Where good voices must go bad

Shayan S. Khan
Thursday, April 12th, 2018


It is questionable to what extent the original agitators for quota reform will have been redeemed, by revelations that their movement had been hijacked by so-called outsiders, who then led a faction of them astray and onto a path of chaos, that apparently descended most frighteningly on the residence of the vice-chancellor of Dhaka University this week (April 8). The question that faced the nation was whether the inherent sense informing their demands had to be compromised by how they went about demanding them?


There is considerable mystery surrounding the attack on the VC’s residence – that is perpetrated by the advocates of quota reform, would most certainly have been out of character (the protests have generally followed a peaceful pattern), out of line (the VC has nothing to do with the issue) and given the sheer scale of vandalism, altogether beyond them. It seems incredulous that such an attack took place beyond the glare of a single camera, and throughout the time that it occurred, no law-enforcers were alerted to it. Although the state used it to effectively neuter the protest for a day (or half, more like), by the second day, enough aspersions had been cast over the allegations themselves for the quota protests to effectively disown the attack and regroup.


On April 10, as Dhaka Courier went to press this week, an earlier announcement to postpone the movement till May 7 (following some guarded reassurances from the government in a meeting with a faction of the movement) had been revoked, and a renewed program was announced, vowing “to continue with the blockade and strike until their demands were met,” reported our sister newsagency UNB.


“We’ll continue our movement until a specific statement from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is made,” said Rashed Khan, Bangladesh General Students’ Rights Protection Council, the platform organising the protests.


By then, one could sense a turning of the tide in the public’s perception. That the quota system as it stands in Bangladesh is crying out for reform is not apparent, it is palpable. It is an unsustainable morass that has gathered more and more dust over the years, till now that it has become untenable. On the day the protestors reunited to press forward with their justifiable demands (reform, not abolition), they won their biggest supporter to date, in the form of Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith.


“We will re-examine the quota system after the budget,” Muhith said, while addressing a meeting at the Finance Ministry. In defence of the system he said quotas must be there to advance the backward groups within society. “But there might be rethinking about the percentage of quota for different groups.”


The finance minister is also reported to have admitted the possibility at least, that “right now percentage of quota is much more than requirement.”


After the unseemly attack playing to the galleries by Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury earlier, here finally was some semblance of redemption for the protestors. Since their cause is just, it was only a matter of time some might say. But one can never be too sure in Bangladesh, where expectation too often seems to lead to disappointment, and good voices must seemingly go bad, even just to command the attention of a fair hearing.


In covering the protests in its early days, this newspaper noted that “[t]he underlying assumption to any quota system is that it is a temporary measure, and at some point when the impacts of past discrimination or negligence no longer hinder progress in the present, such special treatment is no longer necessary. If the need for such special dispensations continue for generations, then clearly, the problem lies somewhere else, and a different solution is called for.”


The movement for reform, now that it has awakened, will not die – their cause is just. It is only by recognising it as such, that we place ourselves on the right side of history.

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