The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, is bounded to the west and northwest by West Bengal (India), to the north by Assam and Meghalaya (India), to the east by Assam and Tripura (India) and by Myanmar (Burma) to the southeast.
Dhaka, the historic city and capital of Bangladesh, lies on the Buriganga River. The river connects the city with all major inland ports in the country, contributing to its trade and commerce, as it has done for centuries.
Limited availability of Western food, although the best hotels and restaurants have continental dishes and Dhaka has many good international restaurants. There are many local specialities, usually served with rice and based on chicken and lamb. Seafood is also recommended, particularly prawns. Kebabs are widely available.
Leading hotels have bars, but Western-style nightclubs do not exist. Displays of local dance and music are occasionally to be seen, particularly during religious festivals.
AREA: 147,570 sq km (56,977 sq miles).
POPULATION: 127,117,967 (1999).
POPULATION DENSITY: 826.8 per sq km.
CAPITAL: Dhaka. Population: 33,593,103 (1991).
GOVERNMENT: Republic. Gained independence from Pakistan in 1971. Head of State: President Shahabuddin Ahmed since 1996. Head of Government: Prime Minister Sheik Hasina Wajed since 1996.
LANGUAGE: The official language is Bengali (Bangla). English is widely spoken especially in government and commercial circles.
RELIGION: 86% Muslim, and small Hindu, Buddhist and Christian minorities. Religion is the main influence on attitudes and behaviour. Since 1988 Islam has been the official state religion.
TIME: GMT + 6.
ELECTRICITY: 220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs are of the British 5- and 15-amp, 2- or 3-pin (round) type.
COMMUNICATIONS: Telephone: Limited IDD available. Country code: 880. Outgoing international code: 00. Fax: There are facilities at major hotels in Dhaka and services are now widely available in all the large towns. Telegram: Telegrams may be sent from main post offices and there are three charge rates. Post: Airmail takes three to four days to Europe; surface mail can take several months. Post boxes are blue for airmail and red for surface mail. Press: There are eight daily English-language papers, the most popular being the Bangladesh Observer, followed by the Daily Star, the Independent, the Financial Express and the Daily New Nation. The main English-language weeklies are Holiday, the Dhaka Courier and the Bangladesh Gazette. The main Bengali dailies are Dainik Ittefaq, Dainik Inquilab, Banglar Bani, Sangbad, Dainik Bangla, Dainik Millat, Dainik Khabar and Dainik Janakantha. Almost all these newspapers are published in Dhaka and circulated throughout the country.
The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, is bounded to the west and northwest by West Bengal (India), to the north by Assam and Meghalaya (India), to the east by Assam and Tripura (India) and by Myanmar (Burma) to the southeast. The landscape is mainly flat with many bamboo, mango and palm-covered plains. A large part of Bangladesh is made up of alluvial plain, caused by the effects of the two great river systems of the Ganges (Padma) and the Brahmaputra (Jamuna) and their innumerable tributaries. In the northeast and east of the country the landscape rises to form forested hills. To the southeast, along the Burmese and Indian borders, the land is hilly and wooded. About a seventh of the country’s area is under water and flooding occurs regularly.
“Bangladesh has a hundred gates open for entrance but not one for departure” -Bernier.
Bangladesh is a new state in an ancient land. It has been described by an American political scientist as “a country challenged by contradictions”. On the face of it, the recent twists and turns of her history are often inconsistent. It is neither a distinct geographical entity, nor a well-defined historical unit. Nevertheless, it is the homeland of the ninth largest nation in the world whose gropings for a political identity were protracted, intense and agonizing. The key to these apparent contradictions lies in her history.
Etymologically, the word Bangladesh is derived from the cognate “Vanga” which was first mentioned in the Hindu scripture Aitareya Aranyaka (composed between 500 B C and 500 A D). Legend has it that Bengal was first colonized by Prince Vanga, the son of King Bali and Queen Sudeshna of the Lunar dynasty. According to linguists, the roots of the term Vanga may be traced to languages in the adjoining areas. One school of linguists maintain that the word “Vanga” is derived from the Tibetan word “Bans” which implies “wet and moist”. According to this interpretation, Bangladesh literally refers to a wetland. Another school is of the opinion that the term “Vangla” is derived from Bodo (aborigines of Assam) words “Bang” and “la” which connote “wide plains.”
Proto-history and Pre-history
Geological evidence indicates that much of Bangladesh was formed 1 to 6.5 million years ago during the tertiary era. Human habitation in this region is, therefore, likely to be very old. The implements discovered in Deolpota village in the neighbouring state of West Bengal suggest that paleolithic civilization in the region existed about one hundred thousand years ago. The evidence of paleolithic civilization in Bangladesh region is limited to a stone implement in Rangamati and a hand axe in the hilly tip of Feni district. They are likely to be 10,000 to 15,000 years old. New stone age in the region lasted from 3,000 B C to 1,500 B C. Neolithic tools comparable to Assam group were found at Sitakunda in Chittagong. Hand axes and chisels showing close affinity to neolithic industries in West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa have been discovered at Mainamati near Comilla. The thinly forested laterite hills in eastern Bengal dotted with fertile valleys provided a congenial environment for neolithic settlements. However, the archaeological evidence on transition from stone age to metal age in this region is still missing
Political Dynamics in Ancient Bengal (326 B.C. to 1204 A.D.)
The earliest historical reference to organized political life in the Bangladesh region is usually traced to the writings on Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 B.C. The Greek and Latin historians suggested that Alexander the Great withdrew from India anticipating the valiant counter attack of the mighty Gangaridai and Prasioi empires which were located in the Bengal region. It is not, however, clearly known who built these empires. Literary and epigraphic evidence refer to the rise and fall of a large number of principalities in the region which were variously known as Pundra Vardhana (northern Bangladesh), Gauda (parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh), Dandabhukti (southern West Bengal), Karna Subarna (part of West Bengal), Varendra (northern Bangladesh), Rarh (southern areas of West Bengal), Summha Desa (south-western West Bengal), Vanga (central Bangladesh), Vangala (southern Bangladesh), Harikela (North-East Bangladesh), Chandradwipa (Southern Bangladesh), Subarnabithi (central Bangladesh), Navyabakashika (central and southern Bangladesh), Lukhnauti (North Bengal and Bihar) and Samatata (Eastern Bangladesh)
There are two schools of opinion regarding the political evolution of ancient Bengal. According to one school, the Bangladesh region in the ancient period was an integral part of mighty empires in north India. These historians maintain Gangaridai and Prasioi empires were succeeded by the Mauryas (4th to 2nd century B.C.), the Guptas (4th-5th century A.D.), the empire of Sasanka (7th century A.D.), the Pala empire (750-1162 A.D.), and the Senas (1162-1223 A.D.). Specially, the Pala empire which lasted for more than four hundred years and reached its zenith in eighth and ninth centuries under the leadership of Dharmapala and Devapala is cited as an example of Bengal’s political genius. The revisionist historians are of the opinion that the traditional interpretation overstates the role of all-India empires in the political life of the Bangladesh region. They maintain that epigraphic evidence suggests that only some of the areas which now constitute Bangladesh were occasionally incorporated in the larger empires of South Asia. In their view, political fragmentation and not empire was the historical destiny of Bangladesh region in the ancient times. Inscriptions attest to the existence of a succession of independent kingdoms in southern and eastern Bengal. These local kingdoms included the realms of Vainyagupta (6th century), the Faridpur kings (6th century), the Bhadra dynasty (circa 600-650 A D), Khadaga dynasty (circa 650-700 AD), Natha and Rata dynasty (750-800 A D ), the rulers of Harikela (circa 800-900), Chandra dynasty (circa 900-1045 A D), Varman dynasty (circa 1080-1150 A D), and Pattikera dynasty (circa 1000-1100 A D)
Opinions differ on the reasons for political fragmentation in Bengal. Some scholars attribute it to Bangladesh’s topography specially to difficulties in negotiating its swamps and marshes, its unending maze of rivers and creeks and dislocations caused by the Bengali rainy season. Others emphasize the frontier character of the region which attracted from north India a continuous stream of rebel, heretics, and malcontents who destabilized the political life. Some scholars maintain that political fragmentation was fostered by a lack of corporate life at the village level. Specially, the village organizations were weakest in the eastern and southern areas; the corporateness of villages gradually increased in the western areas. Political fragmentation was, therefore, endemic in eastern and southern areas which now constitute Bangladesh.
