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People's Republic of Bangladesh

Gana-Prajatantri Bangladesh

CAPITAL: Dhaka (formerly Dacca)

FLAG: The national flag is a red circle against a dark-green background.

ANTHEM: Amar Sonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal).

MONETARY UNIT: The taka (t) of 100 poisha is a paper currency set on a par with the Indian rupee. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, and 50 poisha, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 taka. t1 = $0.01556 (or $1 = t64.26) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Bangladesh adopted the metric system as of 1 July 1982. Customary numerical units include the lakh (equal to 100,000) and the crore (equal to 10 million).

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; National Mourning Day (Shaheel Day), 21 February; Independence Day, 26 March; May Day, 1 May; Victory Day, 16 December; Christmas, 25 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable religious holidays include Good Friday, Jamat Wida, Shab-i-Bharat, 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', and Durga Puja.

TIME: 6 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in South Asia, Bangladesh, before it became an independent state, was the eastern province of Pakistan, known as East Bengal and, later, as East Pakistan. Bangladesh is slightly smaller than the state of Iowa with a total area of 144,000 sq km (55,598 sq mi), extending 767 km (477 mi) ssennw and 429 km (267 mi) enewsw. Bangladesh is bordered in the w, n, and e by India, on the se by Myanmar (Burma), and on the s by the Bay of Bengal, with a total boundary length of 4,246 km (2,638 mi). A border demarcation agreement was signed with Myanmar in May 1979. Demarcation of the marine boundary with India remained unresolved as of 2006. Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka, is located near the center of the country.


Bangladesh is a tropical country, situated mainly on the deltas of large rivers flowing from the Himalayas. The Brahmaputra River, known locally as the Jamuna, unites with part of the Ganges to form the Padma, which, after its juncture with a third large river, the Meghna, flows into the Bay of Bengal. Offshoots of the Ganges-Padma, including the Burishwar, Garai, Kobadak, and Madhumati, also flow south to the Bay of Bengal. No part of the delta area is more than 150 m (500 ft) above sea level, and most of it is but a meter or two (a few feet) above sea level. Its soil consists mostly of fertile alluvium, which is intensively farmed; mineral deposits are negligible. During the rainy season floodwater covers most of the land surface, damaging crops and injuring the economy. The northwestern section of the country, drained by the Tista (Teesta) River, is somewhat higher and less flat, but the only really hilly regions are in the east, notably in the Chittagong Hill Tracts to the southeast and the Sylhet District to the northeast. Near the Myanmar border in the extreme southeast is the Keokradong, which, at 1,230 m (4,034 ft), is the highest peak in Bangladesh.


Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate. Annual rainfall is high, averaging from about 119 cm (47 in) up to 145 cm (57 in). There are three distinct seasons. The winter, which lasts from October through early March, is cool and dry, with temperature ranges from 5°c to 22°c (41°f to 72°f); total winter rainfall averages about 18 cm (7 in) in the east and less than 8 cm (3 in) in the northwest. Temperatures rise rapidly in March, and during the summer seasonMarch through Mayaverage about 32°c (90°f). Rainfall also increases during this period. However, nearly 80% of the annual rainfall falls from May to September, the monsoon season, when moisture-laden winds blow from the south and southeast. Temperatures drop somewhat, seldom exceeding 31°c (88°f), but humidity remains high.

In April through June and from October through November, tropical cyclones, accompanied by high seas and heavy flooding, are common. There were cyclones in May 1963, May and December 1965, October 1966, and most notably during the night of 1213 November 1970, when a storm and resultant flooding killed more than 200,000 persons. A cyclone on 30 April 1991 left over 131,000 people dead and nine million homeless. Monsoon floods in 1974, 1980, and 1983 also devastated the country and caused many deaths, and a cyclonic storm on 2425 May 1985 took more than 11,000 lives. The monsoon in August and September 1988 left three-fourths of the country flooded, 1,300 persons dead, and over three million people homeless, with damage to the country's infrastructure estimated at $1 billion.


Bangladesh has the plant and animal life typical of a tropical and riverine swamp. The landscape, which for most of the year is lush green, is dotted with palms and flowering trees. The large forest area of the Sunderbans in the southwest is the home of the endangered Bengal tiger; there are also cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles, elephants, spotted deer, monkeys, boars, bears, pheasants, and many varieties of birds and waterfowl.


Overpopulation has severely strained Bangladesh's limited natural resources. Nearly all arable land is already cultivated and forest land has been greatly reduced by agricultural expansion and by timber and firewood cutting. Between 1983 and 1993, forest and woodland declined by 12.5% to 1.9 million ha (4.7 million acres). As of 2000, about 10% of the total land area was forested.

Bangladesh's environmental problems have been complicated by natural disasters that add to the strain on an agricultural system which supports one of the world's most populous countries. Water supply is also a major problem because of population size, lack of purification procedures, and the spread of untreated contaminants into the usable water supply by flood waters. To ease these problems, the government has established drainage, irrigation, and flood protection systems, and has drilled thousands of tube wells to supply safe drinking water in villages. As of 2001, safe water was available to 100% of the population.

Despite passage of the Wildlife Preservation Act of 1973, wildlife continued to suffer from human encroachment. Only 0.8% of the country's total land area is protected. The Sunderbans is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Ramsar international wetland site. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 22 types of mammals, 23 species of birds, 20 types of reptiles, 8 species of fish, and 12 species of plants. Threatened species included the Asian elephant, pygmy hog, Sumatran rhinoceros, Bengal tiger, estuarine crocodile, gavial, and river terrapin.


The population of Bangladesh in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 144,233,000, which placed it at number 7 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 35% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 104 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.9%, a rate the government viewed as too high. In 200406, the government carried out a program aimed at reducing population growth. The projected population for the year 2025 was 189,971,000. The population density was 1,002 per sq km (2,594 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 23% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.45%. The capital city, Dhaka (formerly Dacca), had a population of 11,560,000 in that year. Other major towns are Holetown, Speightstown, and Oistins.


Since 1947 there has been a regular interchange of population between India and what is now Bangladesh, with Hindus migrating to India and Muslims emigrating from India. There was also substantial migration between Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) and West Pakistan until the 1971 war. Before and during the war, an estimated 8 to 10 million Bengalis fled to India; most of these refugees returned after the independence of Bangladesh was firmly established.

In 1993, repatriation began of an estimated 56,000 Chakma refugees from the Indian state of Tripura to the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. They had fled unrest in this area. As of May 1997, 47,000 Chakma refugees still lived in northeastern India. In 199192 about 265,000 RohingyasMuslims from Myanmarfled to Bangladesh to escape repression. Beginning in 1994, over 200,000 of these refugees returned home to Myanmar (Burma). However, as of 1999, around 22,000 Myanmar refugees still resided in southern Bangladesh in two camps. The United Nations urged the governments of both Bangladesh and Myanmar to accelerate the process. In 2004 the refugee population numbered around 5,500.

Bangladeshi long-term migration to industrialized countries in the West began in the 1950s to the United Kingdom, and in the 1960s to the United States. Labor migration to the Middle East and Southeast Asia began in the 1970s on short-term bases. As of 2004, the preferred Middle Eastern countries for labor migration were Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. The flow of remittances to Bangladesh has increased dramatically. In 1976, us$24 million entered the country through official channels, by the first nine months of 2004, this sum had increased to us$2.35 billion. However, Bangladeshis sought asylum in fourteen countries, mainly South Africa, Cyprus, and France in 2004.

As of 2000, there were approximately 988,000 migrants living in Bangladesh. In 2003, there were 150,000 to 520,000 internally displaced persons (IDP) within the country. Estimated for 2005 the net migration rate was -0.69 per 1,000 population. The government viewed the emigration level as too low, and the immigration level as satisfactory.


Residents of Bangladesh are called Bangladeshis. About 98% of the people are of the ethnic group called Bengalis (or Banglas). About 12 tribes inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts, collectively totaling less than one million people, are ethnically distinct from the Bengalis; their facial features and language are closer to the Burmese. The government's policy of resettling Bengalis in the region, which is much less densely populated than Bangladesh as a whole, led to racial and religious disturbances and a small-scale tribal insurgency in the early 1980s. About 250,000 of the national population consists of Biharis, non-Bengali Muslims who migrated from India to what was then East Pakistan after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. In the coastal areas of Bangladesh, Arab, Portuguese, and Dutch settlers have gradually come to adopt the Bengali life style.


