the past six years been made purely based on merit, without any form of quota?

4. Given that the brave freedom fighters are the greatest sons of the nation, is there not a need for a quota in government jobs for them?

5. What percentage of quota allocation for the families of freedom fighters is reasonable?

6. What is the age limit for the children of freedom fighters to apply for government jobs?

7. How reasonable is it to reserve a quota for the grandchildren of freedom fighters as well?

8. Is the quota system applicable only to government jobs?

9. Why should there not be a quota for the children and grandchildren of freedom fighters in private sector jobs?

10. To honor the freedom fighters, is it necessary to have a quota system only for government jobs, or can special provisions be made for their children in sectors such as education, healthcare, and others?

Let’s look for answers:
Article 29 of the Constitution states: "Every citizen shall have equal opportunity for employment or appointment to any office or position in the service of the Republic. However, special provisions may be made for the advancement of any disadvantaged section of the community to ensure their adequate representation in the service of the Republic.
The question is: What is meant by "disadvantaged section," and are the children and grandchildren of freedom fighters considered a disadvantaged section of society?

In fact, the term "disadvantaged section" refers to groups such as indigenous communities, Dalits, or marginalized professions in society. These disadvantaged groups should be brought under special provisions not only in government jobs but across all aspects of state affairs.

Ethnic minorities living in the hills and plains, who are constitutionally recognized as indigenous communities, are disadvantaged for various reasons. Therefore, there should be a quota for them in government jobs, and in fact, this quota should be increased. Additionally, within these indigenous communities, some groups are even more disadvantaged, and specific measures should be taken to address their needs.

Physically disabled individuals are also considered disadvantaged. Therefore, they should be included under special provisions, and there should be a quota system for them in government jobs.

The question of whether a quota for the children and grandchildren of freedom fighters is necessary, and if so, what percentage is appropriate, is complex. If a freedom fighter was as young as 15 during the Liberation War, they would now be 68 years old. Even if they married at 25, their children are no longer eligible for government jobs, as they would be older than 32 years of age. Therefore, it is challenging to find children of such young freedom fighters in the current age group. Perhaps this is the rationale behind including the grandchildren of freedom fighters under the quota system. Since, despite the quota for freedom fighters, their children were unable to enter government jobs over the years and have now aged out of eligibility, the inclusion of their grandchildren in the quota system is an attempt to repay the debt to the freedom fighters.

The question may arise whether the debt to the freedom fighters can be repaid solely through government jobs, or if there are other methods available. Currently, freedom fighters receive a monthly stipend of 20,000 Taka, which is a commendable initiative by the current government. In fact, this stipend could be increased by another 10,000 Taka. It is true that many freedom fighters are financially stable, but there are still many who are struggling. The government should identify these disadvantaged freedom fighters and ensure they receive the highest possible benefits and support.

The need for a quota for the children and grandchildren of freedom fighters in government jobs is a valid consideration. However, the percentage allocated for this quota should be re-evaluated. It should not exceed 10%. In this context, it would be prudent to allocate an additional 10% for the children of freedom fighters and marginalized communities, including indigenous peoples, while leaving the remaining 80% open for everyone.

However, the quota should not be limited to just government jobs. There should also be a quota for the children of freedom fighters and for marginalized communities in the private sector. The government can make it mandatory for private companies to adhere to this rule, and those that do not comply can be deprived of various government benefits and incentives.

A quota in educational institutions should be more significant than in jobs. Just as there is a quota for the children of university teachers and staff in public universities, there should be at least a 25% quota for the children of freedom fighters in public universities. Instead of focusing solely on job opportunities, if the state provides opportunities to make the grandchildren of freedom fighters eligible for jobs by offering them educational opportunities, it would be a much more significant contribution.

Apart from the quota for the children of freedom fighters and marginalized communities, all other quotas, including those for women and districts, should be abolished. The reason is that women can no longer be considered an underprivileged group, as they now work on equal terms with men. In public examinations and competitive job tests, women have achieved the capability to compete on equal terms with men. Therefore, the necessity of having a separate women’s quota is a significant question.

The necessity of district quotas in government jobs is also questionable. This is because public servants are assigned to work in various locations, and their place of residence should not be a determining factor. However, if a district is lagging due to geographical and socio-economic reasons, special measures can be taken for that district. These measures, however, should not involve a quota.

Ameen Al Rashid: Current Affairs Editor and Presenter at Nexus Television.

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