The primacy of the individual in social life and the concomitant institutional vacuum in Bangladesh region was not, however, an unmitigated shortcoming. The weakness of social, political and economic institutions provided a congenial environment for freedom of religion. The Buddhist rulers continued to rule Bengal long after the resurgence of Brahmanism in the rest of north India. Nowhere in South Asia were the deviations from the Brahmanical orthodoxy so glaring as in the Bengal zone. The esoteric cults like Vajrayana, Shajayana, Kalachakrayana, Nathism, the Bauls and the folk cults flourished in pre-Muslim Bengal. Throughout history, small kingdoms blossomed and withered like wild flowers in this region. In an environment characterized by weak political institutions, heresy, heterodoxy and alien faiths thrived in defiance of the Brahmanical orthodoxy.
Contribution of Bangladesh to Ancient Civilisation
Bangladesh is the frontier of South Asian civilization. It is the natural bridge between South and South East Asia. Because of its location, Bangladesh was the intermediary in trade and commerce between the South Asian sub-continent and the Far East. This region, as a distinguished historian observed, “played an important part in the great cultural association between the diverse civilizations of Eastern and South Eastern Asia which forms such a distinguished feature in the history of this great continent for nearly one thousand and five hundred years.
Tradition has it that Sri Lanka was colonized by a Bengalee Prince Vijayasingha who established the first political organization in that island. Gadadhara, another Bengalee, founded a kingdom in the Madras state in South Indi
Bangladesh region also played a seminal role in disseminating her beliefs, art and architecture in the wider world of Asia. The Bengali missionaries preached Mahayana Buddhism in the Indonesian archipelago. Kumaraghosha, the royal preceptor of the Sailendra emperors of Java, Sumatra and Malaya peninsula, was born in Gauda. The Bengali scholar Santirakshit was one of the founders of the Buddhist monastic order in Tibet. The great Buddhist sage Dipankara Srijnana, also known as Atish ( 10th-l1th century) reformed the monastic order in Tibet. The Bengalee scholars Shilabhadra, Chandragomin, Abhayakaragupta, Jetari and Jnanasrimitra were venerated as great theologians in the Buddhist world.
Ancient Bangladesh also witnessed the flowering of temple, stupa and monastic architecture as well as Buddhist art and sculpture. There was discernible influence of the Pala art of Bengal on Javanese art. There was a close affinity between the scripts used on certain Javanese sculptures and proto-Bengali alphabet. A group of temples in Burma were built on the model of Bangladeshi temples. The architecture and iconographic ideas of Bengal inspired architects, sculptors and artists in Cambodia and the Indonesian archipelago. The influence of Pala art in Bengal could be easily traced in Nepalese and Tibetan paintings, as well as in Tang Art of China.
Evolution of Mediaeval Bengal (1204-l757)
The Middle age in Bengal coincided with the Muslim rule. Out of about 550 years of Muslim rule, Bengal was effectively ruled by Delhi-based all India empires for only about two hundred years. For about 350 years Bengal remained virtually independent. The Muslim rule in Bengal is usually divided into three phases. The first phase which lasted from 1204 to 1342 witnessed the consolidation of Muslim rule in Bengal. It was characterized by extreme political instability. The second phase which spanned the period 1342 to 1575 saw the emergence of independent local dynasties such as the Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1342-1414), the dynasty of King Ganesha (1414-1442) and Husain Shahi dynasty (l493-1539). The third phase which lasted from 1575 to 1757 witnessed the emergence of a centralized administration in Bengal within the framework of the Mughal empire. The Mughal viceroys in Bengal curbed the independence of powerful landlords who were known as Bara Bhuiyas and suppressed the Portuguese pirates who frequently interfered with the flow of foreign trade.
There were two major achievements of Muslim rule in the region. First, prior to Muslim rule in this area, Bengal was an ever-shifting mosaic of principalities. The natural limits of Bengal were not clearly perceived till its political unification by the Ilyas Shahi rulers in the fourteenth century. The political unification of Bengal was thus a gift of the Muslim rulers. Secondly, the political unity fashioned by the Muslim rulers also promoted linguistic homogeneity. Unlike their predecessors, the Muslim rulers were ardent patrons of Bengali language and literature. Prior to Muslim rule, the Bengali vernacular was despised for its impurities and vulgarities by Hindu elites who were the beneficiaries and champions of Sanskrit education. The spread of Islam challenged the spiritual leadership of upper caste Hindus. The intense competition between Islam and resurgent Hinduism in the form of Vaisnavism for capturing the imagination of unlettered masses resulted in an outpouring of their stirring messages in the vernacular.
The Muslim rule in Bengal also witnessed the gradual expansion of Islam in this region. Contrary to popular beliefs, the Muslim rulers in Bengal were not in the least idealists and proselytizers; they were primarily adventurers whose sole aim was to perpetuate their own rule. The preponderance of the Muslims in Bangladesh region stands out in striking contrast to signal failure of the Muslims in converting local people in other parts of north and south India. The distribution of Muslims in different regions of South Asia clearly contradicts the hypothesis that the patronage of the temporal authority was the most crucial variable in the spread of Islam. If this hypothesis was correct there would have been Muslim preponderance in areas around the seats of Muslim rule in North India. The fact that the Muslims remained an insignificant minority in the Delhi region where they ruled for more than six hundred years clearly suggests that Islam in South Asia was not imposed from above. In Bengal also, the share of Muslims in the total population was higher in areas remote from the seats of Muslim rule.