Bengali (Bangla), part of the Indo-European language family, is the official language of Bangladesh and is spoken by about 98% of the population. The successful move to make Bengali coequal with Urdu as an official language was a hallmark of Bengali nationalism in the early 1950s. Non-Bengali migrants from India still speak Urdu (and Hindi) today, and this language is widely understood in urban areas. A few tribal groups, notably the tribal peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, also speak distinct Tibeto-Burmese languages, akin to Burmese and Assamese. Among those speaking Bangla there are differences of dialect according to region. The people of Chittagong, Noakhali, and Sylhet are known for their distinctive dialects. Although today Bangla is the official language, English is also used for official and legal purposes and widely used in business.


Nearly 88% of the people are Sunni Muslims, making Bangladesh one of the world's largest Muslim countries. About 10% of the population are Hindu; the remaining are mainly Buddhist or Christian, the latter being mostly Roman Catholics. There are small numbers of Shia Muslims, Sikhs, Baha'is, Ahmadis, and animists.

Islam was established as the state religion in 1988. Freedom of worship is provided for in the constitution; however, in practice there have been reports of social, political, and economic discrimination against non-Muslims.


The large number of rivers and the annual flooding hazard make it difficult to build and maintain adequate transportation facilities in Bangladesh. Railways and waterways are the chief means of transportation. The railways are managed by the government and reach most districts of the country. The Bangladesh Railway operated 2,706 km (1,683 mi) of narrow and broad gauge track in 2004. Of that total, narrow (1.000-m) gauge is the most prevalent at 1,822 km (1,133 mi), followed by broad gauge (1.676-m) at 884 km (550 mi). The quality of service has declined because of the expense of importing new equipment. Enlarging and improving the railway system is also costly, partly because of the number of bridges needed.

The country has two deepwater ports: Chittagong, serving the eastern sector, and Chalna, serving the west. There are five main river portsDhaka, Nārāyanganj, Chandpur, Barisal, and Khulnaand more than 1,500 smaller ports. The inland water system has 8,372 km (5,023 mi) of navigable waterways, including 2,575 km (1,600 mi) of main cargo routes. The oceangoing merchant fleet in 2005 consisted of 41 ships of 1,000 GRT or over, with a combined capacity of 319,897 GRT.

Road connections are inadequate, but conditions have improved significantly in recent years. There were 239,226 km (148,799 mi) of roadways in 2003, of which 22,726 km (14,135 mi) were paved. A large part of the highway system becomes submerged in the rainy season; bridges, ferries, embankments, and dikes are therefore necessary to the inland transportation system. Because of the diffixsculties of land travel, the number of motor vehicles remains relatively small. As of 2003, there were 31,700 passenger cars and 60,200 commercial vehicles that were registered.

Bangladesh had an estimated 16 airports in 2004. As of 2005, a total of 15 had paved runways. Zia International is the principal airport, located at Dhaka. Bangladesh Biman is the national airline. It has an extended network connecting major cities and operates international flights from Dhaka. In 2003, airlines carried 1.579 million domestic and international passengers.


In ancient times, the area now known as Bangladesh was the eastern portion of a huge river delta region called Bang, where the Ganges and Brahmaputra River systems empty into the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean. The region became known as Bengal in more modern times, but recorded history of the region can be traced to the 4th century bc when it was home to an apparently flourishing riverain civilization. The oldest surviving remains of this civilization are the ruins of the city of Mahasthan, the ancient Pundranagar, which continued to flourish for more than 1,500 years, even though the region was conquered by the Hindu Maurya empire that reached its height under Emperor Asoka around 207 bc. From this time onward, the history of Bengal was part of the wider historical experience of the Indian subcontinent, and during most of India's classical Hindu periodad 320 to ad 1000Bengal was a loosely incorporated outpost of empires centered in the Gangetic plain.

Islam came to South Asia in the years following ad 800 but did not reach Bengal until Muslim invaders from the west secured a foothold there around ad 1200. In the 13th and 14th centuries, after successive waves of Turkish, Persian, and Afghan invaders, Islam began to take a firm hold in the area that is now Bangladesh. The region was annexed by the Mughal Empire in 1576 under Emperor Akbar and ruled by his successors into the 17th century. The fealty lesser Nawabs (or Nabobs) of the Bengal area paid to the Mughals ensured the political stability and economic prosperity of the region, which became known for its industries based on the weaving of silk and cotton cloth.

The arrival of the French and British East India Companies in the early 18th century coincided with Mughal decline, the death of Emperor Auranzeb, and an intense period of competition and conflict between Britain and France. By the middle of the 18th century, the British emerged supreme in what they created as the Bengal Presidency, establishing themselves in Calcutta and expanding with alacrity into all of what is now Bangladesh, as well as the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Orissa. From Calcutta, British traders and administrators successfully played off rivalries among the satraps of the late Mughal empire to gain control of most of the subcontinent in the years between the Battle of Plassey in 1756 and the assumption of the company's domain by the British Crown in 1859. Calcutta remained the seat of British power in the subcontinent and the center of British control over the Indian Empire until 1931 when the capital was moved to the new city of New Delhi, adjacent to the traditional seat of Mughal power in old Delhi.

Well-to-do Hindus in Bengal generally prospered under the British, apparently taking more easily to British ways and British law than the numerically dominant Muslims. The Muslim aristocracy of eastern Bengalfeudal barons under the Mughalsresisted British rule. By the turn of the 20th century, both communities had begun to develop a political-cum-cultural consciousness of their own in reaction to the Western culture brought by the British. They took offense at British efforts to impose western educational systems on local universities, reducing their independence. Hindus were further enraged by the British decision in 1905, in an effort to improve administration and to placate Muslims, to divide the overly large Bengal Presidency in two, with the Muslim-dominant area of eastern Bengal and Assam to be a separate province. The 1905 partition was the first acknowledgment of a sense of separateness among Muslims by the British and foreshadowed events of 42 years later when Bengal was divided between Muslim-majority and Hindu-majority districts to create East Pakistan.

The 1905 action resulted in increasing acts of violence. Th is lasted until it was undone six years later in favor of reuniting Bengal and instead separating out what would become the provinces of Orissa and Bihar. But the agitation provoked by the 1905 partition and the Hindu-Muslim enmities it left behind continued to provoke terrorist actions against British rule until nonviolence emerged as a mode of political struggle, under the leadership of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi of the Indian National Congress.

British reforms in 1909 and 1919 expanded local self-rule in their Indian domains, but the pace fell short of the pace of demands put forth by the rising tide of nationalists espoused by the Indian National Congress, which in 1929 committed itself to the goal of complete independence. As the struggle gained momentum, differences between Hindus and Muslims widened. While the majority Hindu community saw a single Indian polity committed to secularism and diversity as the goal of the independence movement, Muslims came to fear that their community would be a permanent electoral minority, an anxiety they saw borne out in the 1937 elections held under British auspices. To look after their unique cultural interests, they formed the All-India Muslim League, and under the Muslim League leadership, sentiment began to coalesce around the "two nation" theory propounded earlier by the poet Iqbal, a belief that South Asian Muslims and Hindus were and should be two separate nations, i.e. that Muslims required the creation of an independent nation of their ownPakistanin which they would predominate. In 1940, the Muslim League adopted this as its goal, under the leadership of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a Mumbai (formerly Bombay) attorney who resisted all efforts at compromise through all the difficult days leading up to the grant of independence in 1947.

In language, culture, ethnic background, population density, political experience, and economic potential, East and West Pakistan were totally disparate. The primary bond was Islam. Pakistan's early years as a nation were dominated by unsuccessful attemptspunctuated by bouts of authoritarian ruleto create a national polity that would somehow bridge these differences. Larger in population and in economic importance than the west wing, the Bengali east wing chafed under national policies effectively dominated by the leadership residing in the west wing. When its influence was further reduced under repeated bouts of martial law and by the reconstruction of West Pakistan as a single province, demands for autonomy in the east began to mount. Th is demand proved more than the fragile sense of Islamic nationhood could sustain. The new state of Pakistan, made up of Muslim-majority districts in both eastern and western reaches of formerly British India, was at best an unwieldy creation. It cut across long-established lines of trade and communication, divided families, provoked a mass movement of millions of refugees caught on the "wrong" side of the partition markers, and forced the creation of a new but divided polity. Pakistan consisted of two distinct territories, separated by 1,600 km (1,000 mi) of secular but predominantly Hindu India. West Pakistan, with a population of 34 million, consisted mainly of the former provinces of Baluchistan, Sindh, the Northwest Frontier, and (partially) Punjab (which, like Bengal, was also partitioned). East Pakistan, its 42 million people including nearly 9 million Hindus, encompassed the eastern half of Bengal province as shaped in 1912, plus the Sylhet District of Assam.


