In the face of continued demonstrations, the prime minister on April 11 had announced that the government would take measures to scrap the quota system
Students demanding reformation of the quota system in government jobs staged a seven-hour blockade of the Shahbagh intersection in Dhaka Monday afternoon, bringing massive traffic disruption to one of the busiest areas of the capital.
Vehicular movement only started returning to normal after an estimated 3,000 quota reform demonstrators left the scene at around 7pm, following reassurances from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that their demands will be met soon.
Despite ending the road blockade, organizers told a press briefing in the evening that a boycott of classes and examinations at all colleges and universities will continue.
"We welcome the prime minister's reassurance regarding quota system reformation,” said Nurul Haque Nur, the joint convener of Bangladesh Sadharan Chhatra Adhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad - the students’ platform that started the movement in mid-February.
“She has conveyed a message to us that the gazette notification will be published soon and we trust her. Our peaceful movement will continue until the gazette notification is published.
"We will not give any more ultimatums or timeframes."
Sheikh Hasina had already announced on April 11 that the government would take measures to scrap the quota system.
Monday’s nationwide strike was called by Chhatra Adhikar Sangrakkhan Parishad in response to the government’s failure to publish a gazette by 5pm on Sunday following weeks of demonstrations and its perceived inaction over the issue.
“We do not want the complete abolishment of the quota system, but students will not accept more than 15%,” Nur said. “We hope the prime minister will meet our demands."
Showing solidarity with the movement in Dhaka, students of public and private colleges and universities across Bangladesh also boycotted classes and examinations on Monday.
Chittagong University, Begum Rokeya University in Rangpur, Rajshahi University and Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in Sylhet were some of the public universities where students observed strikes.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hasina reportedly expressed frustration over the repeated ultimatums and demonstrations of the quota reform activists.
Her reaction came during a regular Cabinet meeting at the Secretariat on Monday, according to several Cabinet Division sources who attended the meeting.
The sources said the prime minister expressed annoyance when the demonstrators’ blockade at Shahbagh came up for discussion.
“I have already made a statement and the committee is working (on this); nobody is just sitting around,” Hasina was quoted by the sources as saying.
She continued: “This is a long process. I have made a promise and people concerned are working on this. But the demonstrators are saying they will boycott classes. If they do not, it’s their loss. What I have said will happen.
“Implementation of anything takes some time. Still they issue threats. This is too much.”
Cabinet Secretary Md Shafiul Alam also told reporters after the Cabinet meeting that the gazette on quota reform in government jobs was still being processed.
He said the Ministry of Public Administration has formed a committee, with Shafiul as its head, to issue the quota reform gazette. “The committee has sent a summary of minority and female quota to the Prime Minister's Office,” he said.
He was, however, still to receive any documents or directives.
"Maybe I will receive them within a few days. As soon as I get the directives, the gazette will be issued immediately."
On April 26, the protesters warned that they would resume the protest if a gazette notification was not published in April. Later, they gave the government time till May 7.
On April 8, thousands of students demonstrated in Shahbagh and DU areas to protest the current 56% quota reserved for selected groups for government jobs.
That evening, over 50 students were injured in violent clashes between the police, Bangladesh Chhatra League activists, and the demonstrators. Later, universities all across Bangladesh expressed solidarity by participating in the movement.
On that night, during clashes in Shahbagh and Dhaka University areas, a group of people attacked and vandalized the DU vice-chancellor’s residence.
The prime minister eventually announced the quota system would be scrapped.
At least five cases were later filed against unnamed persons at Shahbagh and Ramna police stations over the violence and attack on the vice-chancellor’s residence.
Our correspondents from Chattogram, Rangpur, Rajshahi and Sylhet contributed to this article. Sections of this article was first published on banglatribune.com