Islam was propagated in the Bangladesh region by a large number of Muslim saints who were mostly active from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. Among these missionaries Hazrat Shah Jalal, Rasti Shah, Khan Jahan Ali, Shaikh Sharafuddin Abu Tawamah, Shah Makhdoom Ruposh, Shaikh Baba Adam Shahid, Shah Sultan Mahisawar, Shaikh Alauddin Alaul Huq, Shah Ali Bagdadi, etc. deserve special mention. While similar Muslim missionary activities failed in other regions of South Asia, Islam ultimately succeeded in penetrating deeply into Bengal because the social environment of this region was congenial to the diffusion of a new religion. In much of South Asia, strong village communities were impenetrable barriers to the spread of alien faiths.
In Bengal, the corporateness of village institutions was weak in eastern areas; it gradually increased towards the western areas. The distribution of Muslim population also followed similar spatial pattern in this region. The Muslims in Bengal were concentrated in the eastern areas and the share of Hindu population was much higher in western areas.
The Muslim rule in Bengal contributed to economic polarization and cultural dichotomy. Except the brief interludes of the northern Indian empires, pre-Muslim Bengal was ruled by local potentates. Most of the Muslim rulers either acted as agents of Delhi or tried to use Bengal as a stepping stone for attaining political authority in Delhi. Economic exploitation intensified during this period owing to transfer of resources to north India. The main victims of this exploitative system were locally converted Muslims and low caste Hindus. The sole aim of the Muslim rulers was to mobilize as much resources as possible. The size of the immigrant Muslim ruling elite was small. Furthermore, different factions of the ruling elite did not trust each other. Consequently, Muslim rule in Bengal became, in effect, a coalition of immigrant Muslims and upper caste Hindus
The gradual process of conversion to Islam in Bengal resulted in an intense interaction between Islam and Hinduism. At the folk level, however, there was less confrontation and more interaction between Hinduism and Islam. A syncretic tradition developed around the cult and pantheons of pirs. The actual practices of local Muslim converts were an anathema to both Hindu and Muslim religious leaders. The orthodox Hindus, despite their political reconciliation with Muslim rulers, despised the local Muslims as untouchables (Mlechhas). The Muslim religious leaders were equally scornful of the customs and practices of local converts. Hated by immigrant religious leaders for their ways of life and by the local aristocracy for their adherence to an alien faith, local converts faced a dichotomy of faith and habitat which found expression in an emotional conflict between religion and language. This dichotomy can be traced in Bengali literature as early as the fourteenth century. ‘Those who are born in Bengal but hate Bengali language”, asserted the seventeenth century poet Abdul Hakim “had doubtful parentage. Those who are not satisfied with their mother tongue should migrate to other lands”.
The Glory that was Mediaeval Bengal
The Bangladesh region reached the zenith of economic affluence during the mediaeval period. It was known as one of the most prosperous lands in the world. The Moorish traveller Ibn Batuta who visited Bengal in the fourteenth century described Bengal as the wealthiest and cheapest land of the world and states that it was known as “a hell full of bounties”. In the same vein, the seventeenth century French traveller Francois Bernier observed: “Egypt has been represented in every age as the finest and most fruitful country in the world, and even our modern writers deny that there is any other land so peculiarly favoured by nature; but the knowledge I have acquired of Bengal, during two visits paid to that Kingdom inclines me to believe that pre-eminence ascribed to Egypt is rather due to Bengal”.
Because of her fertile land and abundance of seasonal rainfall, Bengal was a cornucopia of agricultural products. Famines and scarcity were virtually unknown as compared to other areas of Asia. Bengal was the focal point of free trade in the Indian Ocean since the 14th century. She was the virtual store-house of silk and cotton not only of India and neighbouring countries but also of Europe. The Dhaka region used to produce the finest cotton in the world. A very large quantity of cotton cloth was produced in different areas of Bengal. The best and well-known variety of textile was muslin produced in Dhaka. Some of the muslins were so fine that, as the seventeenth century traveller Tavernier notes, “even if a 60 cubit long turban were held you would scarcely know what it was that you had in your hand”. Some of the muslins were so fine that a full size muslin could be passed through a small ring. Bangladesh also had extensive export of silk clothes. According to Tavernier, Bengal silks were exported to other parts of India, Central Asia, Japan and Holland. The Bangladesh region was also one of the largest producers of sugar. The sugar from this region used to be exported to other parts of South Asia and the Middle East.
British Rule in Bangladesh (1757-1947)
The greatest discontinuity in the history of Bengal region occurred on June 23, 1757 when the East India Company – a mercantile company of England became the virtual ruler of Bengal by defeating Nawab Siraj-ud Daulah through conspiracy. Territorial rule by a trading company resulted in the commercialization of power. The initial effects of the British rule were highly destructive. As the historian R.C. Dutt notes, “the people of Bengal had been used to tyranny, but had never lived under an oppression so far reaching in its effects, extending to every village market and every manufacturer’s loom. They had been used to arbitrary acts from men in power, but had never suffered from a system which touched their trades, their occupations, their lives so closely. The springs of their industry were stopped, the sources of their wealth dried up”. The plunder of Bengal directly contributed to the industrial revolution in England. The capital amassed in Bengal was invested in the nascent British industries. Lack of capital and fall of demand, on the other hand, resulted in deindustrialization in the Bangladesh region. The muslin industry virtually disappeared in the wake of the British rule.
In the long run, the British rule in South Asia contributed to transformation of the traditional society in various ways. The introduction of British law, a modern bureaucracy, new modes of communication, the English language and a modern education system, and the opening of the local market to international trade opened new horizons for development in various spheres of life. The new ideas originating from the West produced a ferment in the South Asian mind. The upshot of this ferment were streams of intellectual movements which have often been compared to the Renaissance. Furthermore, the Pax Britannica imposed on South Asia created an universal empire that brought different areas of the sub-continent closer to each other.
The British rule in Bengal promoted simultaneously the forces of unity and division in the society. The city-based Hindu middle classes became the fiery champions of all-India based nationalism. At the same time, the British rule brought to surface the rivalry between the Hindus and Muslims which lay dormant during the five hundred years of Muslim rule. The class conflict between Muslim peasantry and Hindu intermediaries during the Muslim rule was diffused by the fact that these intermediaries themselves were agents of the Muslim rulers. Furthermore, the scope of exploitation was limited in the subsistence economy of pre-British Bengal.
The economic exploitation of the British provoked an intense reaction against the Raj in Bengal. However, the grievances against the British rule varied from community to community. The Hindu middle class, which styled itself as the bhadralok, was the greatest beneficiary of the British rule. The Hindu middle class primarily originated from trading classes, intermediaries of revenue administration and subordinate jobs in the imperial administration. On the contrary, the establishment of the British rule deprived the immigrant Muslim aristocracy (ashraf) of state patronage. The immigrant Muslim – upper caste Hindu coalition which characterized the Muslim rule was replaced by a new entente of the British and the caste Hindus. The new land settlement policy of the British ruined the traditional Muslim landlords. The Muslim aristocracy which had hitherto been disdainful of their native co-religionists sought the political support of the downtrodden Muslim peasantry (atraf) who were exploited by Hindu landlords and moneylenders. The Muslim elite in Bengal manipulated to their advantage the social insecurity of the less privileged without giving up their exclusiveness.