After a round of martial law in Pakistan in 1969, national elections were scheduled for 1970. But when the popular verdict in those electionseven in the national assemblysupported greater autonomy for East Pakistan than the West Pakistan-dominated national leadership was prepared to accord, the results were set aside.

Subsequent civil unrest escalated quickly to civil war in East Pakistan. Swamped with a million refugees from the fighting, India intervened militarily in December 1971, tipping the scales in favor of the rebels and facilitating the creation of Bangladesh in 1972. Sheikh Mujibur (Mujib) Rahman, leader of the Awami League and of the fight for autonomy, was released from prison in West Pakistan (which became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan) and became prime minister of the new nation of Bangladesh.

The 1971 civil war undid much of the limited progress East Pakistan had made in recovering from the 1947 partition. Mujib faced a task for which his administrative and political experience was lacking. He fought and won a massive victory at the polls in 1973, but two years later, he suspended the political process and took power into his own hands. Bangla opinion turned against Mujib, coalescing two main opposition groups that otherwise shared little in common besides their opposition to Mujib and to Indian influence: they were the ultra conservative Islamic groups, led by the Jamaati-Islami, and the radical left, led by Maoists, who opposed both Indian and Soviet influence.

On 15 August 1975, a group of young military officers seized power, killing Mujib and many of his family members and imposing martial law. A countercoup three months later produced a new military government with Gen. Ziaur Rahman at its head. In 1978, with limited political activity permitted, he was elected president and lifted martial law. In February 1979, he restored parliamentary government after elections gave his new party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly.

Zia's assassination during an abortive military coup in May 1981 set back the progress he had made. He was succeeded in power by his vice president, Abdus Sattar, who was deposed the following March by his army chief, Gen. Hussain Mohammad Ershad. Declaring martial law, Ershad became Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), suspended the 1972 constitution, and banned political parties.

Ershad gained support by cracking down on corruption and opening up the economy to foreign collaboration. In 1983, he assumed the presidency, and by January 1986, he had restored full political activity in which his own party, the Jatiya (People's) Party took a prominent part. He retired from the army and was elected president without opposition in October 1986, but in July 1987, mounting opposition to his often dictatorial rule among the united opposition parties led him again to declare a state of emergency, dissolve the assembly, and schedule new elections for March 1988. His Jatiya Party triumphed in those elections, due mainly to the refusal of the opposition parties to participate. At the end of 1990, in the face of widespread demonstrations and some Hindu-Muslim violence, his opposition had grown so strong that Ershad was forced to resign the presidency, turning the government over to Supreme Court Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, the unanimous choice of the opposition parties.

An interim government scheduled elections for February 1991, and the resultin what has been described as the fairest polling ever held in the countrywas the election of an assembly in which the BNP, headed by Begum Khaleda Ziaur Rahman, Zia's widow, held a plurality. However, the BNP lost popular support by March 1994, when opposition parties walked out of Parliament and boycotted the government, claiming the BNP had rigged a regional election. The main opposition groupsthe Awami League (AL), Jatiya Party, and the Jamaat-e-Islamicontinued the protest for two years, boycotting February 1996 elections swept by the BNP. Amid further charges of vote-rigging, Khaleda Zia resigned, the BNP dissolved Parliament, and a caretaker government conducted new elections in June 1996. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of the Sheikh Mujid, gained control of Parliament in the elections, contested by all parties and monitored by international observers. Although initially dependent on the support of the Jatiya Party to form a government, by late September the Awami League held an absolute majority of seats in the legislature.

Prime Minister Sheik Hasina had no easier time ruling Bangladesh than her predecessor. Her government faced continuing protests, strikes, and often violent demonstrations organized by the BNP and other opposition parties. Targets for such actions included the government's historic agreement with India in December 1996 over sharing the waters of the River Ganges, higher taxes imposed by the government in July 1997, and problems of law and order in the country. During September 1997, Islamic militants took to the streets demanding the arrest and execution of controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen. November 1998 saw a general strike organized by the BNP over alleged government repression and clashes between police and protesters over alleged electoral fraud. Tensions were heightened by the conviction and death sentences passed on several people involved in the assassination of Sheikh Hasina's father, Sheikh Mujib.

In August 1998, Bangladesh also saw some of the worst flooding in the country's history. Over 1,000 people died and flood waters covered some 60% of the country. Loss of crops raised the specter of widespread famine, and the total damage to the country's economy and infrastructure was estimated at over us$2 billion.

Among the AL government's achievements, however, were the Ganges water-sharing treaty, the December 1997 accord that ended the tribal insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in southeastern Bangladesh, and a restructuring of local government to increase grassroots involvement in politics. On the international stage, Bangladesh was elected to serve a two-year term on the Security Council of the United Nations, effective 1 January 2000.

In December 2000, Bangladesh expelled a Pakistani diplomat for stating that the number of dead in the 1971 war was 26,000, whereas Bangladesh holds that nearly three million were killed. Bangladesh wanted Pakistan to apologize for the alleged genocide it says Pakistani forces were guilty of during the 1971 war. In July 2002, Pakistan's president Gen. Pervez Musharraf visited Dhaka, and made an apology for excesses committed in Bangladesh's war for independence.

A series of bombings beset Bangladesh during 2001, in April, June, and September. In total, 155 people were killed and more than 2,500 were injured in violence leading up to the October 2001 parliamentary elections. In July, Prime Minister Hasina stepped down, handing power over to a caretaker authority that supervised the upcoming elections; she became the first prime minister in the country's history to complete a full five-year term. Former prime minister Khaleda Zia won a landslide victory on 1 October 2001, campaigning against lawlessness and corruption, in an election in which 75% of the registered voters went to the polls. The Awami League boycotted Parliament, protesting alleged rigging of elections and the persecution of religious minorities.

In March 2002, the government enacted tough laws to combat the use of corrosive acid to disfigure and sometimes kill individuals, mostly women. The death penalty was set as the maximum sentence in some cases. In 2001, 338 acid attacks were carried out in Bangladesh, 90% of them against women. Most of the acid victims have had sulphuric or hydrochloric acid splashed on their faces.

In June 2002, the Awami League ended its boycott of Parliament, and attended for the first time since losing in the October 2001 elections. Also in June 2002, President Badruddoza Chowdhury resigned, after being criticized for not visiting the grave of the BNP's founder, Ziaur Rahman. That October, Prime Minister Zia called out the army to contain terrorist attacks throughout the country in the absence of adequate logistic support from the police. The army was also directed to curb crime and corruption. As many as 44 people died in custody in the drive lasting from 16 October 2002 to 9 January 2003. Zia granted immunity to the armed forces for their actions during that period, a decision that was highly criticized by the opposition Awami League.

Bangladesh's history of political violence continued through 2004. In 2002, bomb explosions in four cinemas killed 17 people and injured 300 among families celebrating the end of Ramadan. The government arrested 39 members of the Awami League in connection with the explosions. Two years later, in August 2004, a bomb exploded at a rally being held in the capital city of Dhaka by the Awami League. The blast, believed to be an assassination attempt against Hasina, killed 12 people and wounded more than 100 others.

The majority of Bangladesh's 141 million people are Muslim, and the country like many other Muslim-majority countries in Asia saw an increase in Islamic militant activity following the attacks on the World Trade Center in the United States on 11 September 2001. Although the nation remains officially secular, calls to adopt Islamic law have grown since 2001. In 2002 and 2003, editions of the newsmagazine Newsweek were banned in Bangladesh because they contained articles that the government deemed offensive to Muslims. The threat of militant violence continued to grow throughout 2005. On 17 August of that year, about 100 small bombs exploded across the country, mainly at government offices, bus and train stations, and in public markets. Two people were killed and at least 125 others were wounded in the blasts. Leaflets from the Islamic group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, were found at many of the bomb sites, calling for Islamic rule in Bangladesh.


Bangladesh inherited the provincial government under which first the Dominion, then Republic, of Pakistan was governed, a parliamentary system based on the Westminster model with a unicameral legislature. Following this model, the constitution of December 1972 established a unitary, democratic republic, with an indirectly elected president as nominal head of state and a prime minister as head of government and chief executive. The prime minister and his government are responsible to a unicameral legislaturethe Tatija Sangsadelected no less frequently than every five years and composed of 300 members. (A constitutional amendment reserving 30 additional parliamentary seats for indirect election of women expired in May 2001.) The constitution incorporated four basic principles of state policy: nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy. With considerable controversy, because of its impact on the nearly 17% of the population which is non-Muslim, Islam replaced secularism as a state principle by constitutional amendment in 1977.

