Of dissent, decency and democracy

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A 3D review of quota movement

A six-meter high cartoon baby blimp of Donald Trump (projected as an angry baby holding on to a smart phone) flew high on London sky during the US President’s recent visit to the United Kingdom. As the Prime Minister Theresa May’s government rolled out a red carpet to greet the visiting guest, a natural thing to do; the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan didn’t hesitate allowing anti-Trump protestors to inflate the blimp. In some estimations, quarter of a million protesters filled central London’s streets last Friday to tell the US President that they denounce his global views and the policies he pursues. They were determined to make their voices heard, or at least create a lot of noise to make their point - that they did not want President Trump in the country. And UK being UK, one of the closest allies of US, officially greeted Trump, understandably, with all the pompous and the protocols. Point to be noted here is that – UK’s official position on Trump visit was in no point a deterrent for general people to express their dissent.

In Bangladesh thousands of general students now in their tertiary level education have long been waging a peaceful movement seeking a redress to grossly discriminatory and unjust quota system. Quota distribution as it stands now (where 56 percent of the candidates are recruited on a quota-based system; not one based on merit) is a huge disincentive for meritorious students, who pass out from colleges and universities each year. But from the very outset when students got themselves organised for a peaceful movement, they were not allowed to do so. They were beaten up by law enforcers, assaulted by so called student leaders otherwise known as ruling party underlings. Even after prime ministerial endorsement of their cause, the quota movement activists were not allowed to express any dissent. All along they have been admonished, reprimanded, intimidated, roughed up, and tortured and worse yet some of their leaders (13 to be precise till last count) have been implicated in ‘questionable cases’, remanded and jailed. The government, of course, drifted away from its April 11 position of “abolishing quota” to July 12 position of ruling out any reform in “freedom fighters’ quota”. That’s altogether a different dimension of the issue that we can dwell on later. But in this instant it’s not understandable that why in a democracy any dissent has to be handled with such high-handedness, with total lawlessness.

When government took long three months to just form a committee to look into the scopes of reform in current quota system, it’s only natural that students seeking reform would stage demonstrations to press home their demand. As they wanted to hold naïve programmes like human chain, press conference – they were not allowed to do so. Student wing known for their allegiance to the government almost routinely took the ‘duty’ upon them to deter quota reformists from holding any programmes. It is stunning to witness that pro-establishment administrations of different universities remained completely indifferent to such hooliganisms on campuses when general students were roughed up, female students were intimidated and threatened with rape attempts allegedly by rogue members of certain student body. Some of these varsity administrations turned a blind eye when a group of student leaders and activities are attacking on quota reformists in broad daylight on campuses. They simply tried their best to appease the ‘power’, remain ‘politically correct’ and consciously refrained themselves from taking any actions against perpetuators – even when media clearly exposed the perpetuators one by one publishing their photographs along. But one must commend the ‘moral policing’ role of certain university when it took upon it to suspend a student for venting out, in not so well articulated words, his anger and emotion in respect to quota reform demand.

Democracy stands dissents getting a fair chance, decency in how we handle things. But the ‘Quota Reform Movement-2018’ shook, among other things, the undemocratic chord in our society, it exposed the intolerance, injustice, greed and sycophancy even among the so called the crème de la crème of the society. During this tumultuous, many of the ‘materially intelligent’ intelligentsia and academics are considering it to be prudent to remain whist when some of their ‘foolish’ peers are taking the wrath of hooligans on the streets, on the campus. This must be a unique breed of academics and intelligentsia who had all praise and support for quota reformists when government showed some positivity to quota cause in April but later became conspicuously silent to the extent they don’t see any evil in students assaulting, intimidating teachers in the highest seats of education in the country.

On quota issue we’re definitely living in a trying time when students are being picked up from residences at ungodly hours and remaining traceless for long hours before our law enforcers acknowledging that it was them who took them into custody. It was said then that the residence of DU VC was vandalised by a band of masked people and now we’re seeing many of the front-row quota reform leaders (many of meritorious students of poor rural parents) are being made accused of that incident, being taken into long period of remands and being sent to jail. It would be interesting for Bangladesh to witness how sleuths probe that these students/quota leaders are the ones who ‘actually did the vandalism’. When unmasking the masked one getting so easy, seemingly it’s increasingly getting tough for administration to catch the already ‘unmasked’ ones who are routinely attacking, beating quota reformists with hammers.

  • Issue 2
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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