The conflict between Muslim peasants and Hindu landlords was reinforced by the rivalry between Hindu and Muslim middle classes for the patronage of the imperial rulers. In the nineteenth century, both Hindu and Muslim middle classes expanded significantly. The Muslim middle class did not remain confined to traditional aristocracy which consisted primarily of immigrants from other Muslim countries. The British rule in Bengal contributed to the emergence of a vernacular elite from among locally converted Muslims in the second half of the nineteenth century. This was facilitated by a significant expansion of jute cultivation in the Bangladesh region. The increase in jute exports benefited the surplus farmers (Jotedars) in the lower Bengal where the Muslims were in a majority. The economic affluence of surplus farmers encouraged the expansion of secular education among local Muslims. For example, the number of Muslim students in Bengal increased by 74 percent between 1882-83 and 1912-13.
Faced with the economic and cultural domination of the Hindu intermediaries in Bengal (bhadralok), the ashraf (traditional Muslim aristocracy), the newly created Muslim jotedars who constituted the vernacular elite and Muslim peasants (atraf) closed ranks. Despite their outward unity, the coalition of various Muslim interest groups in Bengal was fragile. The interests and ideological orientations of these groups were dissimilar. Unlike the jotedars and peasants, the ashraf in Bengal spoke Urdu. The vernacular Muslim elites and peasants in Bengal wanted agrarian reforms; the ashraf was a staunch proponent of absentee landlordism. The Muslim vernacular elite and atraf identified themselves with the local culture and language, the ashraf was enthralled by Islamic universalism. The internal contradictions of the Muslim society in Bengal were naturally mirrored in their political life.
Initially, the leadership of the Muslim community in Bengal belonged to ashraf for two reasons. First, the size of the vernacular elite was too small in the beginning of the twentieth century and the vernacular elite itself tried to imitate the traditional aristocracy. Secondly, because of the institutional vacuum in the rural areas, it was very difficult to mobilise politically Muslim masses in the Bengal region. The easiest means of arousing such masses was to appeal to religious sentiments and emotions. In this charged atmosphere the natural leadership of the Muslim masses in Bengal lay with the immigrant ashraf who monopolized the religious leadership.
The rivalry between Muslim ashraf and Hindu bhadralok first surfaced in the political arena, when the British partitioned the province of Bengal in 1905 for administrative reasons. The nascent Muslim middle class under the leadership of the Muslim Nawab of Dhaka supported the partition in the hope of getting patronage of the British rulers. To the Hindu bhadralok who had extensive economic interests on both sides of partitioned Bengal, the move to separate the Bengali-speaking areas in East Bengal and Assam was a big jolt. They viewed it as a sinister design to weaken Bengal which was the vanguard of struggle for independence. The bhadralok class idolized the “Golden Bengal”. Though initially the anti-partition movement was non-violent, the dark anger of the Hindu middle class soon found its expression in terroristic activities. The emotionally charged atmosphere culminated in communal riots. The partition of Bengal ultimately turned out to be a defeat for all. The Raj had to eat the humble pie and annul the partition in 1911. To the Muslims, the annulment of the partition was a major disappointment. It virtually shook their faith in the British rulers. To the Hindu bhadralok of Bengal, the annulment was a pyrrhic victory. “The net result of these developments in Bengal during the first decade of this century, so far as the bhadralok leadership of Bengal was concerned, lay in the exposure of its isolation, its inner contradictions and the essentially opportunistic character of its politics”.
The communal politics of confrontation and violence which erupted during the partition of Bengal was interrupted by a brief honeymoon during the non-cooperation movement led by the Indian National Congress and the Khilafat movement of the Indian Muslims in the second decade of 20th century. Bengal witnessed in the twenties the emergence of the charismatic; leadership of Chitta Ranjan Das who had the foresight to appreciate the alienation of the Muslim middle classes. In 1923 Das signed a pact with Fazlul Huq, Suhrawardy and other Muslim leaders. This pact which is known as the Bengal Pact provided guarantees for due representation of Muslims in politics and administration. The spirit of Hindu-Muslim rapprochement evaporated with the death of C.R. Das in 1925. However, even if Das were alive he might not have succeeded in containing the communal backlash. The communal problem was not unique to Bengal, it became the main issue in all India politics. As the communal tension mounted in the 1930s, the Muslim ashraf in Bengal which had close ties with the Muslim leadership in other parts of the sub-continent pursued a policy of communal confrontation.
The Road to Pakistan
The Pakistan Resolution of 1940 at Lahore was the outcome of the political confrontation between Hindus and Muslims. The Lahore Resolution demanded that geographically contiguous units “be demarcated into regions which should be constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary so that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority should be grouped to constitute “Independent States” in which the constitutional units be autonomous and sovereign”. From the constitutional point of view, the Lahore Resolution asserted that South Asia consisted of many nations and not of two nations. It was, in effect, a blueprint for the balkanization of South Asia and not merely for its partition into two units.
The fervour for the Lahore Resolution sprang not merely from the disillusion of the Muslims with the Hindu leadership. It was also facilitated by the vagueness of the Resolution which promised everything to everybody. The vernacular Muslim elites in Bengal maintained that the Lahore Resolution was legally a charter for a Muslim dominated independent and sovereign Bengal. The immigrant Muslim ashraf in Bengal thought that the Lahore Resolution was a mandate for merging geographically dispersed Muslim majority areas into an Islamic state. Ultimately the demands of the vernacular Muslim elite for an independent Bengal was opposed by both the ashraf and the Hindu middle class. Ironically the formal decision for partition of Bengal was taken not by Muslim but by Hindu leaders who fought for an undivided Bengal four decades ago.
The partition of the South Asian sub-continent into two independent states in 1947 was a defeat for the British policy. It partially undid the Pax Britannica which was the greatest achievement of the Raj. Nevertheless, the partition forestalled the balkanization of the sub-continent which would have swept away the entire political structure which was so labouriously built by the British rulers. The eastern areas of Bengal were constituted into a province of Pakistan and her political boundaries were drawn up arbitrarily.
The Birth of Bangladesh and Resolution of the Identity Crisis
Pakistan, which emerged constitutionally as one country in 1947, was in fact “a double country”, the two wings were not only separated from each other by more than one thousand miles, they were also culturally, economically and socially different. “The cure, at least as far as the East Bengalis were concerned, proved to be worse than the disease”.