The constitution was amended in 1975, at the initiative of Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman, to abrogate most guarantees of civil liberties, to establish a one-party polity, and to make the presidency, rather than the prime ministership, the chief executive of the government. Mujib's assassination later that year, and the countercoup that occurred three months later resulted in a four-year suspension of the constitution by Bangladesh's martial law ruler, Gen. Ziaur Rahman.

Rahman himself was assassinated in 1981, and in the turmoil that ensued, Gen. H. M. Ershad seized power. Ershad declared himself president in 1982, and held office until 1990, when increasing antigovernment protests and violence resulted in his resignation. He was later jailed on corruption charges. The interim government then conducted what most observers regard as the most free and fair elections ever held in Bangladesh, in 1991.

Begum Khaleda Ziair Rahman, widow of General Rahman and the head of his Bangladesh Nationalist Party, became the first woman to hold the position of prime minister in Bangladesh following the elections in 1991. Among her first acts, she reversed from her former position in favor of retaining a strong presidential system to restore the parliamentary system of 1972 and to return to the prime ministership the powers removed by Mujib in 1975. She led the campaign with strong Awami League support, which resulted in overwhelming parliamentary approval of a constitutional amendment. Kahleda Zia was forced to step down in March 1996, after two years of political turmoil following an opposition boycott of Parliament and elections. The opposition AL, which claimed the BNP had rigged two elections, was swept into power in the internationally monitored elections of June 1996. Sheikh Hasina Wajed then formed a coalition majority in Parliament with the Jatiya Party. By September 1996, with several victories in by-elections, the Awami League controlled an absolute majority of seats in Parliament. The government was thus unaffected by the Jatiya Party's withdrawal from the coalition in March 1997.

Parliamentary elections held 1 October 2001 resulted in a return of Kahleda Zia to power. The BNP took 201 seats, the AL held 62, Jamaat-e-Islami held 18, and the Ershad faction of the Jatiya Party took 14 seats. The majority BNP government aligned with three of the smaller parties, Jamaat-e-Islami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party. Elections were scheduled to be held in 2007. The Jamaat-e-Islami party is sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, a position that was controversial, especially after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States attributed to him. Zia attempted to quell domestic and international unease resulting from this position, asserting that Bangladesh would not become a fundamentalist Islamic state. However, her three coalition partners advocated replacing Bangladesh's secular laws with Islamic law, or Shariah.


From 1947 through the end of 1971, East Pakistannow Bangladeshwas governed as a single province, one of the two wings of Pakistan. In all, there were more than 30 political parties operating in the east wing, most of the them small, fractious, and with few elected members. The major parties at that time operated on the all-Pakistan level as well, and included the moderate Pakistan Muslim League (PML), a national movement that became the party of independence and the ruling party of Pakistan; the moderate socialist Awami (Freedom) League (AL), a spin-off from the Muslim League and the advocate of Bengali autonomy, with the bulk of its support in the east wing; the ultraconservative Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), grounded in Sunni Islamic orthodoxy (in Pakistan as in India) and initially opposed to the 1947 partition; and the leftist peasants and workers party, the Krishak Sramik Party (KSP) of Fazlul Haq. The Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) was banned in 1952 and remained illegal until its east wing component became the Bangladesh Communist Party (BCP) after 1971.

The PML governed East Pakistan from 1947, but in elections in 1954, the Awami League and the Krishak Sramik, supported in a United Front by the Jamaat, ousted the Muslim League from office. After four years of political instability, however, the two parties were displaced by the central government under "Governor's Rule," and the emergency provisions of the 1935 Government of India Act, then Pakistan's constitution. When the East Pakistan government was restored in August 1955, the KSP ruled in its own right until displaced by an AL government headed by Maulana Bhashani in 1956. Loss of Hindu support in 1958 cost the AL its majority in 1958, but "Governor's Rule" was again imposed, the provision having been carried over into the 1956 Pakistan Constitution. Martial law was imposed in Pakistan in 1965 and in elections held thereafter, under a limited political franchise, the Muslim League, now a shadow of its former self and the vehicle for General Ayub Khan's entry into elective politics, came to power briefly. Imposition of martial law in 1969 suspended political activity again until the scheduling of elections in 1970 restored political activity.

By 1970, the moderate-to-left populist Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Zulfikar Bhutto, and the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, now advocating far-reaching autonomy for East Bengal, had become the dominant political forces, respectively, in West and East Pakistan. Elections confirmed this position, with the AL winning 167 of East Pakistan's 169 seats in the National Assembly and absolute control in East Pakistan. The AL was the only constituent in the Bangla Government-in-Exile in 1971, with leftist parties in support and Islamic parties in opposition. After independence, the Islamic party leaders were jailed, their parties having been banned, and in 1973, Mujib's Awami League elected 293 members of the 300-elective seats in the Assembly.

In January 1975, with his power slipping, President Mujib amended the constitution to create a one-party state, renaming his party the Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BKSAL). After the coup later in 1975, the BKSAL was disbanded and disappeared. When Ziaur Rahman lifted the ban on political parties in 1978, his presidential bid was supported by a newly formed Nationalist Front, dominated by his Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which won 207 of the assembly's 300 elective seats. All political activity was banned anew in March 1982 when Gen. Ershad seized power, but as he settled into power, Ershad supported the formation of the Jatiya (People's) Party, which became his vehicle for ending martial law and transforming his regime into a parliamentary government. In elections marked by violence and discredited by extensive fraud, Ershad's Jatiya Party won more than 200 of the 300 elective seats at stake. The Awami League, now under the leadership of Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, took 76 seats as the leading opposition party. Begum Khaleda Zia's BNP, heading an alliance of seven parties, boycotted the elections and gained considerable respect by this action. The BNP, the AL, and all other parties boycotted Ershad's 1988 election as well, discrediting the result that gave the Jatiya a two-thirds majority and fueling the fires of discontent that led to Ershad's resignation on 4 December 1990. Ershad was arrested on corruption charges eight days later by the interim government, convicted, and imprisoned on corruption charges.

A BNP plurality in the elections on 27 February 1991 enabled Begum Khaleda Zia to form a government with the support of 28 of the appointive members of the assembly and of the JI, which won 18 seats. The leader of the opposition is Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League (AL), which won 88 seats to claim the second ranking position in the assembly. However, Khaleda Zia resigned and Parliament was dissolved in March 1996 amid vote-rigging charges and a two-year government boycott by opposition parties. June 1996 elections brought Sheikh Hasina and the AL to a majority role in the new Parliament. The AL won 140 seats to the BNP's 116. New Prime Minister Hasina formed a cooperative government with the Jatiya Party, which won 32 seats. Although the Jatiya Party withdrew from the coalition in March 1997, the Awami League had by then acquired an absolute majority in the legislature and continued as the party in power.

From 1997 to 2001, the main opposition party, the BNP, hindered the work of the Jatiya Sangsad (Parliament) by repeatedly boycotting its proceedings. One such boycottover issues ranging from restoration of a floating footbridge to Ziaur Rahman's tomb to the dropping of criminal charges against BNP members of parliamentlasted for six months (August 1997March 1998). Outside Parliament, the BNP continued to support public anti-government demonstrations, and organized a three-day general strike (hartal ) in November 1998 to protest alleged government repression. A month later, the opposition strengthened its position when the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami decided to accept Ershad and his Jatiya Party into the antigovernment movement.

After October 2001 parliamentary elections swept Khaleda Zia's BNP to power, ousting the Awami League of Hasina Wajed, concern was raised over the political stance of one of Zia's coalition partners, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which voices support for Osama bin Laden. Zia's three coalition partners in the government formed in 2001, JamaateIslami, Islami Oikya Jote, and the Naziur faction of the Jatiya Party, are all Islamic parties advocating a return to Islamic law, or Shariah. Zia, however, granted the US-led military coalition the use of Bangladesh air space and other help for its attacks on bin Laden and his al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in 200102, approving of the US-led war on terrorism. Hasina's Awami League supports secularism. Khaleda Zia's term extended through 2007.


As a unitary state, the key administrative unit in Bangladesh is the region (also popularly referred to as the district), of which there are 21 in all. For administrative convenience, regions are grouped into (and report through) six divisions (Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, and Sylhet), under a senior civil servant with the title of division commander (formerly commissioner).

As of 1985, regions or districts were subdivided into zilas; in urban areas, these were further broken down into municipalities, wards, mohallas, and thanas, while in rural areas, the breakdown was into upazilas (subdistricts), unions, mouzas, and villages. Under that system, each region or district was under the charge of a senior civil servant with the title of deputy commissioner; they are appointed by the national government and are vested with broad powers to collect revenues and taxes, assist in development activities, and maintain law and order.

In 1997, Bangladesh reorganized its local government structure in rural areas. New legislation created a fourtier local government system: gram (village), union (collection of villages), upazila (sub-district), and zila (district) councils. The purpose of this reorganization was to democratize government at the grassroots level in a process that, in theory at least, is nonpartisan. Elections for union parishads (councils) held in December 1997 created widespread interest, with particularly high levels of participation from women, both as candidates as well as voters. Other legislation made the upazila level the most important tier in local government, giving the upazila council power to collect revenue, prepare its own budget and hire its own employees. The restructuring of local government in Bangladesh is an ongoing process aimed at increasing popular participation in the governmental process.


The judicial system, modeled after the British system, is similar to that of neighboring countries. Besides the 1972 constitution, the fundamental law of the land, there are codes of civil and criminal laws. The civil law incorporates certain Islamic and Hindu religious principles relating to marriage, inheritance, and other social matters.

The constitution provides for an impartial and independent judiciary. After the 1982 coup, the constitution was suspended, martial law courts were established throughout the country, and Lieut. Gen Ershad assumed the power to appoint judges. The constitution was reinstated in November 1986.

The judicial system consists of a Low Court and a Supreme Court, both of which hear civil and criminal cases. The Low Court consists of administrative courts (magistrate courts) and session judges. The Supreme Court also has two divisions, a High Court which hears original cases and reviews decisions of the Low Court, and an Appellate Court which hears appeals from the High Court. The upper-level courts have exercised independent judgment, recently ruling against the government on a number of occasions in criminal, civil, and even political trials. The trials are public. There is a right to counsel and right to appeal. There is also a system of bail. An overwhelming backlog of cases remained the major problem of the court system.

The government, with the help of the World Bank, has under-taken an ambitious project to reform the judicial system. Changes include the creation of "Legal Aid Committees" to provide assistance to the poor, as well as the establishing of Metropolitan Courts of Sessions in Dhaka and Chittagong. In March 2001, the World Bank announced the approval of a us$30.6 million credit to assist Bangladesh in making its judicial system more efficient and accountable. A permanent Law Commission has been created to reform and update existing laws, and the government is committed to establishing a Human Rights Commission as well as an Office of the Ombudsman.


In 2005, Bangladesh had 125,500 active military personnel, of which the Army had 110,000, the Navy 9,000, and the Air Force 6,500. Paramilitary forces of border guards, armed police, and security guards totaled 126,200. The Army's primary weapons systems included 180 main battle tanks, more than 40 light tanks, over 180 armored personnel carriers, and over 190 artiullery pieces. Major naval units included 5 frigates, 33 patrol/coastal vessels, and 4 mine warfare ships. The Air Force's main weapons include 29 fighters and 34 fighter ground attack aircraft. Bangladesh was attempting to improve naval command primarily to combat piracy. The military budget in 2005 was $785 million.

Bangladesh participated in 11 UN peacekeeping missions.


Bangladesh joined the United Nations on 17 September 1974; it belongs to ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies. The country holds membership in the Asian Development Bank, the Colombo Plan, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and G-77. The nation became a member of the WTO on 1 January 1995. In 1985, Bangladesh became one of seven constituent members of the SAARC, under which it is a signatory to the South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement.

Soon after independence, Bangladesh signed a friendship treaty with India, but relations between the two nations are often strained. In 1997, Bangladesh signed an agreement with India on sharing water from the Ganges River. Pakistan recognized Bangladesh in February 1974, and the two have developed good relations, their past differences notwithstanding.

Generally, Bangladesh follows a nonaligned foreign policy by but the late 1990s was seeking closer relations with other Islamic states, ASEAN, and China. Bangladesh has offered assistance to UN efforts in Kosovo (est. 1999), the Western Sahara (est. 1991), Ethiopia and Eritrea (est. 2000), Sierra Leone (est. 1999), East Timor (est. 2002), Georgia (est. 1993), Côte d'Ivoire (est. 2004), and DROC (est. 1999). Bangladesh also continued a healthy relationship with the United States, with which it had bilateral trade agreements. In 1995, the country's trade exporters association signed an agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) under which industry's rampant use of child labor would be eliminated.

In environmental cooperation, Bangladesh is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Bangladesh lies along a river delta and has gained interest from foreign investors in recent years because of its large potential natural gas reserves. However, with the highest population density of any country except city-states like Singapore, its cultivated land is overcrowded, undercapitalized, and dominated by subsistence farmers. Over 60% of the country's total land area is cultivated. Although half of the nation's gross domestic product comes from the services sector, about 63% of the economically active population subsists on agriculture. Growth rates have not been high enough to eliminate substantial poverty; it is estimated that 45% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2004. Nevertheless, signs of modest improvement in the economy have been evident during the past decade, with growth occurring at a steady 5.2% rate over the past several years. Despite this improvement, Bangladesh's reliance on agriculture makes its economy extremely vulnerable to cyclones, floods, and droughts. Changes in world commodity prices also have a strong effect on the country's economic condition. Agriculture accounts for 20.5% of the country's GDP, with services comprising 52.8% and industry 26.7%.

The prospect of return to elected government in 1990 helped produce an upsurge in growth in 1989/90 of 6.6%, but in 1990/91 the combined effects of the Gulf War, domestic political disturbances, and a devastating cyclone resulted in a drop in the GDP's growth rate to 3.4%. Pursuit of further stabilization and structural adjustment measures by the government in 1991 allowed Bangladesh to weather these crises, strengthen its revenue base, bring inflation to a record low of 1.4% in 1993, and maintain a good balance of payments position. However, political instability and a lack of continued economic reforms pushed inflation to 5.2% in 1995. Sluggish development investments, limited growth in manufacturing, and bureaucratic inefficiency persisted. The election of the Awami League government helped calm the political situation, and the economy responded. GDP grew 4.7% in 1996, while inflation eased to 5.04%.

In 1997, the government's delay in instituting reforms threatened to slow economic advances. Inflation rose to 7%, while GDP slowed to 4%. Although the Awami League promoted the exploration, distribution and manufacture of oil and gas in Bangladesh in the late 1990s, exploration has been delayed by political squabbles over how foreign companies would participate. The economy grew strongly during 1998, with real growth reaching 5.4%. Growth slowed to 4.9% in 1999, and to 3.4% in 2000. The global economic slowdown, and the after-effects of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, combined with continuing internal political turmoil initially brought economic growth almost to a halt in Bangladesh, with an estimated growth rate of 1.6%. Although Bangladesh's growth rate improved to 5.2% in the early 2000s, severe flooding in 2004 damaged crops and infrastructure, illustrating once again the country's vulnerability to natural disasters. As of 2005, Bangladesh experienced an inflation rate of 6%, and its public debt comprised 46.1% of its GDP. Although the country received $30 billion in foreign aid and loans since 1971, nearly half of its people continue to live below the poverty line. Both the IMF and World Bank predicted that Bangladesh would not be able to ease poverty significantly until annual growth reached 78%.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Bangladesh's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $299.9 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $2,100. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.2%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 6.7%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 20.5% of GDP, industry 26.7%, and services 52.8%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $3.191 billion or about $23 per capita and accounted for approximately 6.1% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $1,393 million or about $10 per capita and accounted for approximately 2.5% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Bangladesh totaled $39.68 billion or about $288 per capita based on a GDP of $51.9 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2.9%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 49% of household consumption was spent on food, 18% on fuel, 8% on health care, and 9% on education. It was estimated that in 2004 about 45% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


The labor force in 2005 was estimated at 66.6 million workers. In the Fiscal Year 1995/96 (the latest year for which data was available), 11% of the civilian labor force was employed in the industrial sector, with agriculture accounting for 63%, and service employees 26%. Statistics are unreliable because of a large, informal, unreported market. The unemployment rate in 2005 was estimated at 2.5%, and included those who would be considered "under-employed." Also, Bangladesh is an extensive exporter of labor to Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Qatar, and Oman.

Although 1.8 million out of the 5 million workers in the formal sector of the economy were unionized, most of which were tied to political parties and represented only a small fraction of the economically active population. Strikes are a common form of workers protest. There are industrial tribunals to settle labor disputes. The government can impose labor settlements through arbitration, as well as by declaring a strike illegal. Unions have become progressively more aggressive in asserting themselves, especially on the political scene. Civil service and security forces personnel are banned from joining unions. In addition, teachers in both the private and public sectors are prohibited from forming a trade union.