The relationship between the East and the West wings of Pakistan was the mirror image of the Hindu-Muslim relations in the undivided sub-continent. The creation of East Pakistan did not resolve the identity crisis of the majority people in the Bangladesh region. The political leadership in Pakistan was usurped by the ashraf and their fellow-travellers. The spread of secular education and monetization of the rural economy swelled the ranks of the vernacular elite who was intensely proud of the local cultural heritage. This compounded the dichotomy of language and religion. As a recent scholar rightly observes, “The Bengali love affair with their language involves a passionate ritual that produces emotional experiences seldom found in other parts of the world”. The Language Movement during 1948-52 which demanded the designation of Bengali as the state language of Pakistan undermined the authority of the ashraf and reinforced the role of the vernacular elite. In British India, the Muslims of Bengal united under the banner of Islam to escape from the exploitation of Bengali Hindus who shared the same mother tongue. In the united Pakistan, the Bengalis of East Pakistan reasserted their cultural and linguistic identity to resist the exploitation of their co-religionists who spoke in a different language. Though history repeated itself in Pakistan, the lessons learnt from Hindu-Muslim confrontation were forgotten. Neither in undivided India nor in united Pakistan, the dominant economic classes agreed to sacrifice their short-term interests. Democratic verdicts were brushed aside and economic disparity between the two wings widened under the aegis of military dictatorships in Pakistan.
The disintegration of united Pakistan is not, therefore, in the least surprising. However, the way in which Bangladesh was born is unique to South Asia. Bangladesh was the product of a sanguinary revolution. The Pakistan army had to be defeated physically in 1971 to establish the new state. The birth of Bangladesh resolved the dichotomy between religion and habitat, and between extra-territorial and territorial loyalties by recognizing both the facts as a reality in the life of the new nation.
The Melting Pot: Ethnic Background
Though the overwhelming majority of the population in Bangladesh forms a homogeneous ethnic group today, the racial mix of diverse races occurred in this region over a long time. Broadly speaking, there are two major racial elements in the people of Bengal: (1) the primitive tribes like the Kols, Sabaras, Pulindars, Hadi, Dom, Chandala and others who were designated as the Mlechchas; (ii) the Aryan and Aryanized elements.
The major pre-Aryan racial elements in Bengal were the proto-Austroloids. There is a striking similarity between the language of the aborigines of Bengal and the people in South-East Asia, the archipelago and the aborigines of Australia. The Dravidian languages of South India also belong to proto-Australoid group. Bangladesh, being the frontier of South Asia, also came into contact with the Mongoloid tribes who lived in the adjoining areas. The Mongoloid influence was dominant in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region where Chakmas and other tribes belong to this category. The Mongoloid influence is, however, limited in other areas. Scholars maintain that there is also a substratum of Negroid racial elements in the racial mix in this region. Thus Bengal was the home of mixed races long before the Aryans came. The Aryan influence in Bengal was primarily limited to upper castes. The gradual stages in the Aryanization of Bengal are not very clear. It appears that the Aryans brought the indigenous people into the framework of Aryan society. This is indicated by the fact that some of the indigenous tribes were classed at Khastriyas (the warrior class). The majority of these pre-Aryan tribes were classified as untouchables. The process of racial mix did not, however, stop with the coming of Aryans. The Semitic traders from the Arab world frequently visited the coastal areas in the Middle Age.
Bangladesh contains the second largest (after Indonesia) Muslim population in the world. In 1981, 86.6 percent of the population was Muslim. The proportion of Muslims increased from 85.4 percent in 1974 to 86.6 percent in 1981. On the other hand, the proportion of Hindu population dropped from 13.5 percent in 1974 to 12.1 percent in 1981. The increase in proportion of Muslim population may be attributed to higher birth rate among the Muslims. Census records from 1872 to 1981 clearly indicate that birth rate among the Muslims was always higher than that of the Hindus. The Buddhists constituted about 0.6 percent of the population in both 1974 and 1981 censuses. There are about 175,000 Christians in Bangladesh. The percentage of Christians was about 0.3 percent.
Art and Architecture
The Bangladesh region contains relics of the finest specimens of Buddhist monastic architecture. The Buddhist vihara at Paharpur occupied a quadrangle measuring more than 900 feet externally at each site. “No single monastery of such dimensions” asserts an art historian”, has come to light in India, and the appellation mahavihara, the great monastery as designating the place, can be considered entirely appropriate”. Similar vihara of Deva dynasty has been unearthed at Mainamati. The relics of Mahasthangarh where the ancient city of Pundravardhana was located suggest that a large monastery was built there. Of notable sculptures in ancient Bengal, stone figures of Buddha from Ujani in Faridpur district, Varaha avatara from Bogra (10th century) the Vishnu Stela from Comilla (11th century) and Chandi image from Dhaka district (12th century) deserve special mention. Another remarkable achievement was the terracotta art of Paharpur which drew its inspiration from the simple village life. This depicts the daily life of people with intense human interest. As an art historian observes, “It is impossible to find in the hieratic religious art of India at any given period such a large social content, such variety of human feelings, such intimacy of contact with the events and experiences of daily life, such spontaneous action and movements, depicted with such powerful and purposeful rhythm”.
The Middle Age in Bengal saw the construction of a large number of Islamic monuments which were characterized by massive arches and bold clean lines. The emphasis was on utility and simplicity. Among these monuments the Satgambuz mosque of Bagerhat, the mausoleum of Shah Ali Bagdadi at Mirpur and the mosque of Rasti Khan at Hathazari deserve special mention.
Bangla is the language of more than 99 percent of the population. Bangla is the seventh most extensively spoken language in the world after Chinese, English, Russian, Spanish, Hindi and Arabic. The Bengali script is derived directly from Gupta Brahmi script which has close affinity to Cambodian and Thai scripts. The origin of this language is usually traced to the 10th century. Bengali is a rich language capable of expressing the finest nuances of thought and feelings, a language that continuously mirrors the ever-changing play of life. It is rich in poetry, short story, novel, drama, essay and belles-lettres.
Bangladesh did not exist as a distinct geographic and ethnic unity until independence. The region had been a part of successive Indian empires, and during the British period it formed the eastern part of a hinterland of Bengal, which was dominated by the British rulers and Hindu professional, commercial, and landed elites. After the establishment of Pakistan in 1947, present-day Bangladesh came under the hegemony of the non-Bengali Muslim elites of the West Wing of Pakistan. The establishment of Bangladesh, therefore, implied the formation of both a new nation and a new social order.
Until the partition of British India in 1947, Hindus controlled about 80 percent of all large rural holdings, urban real estate, and government jobs in East Bengal and dominated finance, commerce, and the professions. Following partition, a massive flight of East Bengali Hindus effectively removed the Hindu economic and political elite and cut the territory’s ties to Calcutta (see Pakistan Period, 1947-71, ch. 1). After the emigration of the Hindus, Muslims moved quickly into the vacated positions, creating for the first time in East Bengal an economy and government predominantly in Muslim hands. These vastly increased opportunities, especially in the civil service and the professions, however, soon came to be dominated by a West Pakistani-based elite whose members were favored by the government both directly and indirectly. Soon after independence in 1971, an ill-prepared Bangladeshi elite moved into the areas vacated by West Pakistanis. Except for members of small non-Bengali caste-like Muslim groups known as “trading communities,” Bangladeshi Muslims almost immediately established control over all small- and medium-sized industrial and commercial enterprises. The 1972 nationalization of non-Bengali-owned large industries accelerated the establishment of control and influence by the indigenous community (see The Economic Context, ch. 3).