Bangladesh has no national minimum wage. Instead, wages are set by the National Pay and Wages Commission and may not be disputed. In the private sector, wages are set by industry, and collective bargaining rarely occurs due to high unemployment and workers' concerns over job security. By law, government employees, as well as workers in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), banks and other office workers are subject to a 40 hour work week, with Fridays and Saturdays off. However, the legal workweek for factory workers is 48 hours, with up to 12 hours of overtime and one day off mandated. This law is rarely enforced, especially in the garment industry. Children under the age of 14 are prohibited by law to work in factories but may work (under restricted hours) in other industries. But such restrictions are rarely enforced and children work in every sector of the economy. In 2003, the government estimated that 3.2 million children between the ages 514 were engaged in all types of employment activities, many that were harmful to their well-being. By law, every child is required to attend school up to the age of 10 or through the fifth grade. However, there is no effective way of enforcing this regulation.


Agriculture accounted for 23% of GDP and engaged 53% of the economically active population in 2003. Most of the farmers own no more than a few acres of land, and their holdings are badly fragmented. The land is fertile, but yields are low because of a lack of capital for input.

Rice dominates the production of about 60% of all cropped land in Bangladesh. Of the varieties grown, aman rice, which can be raised in inundated land and saline soil, occupies nearly 60% of the total land under rice. Aus rice, which cannot be grown in flooded fields, is raised mostly in higher areas of Bangladesh. Boro rice is grown in the winter, mainly in the swamps and marshy areas, but government-supported irrigation projects have encouraged its extension to other areas. To meet the challenge of the food shortages, the government of Bangladesh and international aid programs introduced a high-yielding variety of rice called IRRI with considerable success. Total rice production in 2004 was 37,910,000 tons. Before November 1992, the government artificially inflated rice prices by buying over one million tons per harvest. With subsidies gone, the subsequent fall in rice prices reflected an adjustment of the market after 20 years of prices propped up by government sales and purchases.

Jute is the main cash crop of Bangladesh, which produces about one-quarter of the total jute supply of the world. Grown in most parts of the country, jute is harvested from July to September. Its strong fibers are used to produce carpets, burlap bags, mats, upholstery, and other products. Jute is also used to manufacture textiles for clothes. The combined total export of jute and jute products represents about 1315% of Bangladesh's annual export earnings. Although Bangladesh is the world leader in exports of jute, its prominence in the economy has slipped since the 1970s. The diminished role is due to mismanagement of the nationalized jute industry, labor strikes, and a drop in the worldwide use of jute for packing. In 2004, 800,000 tons of jute were produced (28% of world production).

Although tea is the second most important agricultural export, it accounted for only 11% of agricultural export earnings in 2004. Most tea plantations are in the Sylhet Region and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Much of the tea is consumed domestically; total production in 2004 was 55,600 tons.

The agricultural economy, though disrupted by the 1971 war, largely recovered and grew by an average 2.7% annually during the 1980s and by an annual average of 2.9% during 19902000. However, in 2003 agricultural production was down 2.1% from 19992001. Agricultural exports accounted for 1.7% of total exports in 2004. Frequent monsoons and cyclones keep the economy vulnerable. Crop output (in tons) in 2004 included sugarcane, 6,484,000; wheat, 1,253,000; potatoes, 3,908,000; sweet potatoes, 320,000; tobacco, 40,000; and barley, 1,000. Fruit production in 2004 included 700,000 tons of bananas, 243,000 tons of mangoes, and 155,000 tons of pineapples. Coconut productions totaled 89,000 tons that year; lentils, 122,000 tons.


The livestock sector has made significant progress during the 1990s, rising from 1% to 10% of GDP. Livestock provide most of Bangladesh's draft power, rural transportation, manure, and fuel, in addition to meat, milk, eggs, hides, and skins. Buffalo milk is an important item of consumption, especially in the form of clarified butterfat. Small dairy farms (with 520 crossbred cows) have been growing fast in recent years. Entrepreneurs are encouraged by high liquid milk prices as well as government incentives under which the farmers receive cash to purchase dairy cows. There are over 20,000 small dairies; total milk production in 2004 was 2.17 million tons. There were about 24.5 million head of cattle, 850,000 buffaloes, 34.5 million goats, 1.26 million sheep, and 140 million chickens in 2004.

Much of the cattle stock is smuggled from India because of the reduced local availability of cows and bulls, especially during the midyear Muslim holiday of Eid Ul Azha, when cattle are sacrificed throughout the country. The cattle brought in from India may account for up to 30% of beef production. The scarcity of cattle in recent years is the result of lack of vaccines and fodder, natural disasters, and an absence of farmer incentives.


Fish is a staple food of Bangladesh and the main source of protein. There are hundreds of varieties, including carp, salmon, pomfret, shrimp, catfish, and many local varieties. Dried fish is considered a delicacy in many parts of the country. About 999,000 tons of fish (76% from inland waters) were produced in 2003. While much of the fish is consumed domestically, Bangladesh exports a sizable quantity of freshwater fish to India and other neighboring countries, and freshwater shrimp and lobster are exported to a number of countries. Exports of fish products in 2003 amounted to $322.9 million. It is also a major source of frogs' legs, which are "farmed" commercially. Fishermen's cooperatives foster the use of modern fishcatching trawlers in the Bay of Bengal, and the government has established a fisheries corporation to stimulate production of freshwater fish for export.


Bangladesh has an estimated 1,300,000 hectares (3,200,000 acres) of forests, covering some 10.2% of land area. In recent years, the pressure of population has led to enormous deforestation. The government controlled Forest Industries Development Corp. supervises the development and exploitation of forest resources. Roundwood production in 2003 came to 28 million cu m (1 billion cu ft). Over 98% of timber cut is used for firewood.

The main forest zone is the Sunderbans area in the southwest, consisting mostly of mangrove forests. Two principal species dominate the Sunderban forests: sundari trees, which grow about 1518 m (5060 ft) high and are of tough timber, and gewa trees, a softer wood used for making newsprint. Teak and bamboo are grown in the central forests.


Aside from its large identified natural gas reserves, Bangladesh had few mineral resources. The Bay of Bengal area was being explored for oil, and in some offshore areas, drilling was being conducted by international companies. Bangladesh had reserves of good-quality coal in the northern districts, but extraction has been difficult since many deposits were located at a depth of more than 900 m. Production estimates of mineral commodities in Bangladesh in 2004 included hydraulic cement, 5,000,000 metric tons; marine salt, 350,000 metric tons; and limestone (mined in the Sylhet and Chittagong regions), 36,000 metric tons.


A substantial portion of Bangladesh's electrical supply is met by the country's only hydroelectric plant, at Kaptai, which has a capacity of 230 MW; the rest of the country's power is produced by burning coal, gas, and oil. Except for a few private installations on the tea plantations and a few other industries, the power and energy sector is controlled by a government-managed corporation. In 2003, electricity generation was estimated at 17.4 billion kWh, of which 94% came from fossil fuels and 6% from hydropower. In 2002, consumption of electricity totaled 15.353 billion kWh. Total capacity in 2003 is estimated at 3.6 gigawatts (GW). As of August 2005, it was reported that only about 20% of the population had access to electricity (25% urban and 10% rural). In addition, the power supply is erratic, and blackouts are a chronic problem, as are delays in new plant construction.

In July 1997, Bangladesh contracted with four international power and refining companies for four new power plants with a combined capacity of 1,600 MW. The new plants were expected to double the country's electricity to 4,000 MW over five years. A large-capacity, gas-fired 360 MW plant at Haripur became operational in April 2001, and a second, similar plant was scheduled for completion at Meghnaghat in late 2002. In 2000 the United States agreed to provide technical assistance for construction of the planned Rooppur nuclear plant.

Bangladesh's major energy resource is natural gas. However, there is some question as to how large the nation's natural gas reserves are. According to British Petroleum (BP), proven reserves at the end of 2004 stood at 0.44 trillion cu m (15.4 trillion cu ft), but estimates from the Oil and Gas Journal, place those reserves at 10.6 trillion cu ft as of 1 January 2005. According to estimates by the US Geological Survey, Bangladesh's "undiscovered reserves" have been placed at 32.1 trillion cu ft. Natural gas production in 2004 has been put at 13.2 billion cu m, according to BP. With 20 natural gas fields throughout the country, the government controls the gas industry but began accepting private exploration bids in 1991. Foreign companies active in the country's natural gas sector include Shell and Unocal. More than four-fifths of Bangladesh's natural gas is used to produce power and fertilizer.

Bangladesh's proven oil reserves are reported to be modest and, as of 1 January 2005, were estimated at 56 million barrels. In 2004, production of oil was estimated at 6,725 barrels per day, of which crude oil accounted for 6,000 barrels per day. The country has one oil refinery, located at Chittagong, with a capacity of 33,000 barrels per day. In 1991 Chinese consultants confirmed the existence of 300 million tons of good quality coal at the Boropukuria coal field in northern Diajpur District.


Bangladesh came into existence after a violent fight for independence in 1971 from Pakistan, following initial partition from India when British colonial rulers pulled out of the subcontinent in 1947. Efforts to develop an industrial base faltered in the country's early years of independence when Bangladesh attempted to stimulate economic growth by nationalizing most of its industries. That statist model led to much inefficiency and stagnation, and beginning in the mid-1970s, Bangladesh started to shift its strategy toward one of encouraging a move toward a market economy. The country remained committed to developing such an economy, and has made steps in that direction. However, many of its key industriesincluding banking and jute productionwere still government controlled. Public control of industry, coupled with the country's persistent population growth and limited capital, has led to inefficiency and a resistance to developing its richest resources.

Bangladesh developed policies to encourage private enterprise and investment through the mid-1980s. However, many stated objectives were not carried out partly because political problems preoccupied governmental leaders. As a result, Bangladesh has had difficulty achieving its major industrial goals. Privatization of industry has occurred at a slow pace, partly because of worker unrest as well as a dysfunctional banking system. However, some progress was seen on 30 June 2002 when the government succeeded in closing down its Adamjee Jute Mill, one of its largest and most expensive public enterprises. In the meantime, a global economic crisis that followed the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States hit Bangladesh's garment industry particularly hard. Readymade garments comprise Bangladesh's primary export. The growth of these exports, 18% annually before September 2001, slowed to 8%.

The garment industry, however, remained one with strong potential for Bangladesh. About 1.8 million jobsmostly for womenhave been created in the industry since the 1990s. The country also has drawn praise for its efforts to end child labor in its garment factories, eliminating such exploitative work by 2001.

Bangladesh has seen growth in steel, sugar, tea, leather goods, newsprint, pharmaceutical, and fertilizer production. A challenge is diversifying its export base. Garments accounted for about 75% of the country's exports in 2005, though it also exports leather, shrimp, pharmaceuticals, ceramics and its historic cash crop, jute. With a goal of expanding exports in mind, the country has made strides in its effort to establish export processing zones and was encouraging entrepreneurs to set up similar establishments.

Continued efforts to privatize industry are likely to determine whether Bangladesh will be able to compete in a global economy in the 21st century. Although progress has been made, the public sector still employed about one-third of the formal labor force and made up about 40% of the country's hard industrial assets. A lack of a privately run industrial base meant that Bangladesh was likely to continue to rely on weaker sectors such as agriculture; as of August 2005, manufacturing accounted for only 16% of the GDP.

A new potential source of industrial growth lies in Bangladesh's oil and natural gas reserves. Bangladesh produces about 6,725 barrels of oil per day and its proven reserves are estimated at 56 million. Although Bangladesh has encouraged foreign oil companies to do business in the country, exploration has proven to be difficult and disagreements over the licensing of foreign oil holdings has stalled growth in this sector. In terms of natural gas, proven reserves are estimated between 10 trillion and 15 trillion cubic feet. Bangladesh is seen as having potential to become a major gas producer and the commodity could become a valuable export. However, many in Bangladesh feel that the reserves should be used to meet domestic needs first, and leaders within its major political parties have agreed only to consider exporting natural gas if the reserves can satisfy 50 years of domestic demand.


Bangladesh lacks the trained personnel necessary for intensive technological development. The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (founded in 1962) does, however, train some technicians. Other institutions offering scientific and technical education include the Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh, the University of Chittagong, the University of Dhaka, Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka, Khulna University, and the University of Rajshahi. In the period 199001, there were only 51 scientists and 32 technicians engaged in research and development per million people. In 2002, high technology exports totaled $10 million.

The Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and headquartered in Dhaka, operates seven research institutes, and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy commission, founded in 1973, and also in Dhaka, operates two others. The Geological Society of Bangladesh, founded in 1972 at Dhaka, is a government organization under the Ministry of Energy and Natural resources. Leading professional groups are the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences, the Bangladesh Medical Association, and the Zoological Society of Bangladesh, all headquartered in Dhaka.


Most commodities produced in Bangladesh are consumed inside the country. Normally, the farmers or fishermen sell to wholesalers and they in turn sell to distributors and retailers. Industrial commodities for domestic consumption are distributed through the same procedure. The middlemen in the distribution process have often benefited from excessive profits, creating hardships for farmers and consumers. To meet this situation, the government has introduced mechanisms by means of which farmers can sell directly to cooperative agencies acting on behalf of buyers. The government has also set up fair-price shops for consumers. Much domestic trade in rural areas is conducted in the marketplaces, where farmers sell directly to consumers. Bangladesh's government promotes foreign investment into the country's infrastructure, and about 60% of the domestic development budget comes from foreign aid.

Foreign products are imported by large commercial concerns located in the capital city of Dhaka or in the ports, and are then distributed through wholesalers and retailers. Normal business hours are between 9 am and 5 pm, Sunday through Thursday, but most retail stores are open until 8 pm. Many private businesses are open on Saturday as well. Limited advertising is done through the newspapers, movie houses, handbills, and television.

Most Bangladeshis earn their living from agriculture so many of the domestic commodities that are traded are farm products. The nation's 2004 budget contained a $100 million subsidy for the agriculture sector, in recognition of the importance of farming for its people. Rice and jute are the primary crops, with wheat and vegetables gaining more importance. Tea is grown in the northeast. Because of Bangladesh's fertile soil and ample water, rice can be grown and harvested three times a year in many areas.


Since independence, Bangladesh has had a negative trade balance. Imports steadily ran more than double the value of exports between 1971 and 1991. With a surge in export growth since 1991, the trade deficit has improved; imports exceeded exports by about 56% in 1996, and by 62% in 1997 as opposed to more than 120% in 1989/90. Trade relations with the United States remained excellent. As a result of successful export promotion measures undertaken by the government during the 1980s, exports of readymade-garments and knitwear are now Bangladesh's leading earner of foreign exchange.

The garment and textile industry garners the highest percentage of Bangladesh's export commodities, including undergarments, women's and men's outerwear, leather, hats, and yarn (85%). At the mouth of the Ganges, fish and crustaceans are also harvested and exported (5.6%).

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 4,787.8 7,069.5 -2,281.7
United States 1,523.5 188.0 1,335.5
Germany 649.5 152.3 497.2
United Kingdom 558.6 168.3 390.3
France-Monaco 320.6 92.3 228.3
Netherlands 215.2 78.0 137.2
Belgium 213.3 213.3
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 210.9 88.3 122.6
Spain 120.8 120.8
Canada 102.8 56.9 45.9
Sweden 94.5 49.2 45.3
() data not available or not significant.

Bangladesh belongs to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It joined the other SAARC membersBhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lankain agreeing in 2004 to create a South Asian Free Trade Area by 2006.


Like many poorer countries, Bangladesh has encouraged its growing cadre of workers in the Middle East and elsewhere overseas to remit earnings back to the country. As a result of these private transfers, the country has been able to offset its trade deficit to some degree. Since the end of the 1990s, the level of worker remittances has increased at an average rate of 12.6%. As of November 2004, such remittances totaled $3 billion a year.

However, large amounts of foreign aid and heavy short-term borrowing are needed to handle the balance-of-payments problem. In FY 1991/92, the infusion of $1.59 billion in foreign aid and transfers helped lessen a negative balance of payments. In 1995, the trade deficit widened and there was a stagnation in the growth of remittances from overseas workers. The rising trade deficit, coupled with a decline in international aid disbursements due to political turmoil, caused foreign exchange reserves to drop from a peak of $3.4 billion in April 1995 to $2.1 billion by the end of 1996, and $1.7 billion by 1999. The reserves stabilized at between $2.2 billion and $2.5 billion after 2002, and were reported at $3.24 billion as of May 2005.