The sudden rise of a new managerial class and the expansion of the civil and military bureaucracy upset the balance in both the urban and the rural sectors. Party affiliation, political contacts, and documented revolutionary service became the main prerequisites for admission to the rapidly growing new elite of political and industrial functionaries; the established middle class and its values played lesser roles. In the countryside, new elites with links to the villages bought property to establish their socio-political control. Also taking advantage of the situation, the rural political elite amassed fortunes in land and rural- based enterprises. The result was the growth of a new, land-based, rural elite that replaced many formerly entrenched wealthy peasants (in Bangla, jotedars).
The basic social unit in a village is the family (paribar or gushti), generally consisting of a complete or incomplete patrilineally extended household (chula) and residing in a homestead (bari). The individual nuclear family often is submerged in the larger unit and might be known as the house (ghar). Above the bari level, patrilineal kin ties are linked into sequentially larger groups based on real, fictional, or assumed relationships.
A significant unit larger than that of close kin is the voluntary religious and mutual benefit association known as the “the society” (samaj or millat). Among the functions of a samaj might be the maintenance of a mosque and support of a mullah. An informal council of samaj elders (matabdars or sardars) settles village disputes. Factional competition between the matabdars is a major dynamic of social and political interaction.
Groups of homes in a village are called paras, and each para has its own name. Several paras constitute a mauza, the basic revenue and census survey unit. The traditional character of rural villages was changing in the latter half of the twentieth century with the addition of brick structures of one or more stories scattered among the more common thatched bamboo huts.
Although farming has traditionally ranked among the most desirable occupations, villagers in the 1980s began to encourage their children to leave the increasingly overcrowded countryside to seek more secure employment in the towns. Traditional sources of prestige, such as landholding, distinguished lineage, and religious piety were beginning to be replaced by modern education, higher income, and steadier work. These changes, however, did not prevent rural poverty from increasing greatly. According to the FY 1986 Household Expenditure Survey conducted by the Ministry of Planning’s Bureau of Statistics, 47 percent of the rural population was below the poverty line, with about 62 percent of the poor remaining in extreme poverty. The number of landless rural laborers also increased substantially, from 25 percent in 1970 to 40 percent in 1987.
In 1988 about 18 percent of the population lived in urban areas, most of which were villages or trade centers in rural areas. Urban centers grew in number and population during the 1980s as a result of an administrative decentralization program that featured the creation of subdistricts (upazilas–see Glossary; Local Administration, ch. 4). In appearance these small urban areas were generally shabby. Most of the urban population merely congregated in ramshackle structures with poor sanitation and an almost total lack of modern amenities. Towns were populated mostly by government functionaries, merchants, and other business personnel. Most dwellings contained nuclear families and some extended family lodgers. A few households or a neighborhood would constitute a para, which might develop some cohesiveness but would have no formal leadership structure. With the exception of a small number of transients, most town populations consisted of permanent inhabitants who maintained connections with their ancestral villages through property or family ties. Most towns had social and sporting clubs and libraries. Unlike in the rural areas, kinship ties among the town population were limited and fragile.
Family, Household, and Kinship
Family and kinship were the core of social life in Bangladesh. A family group residing in a bari would function as the basic unit of economic endeavor, landholding, and social identity. In the eyes of rural people, the chula defined the effective household–an extended family exploiting jointly held property and being fed from a jointly operated kitchen. A bari might consist of one or more such functional households, depending on the circumstances of family relationship. Married sons generally lived in their parents’ household during the father’s lifetime. Although sons usually built separate houses for their nuclear families, they remained under their fathers’ authority, and wives under their mothers-in-law’s authority. The death of the father usually precipitated the separation of adult brothers into their own households. Such a split generally caused little change in the physical layout of the bari, however. Families at different stages of the cycle would display different configurations of household membership.
Patrilineal ties dominated the ideology of family life, but in practice matrilineal ties were almost as important. Married women provided especially important links between their husbands’ brothers’ families. Brothers and sisters often visited their brothers’ households, which were in fact the households of their deceased fathers. By Islamic law, women inherited a share of their fathers’ property and thus retained a claim on the often scanty fields worked by their brothers. By not exercising this claim, however, they did their brothers the important service of keeping the family lands in the patrilineal line and thus ensured themselves a warm welcome and permanent place in their brothers’ homes.
Marriage is a civil contract rather than a religious sacrament in Islam, and the parties to the contract represent the interests of families rather than the direct personal interests of the prospective spouses (see Islam, this ch.). In Bangladesh, parents ordinarily select spouses for their children, although men frequently exercise some influence over the choice of their spouses. In middle-class urban families men negotiate their own marriages. Only in the most sophisticated elite class does a woman participate in her own marriage arrangements. Marriage generally is made between families of similar social standing, although a woman might properly marry a man of somewhat higher status. Financial standing came to outweigh family background in the late twentieth century in any case. Often a person with a good job in a Middle Eastern country was preferred over a person of highly regarded lineage.
Marriages are often preceded by extensive negotiations between the families of the prospective bride and groom. One of the functions of the marriage negotiations is to reduce any discrepancy in status through financial arrangements. The groom’s family ordinarily pledges the traditional cash payment, or bride-price, part or all of which can be deferred to fall due in case of divorce initiated by the husband or in case the contract is otherwise broken. As in many Muslim countries, the cash payment system provides women some protection against the summary divorce permitted by Islam. Some families also adopt the Hindu custom of providing a dowry for the bride.
Of the total population in 1981, an estimated 34 million were married. A total of 19 million citizens of marriageable age were single or had never married, 3 million were widowed, and 322,000 were divorced. Although the majority of married men (10 million) had only one wife, there were about 580,000 households, between 6 and 10 percent of all marriages, in which a man had two or more wives.
Although the age at marriage appeared to be rising in the 1980s, early marriage remained the rule even among the educated, and especially among women. The mean age at marriage in 1981 for males was 23.9, and for females 16.7. Women students frequently married in their late teens and continued their studies in the households of their fathers-in-law. Divorce, especially of young couples without children, was becoming increasingly common in Bangladesh, with approximately one in six marriages ending in this fashion in the 1980s.
Typical spouses knew each other only slightly, if at all, before marriage. Although marriages between cousins and other more distant kin occurred frequently, segregation of the sexes generally kept young men and women of different households from knowing each other well. Marriage functioned to ensure the continuity of families rather than to provide companionship to individuals, and the new bride’s relationship with her mother-in-law was probably more important to her well-being than her frequently impersonal relationship with her husband.
A woman began to gain respect and security in her husband’s or father- in-law’s household only after giving birth to a son. Mothers therefore cherished and indulged their sons, while daughters were frequently more strictly disciplined and were assigned heavy household chores from an early age. In many families the closest, most intimate, and most enduring emotional relationship was that between mother and son. The father was a more distant figure, worthy of formal respect, and the son’s wife might remain a virtual stranger for a long time after marriage.
The practice of purdah (the traditional seclusion of women) varied widely according to social milieu, but even in relatively sophisticated urban circles the core of the institution, the segregation of the sexes, persisted. In traditional circles, full purdah required the complete seclusion of women from the onset of puberty. Within the home, women inhabited private quarters that only male relatives or servants could enter, and a woman properly avoided or treated with formal respect even her father-in-law or her husband’s older brother. Outside the home, a woman in purdah wore a veil or an enveloping, concealing outer garment.
The trappings of full purdah required both a devotion to traditional practice and the means to dispense with the labor of women in the fields. For most rural families the importance of women’s labor made full seclusion impossible, although the idea remained. In some areas, for example, women went unveiled within the confines of the para or village but donned the veil or the outer garment for trips farther from the community. In any case, contact with men outside the immediate family was avoided.
The segregation of the sexes extended into social groups that had rejected full purdah as a result of modern education. Although urban women could enjoy more physical freedom than was traditional and the opportunity to pursue a professional career, they moved in a different social world from their husbands and often worked at their professions in a specifically feminine milieu.
Women’s Role in Society
Available data on health, nutrition, education, and economic performance indicated that in the 1980s the status of women in Bangladesh remained considerably inferior to that of men. Women, in custom and practice, remained subordinate to men in almost all aspects of their lives; greater autonomy was the privilege of the rich or the necessity of the very poor. Most women’s lives remained centered on their traditional roles, and they had limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, and local government. This lack of opportunities contributed to high fertility patterns, which diminished family well-being, contributed to the malnourishment and generally poor health of children, and frustrated educational and other national development goals. In fact, acute poverty at the margin appeared to be hitting hardest at women. As long as women’s access to health care, education, and training remained limited, prospects for improved productivity among the female population remained poor.
About 82 percent of women lived in rural areas in the late 1980s. The majority of rural women, perhaps 70 percent, were in small cultivator, tenant, and landless households; many worked as laborers part time or seasonally, usually in post-harvest activities, and received payment in kind or in meager cash wages. Another 20 percent, mostly in poor landless households, depended on casual labor, gleaning, begging, and other irregular sources of income; typically, their income was essential to household survival. The remaining 10 percent of women were in households mainly in the professional, trading, or large-scale landowning categories, and they usually did not work outside the home.
The economic contribution of women was substantial but largely unacknowledged. Women in rural areas were responsible for most of the post-harvest work, which was done in the chula, and for keeping livestock, poultry, and small gardens. Women in cities relied on domestic and traditional jobs, but in the 1980s they increasingly worked in manufacturing jobs, especially in the ready-made garment industry (see Ready-made Garments, ch. 3). Those with more education worked in government, health care, and teaching, but their numbers remained very small. Continuing high rates of population growth and the declining availability of work based in the chula meant that more women sought employment outside the home. Accordingly, the female labor force participation rate doubled between 1974 and 1984, when it reached nearly 8 percent. Female wage rates in the 1980s were low, typically ranging between 20 and 30 percent of male wage rates.
Social Classes and Stratification
Society in Bangladesh in the 1980s, with the exception of the Hindu caste system, was not rigidly stratified; rather, it was open, fluid, and diffused, without a cohesive social organization and social structure (see Hinduism, this ch.). Social class distinctions were mostly functional, however, and there was considerable mobility among classes. Even the structure of the Hindu caste system in Bangladesh was relatively loose because most Hindus belonged to the lower castes.
Ostensibly, egalitarian principles of Islam were the basis of social organization. Unlike in other regions of South Asia, the Hindu caste- based social system had a very limited effect on Bangladeshi Muslim social culture. Even the low-caste jolhas (weavers) had improved their social standing since 1971. Although several hierarchically arranged groups–such as the syeds (noble born) and the sheikhs, or shaykhs (also noble born)–were noticeable in Bangladesh Muslim society, there were no impenetrable hereditary social distinctions. Rather, fairly permeable classes based on wealth and political influence existed both in the cities and in the villages.
Traditional Muslim class distinctions had little importance in Bangladesh. The proscription against marriage between individuals of high-born and low-born families, once an indicator of the social gap between the two groups, had long ago disappeared; most matrimonial alliances were based on wealth and power and not on the ties of family distinction. Also, many so-called upper class families, because of their traditional use of the Urdu language, had become alienated in independent Bangladesh.
Although Hindu society is formally stratified into caste categories, caste did not figure prominently in the Bangladeshi Hindu community. About 75 percent of the Hindus in Bangladesh belonged to the lower castes, notably namasudras (lesser cultivators), and the remainder belonged primarily to outcaste or untouchable groups. Some members of higher castes belonged to the middle or professional class, but there was no Hindu upper class. With the increasing participation of the Hindus in nontraditional professional mobility, the castes were able to interact in wider political and socioeconomic arenas, which caused some erosion of caste consciousness. Although there is no mobility between Hindu castes, caste distinctions did not play as important a role in Bangladesh as in they did in the Hindu-dominated Indian state of West Bengal. Bangladeshi Hindus seemed to have become part of the mainstream culture without surrendering their religious and cultural distinctions
|Passport Required?||Visa Required?||Return Ticket Required?|
Note: As regulations are liable to change at short notice it is advisable to check details with the Embassy or High Commission (or Consular Section at Embassy); see Useful Contacts section.
Restricted entry: The government of Bangladesh refuses admission and transit to nationals of Israel.
PASSPORTS: Passport valid for 3 months after departure required by all.
VISAS: Required by all except the following:
(a) nationals of Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Bhutan, Dominica, Fiji, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Jamaica, Guyana, Honduras, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Montserrat, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Uruguay, Vatican City and Zambia for stays of up to 90 days;
(b) transit passengers continuing their journey the same for first connecting aircraft provided holding valid onward or return documentation and not leaving the airport;
(c) tourist and business travellers arriving at Zia, Dhaka and Patenga international airports, provided holding return air tickets, who may be granted ‘landing permission’ by the Chief Immigration Officer for stays of up to 15 days.
Note: Visas are not required by Bangladesh nationals nor by former Bangladesh nationals holding British passports provided they have the statement’no visa required for travel to Bangladesh’ stamped in their passport by the Bangladesh High Commission. Please also note any foreign visitor overstaying the allotted period may be charged a fine for each day of overstay.
Types of visa and cost: Entry, Visit, Tourist and Business: ??40 (single-entry), ??52 (double-entry), ??75-??104 (multiple-entry). Entry visas may be issued for short conference or journalistic trips (although not for business trips).
Note: 1. the following can get their visas free of charge: nationals of Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Gabon, Guinea, India, Iran, Japan, Namibia, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tanzania, Tonga and Trinidad & Tobago.
Validity: Single- and Double-entry: 6 months from date of issue. Multiple-entry: 6-12 months from date of issue. Stays are for a maximum of 90 days each.
Application to: Consular Section at Embassy or High Commission; see Useful Contacts section.
Application requirements: (a) Valid passport. (b) 2 completed application forms. (c) 2 passport-size photos. (d) Fee. (e) Letter from employer or other relevant letters for business and conference trips.
Working days required: 24 hours for a single-entry visa; 48 hours for other types of visa. 7-10 days for postal applications.
There are a few 5-star hotels in Dhaka. All rates are for European Plan. The Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation manages several modern hotels throughout the country. Bills are usually paid in hard currency or with travellers cheques.
Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh, situated almost in the middle of the country on the bank of the river Buriganga. The historic city was founded in 1608 A.D. by the Mughals and has a background of more than 2000 years. The city has all modern facilities with international hotels connected with all modern communication systems. The places of historical interest in the city are National Museum, Lalbagh Fort, Baldha Garden, Ahsan Manzil, Bukland Embankment, Bara Katara, Chhoto Katara etc. Besides, National Mausoleum at Savar and old capital at Sonargaon are two attractive places within reasonable distance. Dhaka is also characterised by a number of ancient and modern mosques, for which it is known as the city of mosques. Other Important Cities and Places of Tourist Attractions
The second largest city Chittagong was termed as “a sleeping beauty emerging from the mist and water” in the 7th century and “Porte Grande” in the 16th century. This large and thriving port city has developed amidst lovely natural surroundings studded with green-clad knolls, coconut palms, mosques, minarets and shrines of Muslim saints as well as Buddhist and Hindu temples against the background of the silverblue waters of the Bay of Bengal. Chittagong is connected with Dhaka by rail, road and air and with Calcutta by air. Good accommodation is available in hotels and motels.
A small town founded in 1798 A.D. by Captain Cox of the East India Company and named after him, Cox’s Bazar has one of the longest sea beaches in the world. Well protected by green-clad jungle slopes on one side and the sea shore on the other, it is a small exquisite town with a mixed population speaking Bangla and Burmese. The female folk of Burmese origin in their traditional costume is a common sight. Good accommodation and eating facilities are available at the tourist motels, cottages and hotels. Cox’s Bazar is connected with Chittagong and Dhaka by road and air.
Rangamati, the headquarters of Chittagong Hill Tracts, is on the eastern bank of Kaptai lake. It is inhabited by colourful and hospitable tribal folks. Rangamati is connected with Chittagong by road and with Kaptai by boat. Accommodation and eating facilities are available with the tourist motel and cottages situated at a scenic spot on the bank of the lake. Motor boats and country boats are available for cruise in the lake.
Gateway to the Sundarbans, the home of the Royal Bengal Tigers, Khulna is an industrial city and the Divisional Head Quarters. The Chalna Sea Port is nearby. Some of the biggest jute mills in the country are located here. Khulna is connected with Dhaka by rail, road, river and air.
Fascinating tropical forest covering 2,316 square miles of deltaic swamp alongwith the coastal fringe of the southernmost part of Bangladesh, Sundarban is the natural habitat of many of the wild life like crocodile, deer, python, wild bear, monkeys and the famous Royal Bengal Tiger.
The royal seat of the Pala kings of ancient Bengal, Rajshahi is the main centre of sericulture, mangoes, lichis and spices. A centre of education and culture, Rajshahi has a rich museum and research facility for study of the ancient history and culture. It is connected with Dhaka by air, road and rail.
This district town serves as the nerve centre of northern Bangladesh and is the entrance to the oldest archaeological site of the 3rd century B.C., city of Pundranagar (Mohasthangarh). It is connected with Dhaka by rail and road.
The land of tea gardens, it is also a playground for naturalists and game watohers, Sylhet is famous for its Manipuri Tribe and their dances. Its cane and cane products are equally fascinating. It is connected with Dhaka by rail, road and air.
Five miles to the west of Comilla town, lies a range of low hills known as the Mainamati-Lalmai range. It was an important seat of Buddhist culture. Large scale excavations have revealed valuable facts about Buddhist rulers who flourished here as independent kings during the 7th and 8th centuries. The whole range of hillocks, about 11 miles in length, is believed to be studded with more than 50 Buddhist archaeological sites. Comilla is also famous for Khadi and Bamboo products.
Getting In & Out
Bangladesh’s national airline is Biman Bangladesh Airlines (BG). International carriers serving Bangladesh include: Aeroflot, British Airways, Emirates, Gulf Air, Indian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines and Singapore Airlines.
Approximate flight times: From Dhaka to London (direct) is 10 hours 20 minutes, to Los Angeles is 22 hours and to New York is 23 hours.
International airport: Dhaka International (DAC) (Zia International). The airport is 20km (11 miles) north of the city (travel time ? . 45 minutes). Biman Bangladesh coaches run every hour from 0800-2200. To return, pick up the coach from the Tejgaon old airport building, the Golden Gate or Zakaria hotels. Parjatan Coaches are also available. Bus and taxi services are available to the city. Airport facilities include restaurants, post office, banks, duty-free shops and car hire.
Departure tax: Tk300. Children under 2 years of age and passengers in immediate transit are exempt.
AIR: Internal services are operated by Biman Bangladesh Airlines (BG). Regular flights are run between Dhaka and several other main towns. These are cheap, and most routes are served at least two or three times a week. Airline buses connect with downtown terminals.
Departure tax: Tk25.
SEA/RIVER: Ferries operate between southern coastal ports and the Ganges River delta, where there are five major river ports: Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chandpur, Barisal and Khulna. Passages should be booked well in advance; for details contact local port authorities. The country has about 8433km (5240 miles) of navigable waterways. River services are operated by the Bangladesh Inland Waterway Transport Corporation, who run ‘Rocket’ ferries and launches on a number of routes. The ‘Rocket’ services have three classes of fare; the waterways are the least expensive method of getting around Bangladesh.
RAIL: A rail system of approximately 2800km (1740 miles) connects major towns, with broad gauge in the west of the country and narrow gauge in the east. The network, which is slow but efficient, is limited by the geography of the country, but river ferries (see above) provide through links. Services are being upgraded. The main line is Dhaka? . Chittagong, with several daily trains, some of which have air-conditioned cars. For details contact the Embassy or High Commission for the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (see Useful Contacts section).
ROAD: There are approximately 6240km (3877 miles) of roads, of which 3840km (2386 miles) are metalled. It is possible to reach virtually everywhere by road, but given the geography of the country, with frequent ferry crossings being a necessity, together with the poor quality of many of the roads, road travel can be very slow. Traffic drives on the left. Bus: Services serve all major towns; fares are generally low. Taxi: Generally available at airports and major hotels. Fares should always be agreed upon before travelling. Car hire: Cars may be hired at Dhaka airport, the Bangladesh Tourism Corporation Office or from the major hotels. Documentation: International Driving Permit required.
URBAN: There are bus services, which are usually very crowded, in Dhaka provided by the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation. The Central Bus Station is on Station Road (Fulbaria); there are also several other terminals which are, in general, for long-distance services. Buses and bus stations do not generally have signs in English. There are also an estimated 10,000 independent ‘auto-rickshaw’ 3-wheeler taxis (avoid night-time use). Conventional taxis are also available.
JOURNEY TIMES: The following chart gives approximate journey times (in hours and minutes) from Dhaka to other major cities/towns in Bangladesh.