During the 1990s, the manufacturing sector revived, due to export growth led by garments and knitwear. Although the garment industry suffered the effects of a post-9/11 economic slowdown, it remained a solid contributor to Bangladesh's export base. Bilateral quota systems with developed country markets, whose quota regimes limited the exports of many competing Asian suppliers, were a factor in the growth of garment exports starting from 1994. Other factors contributing to the success of the garment industry

Current Account 182.5
     Balance on goods -2,421.1
         Imports -9,349.3
         Exports 6,928.2
     Balance on services -731.6
     Balance on income -223.1
     Current transfers 3,558.3
Capital Account 298.1
Financial Account 210.5
     Direct investment abroad -5.9
     Direct investment in Bangladesh 102.5
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities 1.6
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets -557.9
     Other investment liabilities 670.3
Net Errors and Omissions 196.0
Reserves and Related Items -887.1
() data not available or not significant.

in Bangladesh include few governmental regulations, the provision of customs-bonded warehouses for imported cloth, and financial arrangements allowing foreign banks to finance raw materials inventories. Nevertheless, Bangladesh must diversify its export base in order to remain competitive globally.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2005 the purchasing power parity of Bangladesh's exports was $9.372 billion while imports totaled $12.97 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $3.6 billion. Despite the lingering deficit, the International Monetary Fund's Executive Board in 2005 praised Bangladesh's efforts to moderate inflation and increase its foreign reserves. The board recommends that the nation continue with economic reforms, diversification of exports and efforts to fight poverty.


Central banking is conducted by the Bangladesh Bank, which has its head office in Dhaka. It is responsible for the circulation of money, supervision of commercial banks, and control of credit and foreign exchange. There are 4 commercial government-owned banks, 6 development financial institutions, 27 domestic private banks, and 12 foreign bank branches operating in Bangladesh. The four major banks are all state-owned: Sonali Bank, Janata Bank, Agrani Bank, and Rupali Bank. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $4.3 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $16.9 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 6%.

Trade on the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) was dormant until 1993. The fourth quarter of 1996 was marked by feverish activity on the DSE, and on the smaller Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE). In September, October, and the first two weeks of November, records were broken daily as share prices soared. Prices soon bore little relation to the current profitability or future prospects of the companies concerned. Up to 300,000 first-time buyers joined in the bonanza, driving the limited number of stocks traded-210-to a peak on 16 November, 1996, when the all-share index reached 3,627, up from around 1,000 in June. By 4 November, market capitalization had reached an unsustainable $6 billion, equivalent to some 20% of the country's GDP. The government began to cool down the market by selling off state-owned enterprises. In late December, the central bank announced that T2 billion ($47 million) would be available to the state-run Investment Corporation of Bangladesh to buy shares and give some support to the market, but the market crashed despite these preventative measures. In 1997, 37 stock brokers were charged with market manipulation in the DSE boom and crash of 1996. As of 2004, there were 250 companies listed on the DSE. Market capitalization as of December 2004 stood at $3.317 billion, with the DSE up 103.7% from the previous year at 1,971.3.


The Ministry of Finance and Planning is the insurance regulatory body. Premiums are mainly in commercial or industrial fields. Life insurance remained limited to city dwellers and middle-class professionals. In 2003, direct life insurance premiums written totaled $194 million. All direct premiums written that same year totaled $297 million. The country's top life insurer that same year was American Life with gross life premiums written of $60.6 million. The top nonlife insurer had gross nonlife premiums written of $14.1 million in 2003.


The fiscal year runs from June to July. In 1993, Bangladesh successfully completed a three-year IMF structural adjustment program. This program resulted in growth in the money supply of 11% in 1993, 15% in 1994, and 16% in 1995. In addition, government spending was curbed by a decline in subsides to money-losing parastatals and the value added tax (VAT) continued to generate higher than predicted revenues for the government, with collections up 18% over 1994. In 1996, the government reported that exports were up, GDP grew by 4.4%, and tax revenues climbed 9% to $3.1 billion. Encouraged by the good news, the government proposed a 1997 budget that would reduce domestic taxes, further cut import duties, and provide special incentives for foreign investors. The government stressed, however, a continuing need for foreign aid. International aid disbursements in 1996 totaled $1.5 billion, down from $1.7 billion in 1995. Almost half of government revenues come from foreign aid. In 1999, primarily because of flooding, foreign aid increased by 19% from $1.3 billion in 1998. The global economic downturn of the first few years of the new millenium has had devastating effects on Bangladesh's economy. Exports had been growing 18% a year prior to the recession; they are now growing only 8% a year. The World Bank and the IMF predicted that GDP growth would fall well short of the 78% they believed would be necessary for the country to lift itself out of poverty.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Bangladesh's central government took in revenues of approximately $5.9 billion and had expenditures of $8.5 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$2.6 billion. Public

Revenue and Grants 336,680 100.0%
     Tax revenue 242,612 72.1%
     Social contributions
     Grants 33,092 9.8%
     Other revenue 60,976 18.1%
Expenditures 340,329 100.0%
     General public services 96,293 28.3%
     Defense 34,354 10.1%
     Public order and safety 19,511 5.7%
     Economic affairs 62,874 18.5%
     Environmental protection 413 0.1%
     Housing and community amenities 26,307 7.7%
     Health 22,959 6.7%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 4,685 1.4%
     Education 61,059 17.9%
     Social protection 11,874 3.5%
() data not available or not significant.

debt in 2005 amounted to 46.1% of GDP. Total external debt was $21.25 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were t336,680 million and expenditures were t340,329 million. The value of revenues was us$5,790 million and expenditures us$5,846 million, based on an official exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = t58.150 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 28.3%; defense, 10.1%; public order and safety, 5.7%; economic affairs, 18.5%; environmental protection, 0.1%; housing and community amenities, 7.7%; health, 6.7%; recreation, culture, and religion, 1.4%; education, 17.9%; and social protection, 3.5%.


The principal direct taxes are personal income taxes and corporate income taxes, and a value-added tax (VAT) of 15% levied on all-important consumer goods. The top income tax rate for individuals is 25%. For the 2004/05 tax year (1 July 200430 June 2005) the top corporate rate was 45%. However, publicly traded companies registered in Bangladesh are charged a lower rate of 30%. Banks, financial institutions and insurance companies are charged the 45% rate. All other companies are taxed at the 37.5% rate. Effective 1 July 2002, the VAT rate on computer hardware and software was reduced to 7.5%, and certain agricultural equipment and electricity supplied to the agricultural sector was exempted from VAT altogether. VAT on the transfer of land is also to be abolished. Essential agricultural implements and irrigation pumps had previously been excluded from certain taxes.


Although it has made significant reforms in the past few years, Bangladesh remains one of the most restrictive trade regimes in Asia and gets a major portion of its current revenue from import duties and excise taxes. As of 2005, customs duties on imports ranged from 7.530%, although supplementary duties can push import duties much higher. There is also a 2.5% infrastructure development surcharge on nearly all imports. Customs procedures are lengthy and burdensome and Bangladesh's list of prohibited imports is lengthy.

There are three export processing zones: one in Chittagong; one in Dakha; and one in Gazipur; three more are under construction in Comilla, Issardi, and Mongla. Bangladesh is a member of the South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA).


Bangladesh nationalized most industries in 1972 and set up nine corporations to oversee them. That statist policy proved inefficient and in the mid-1980s, the Bangladesh government began relaxing its policy toward foreign investment and announced a program granting tax holidays to new foreign investors. More recently, government industrial policies have liberalized conditions for foreign investment much further100% foreign equity is now allowed on investments anywhere in the country, and many regulations discriminating between foreign and domestic investors have been abolished. Foreign direct investment (FDI) began flowing into the country, though it was curtailed sharply in 2000 and 2001 when Bangladesh failed to carry out structural economic reforms.

The US State Department reported that total foreign direct investment in Bangladesh totaled $712 million in the period 19992003. Foreign investment averaged about $7 million annually in 199096 before rising sharply in 19972000 to $196.8 million annually. Most of the increase was due to investments in Bangladesh's oil and natural gas reserves and other aspects of its energy sector. Annual investment dropped to $78 million in 2001 and to $52 million in 2002. However, foreign investment rebounded, with a total of $120.7 million invested in 2003. The largest foreign investors in Bangladesh are the United States, Norway, Malaysia, Japan, and the United Kingdom.


The major objectives of planned development have been increased national income, rural development, self-sufficiency in food, and increased industrial production. However, political turmoil and constant natural disasters have consistently derailed Bangladesh's economic goals. Bangladesh's first five-year plan (197378) aimed to increase economic growth by 5.5% annually, but actual growth averaged only 4% per year. A special two-year plan (197880), stressing rural development, also fell short of its projected growth target, as did the second five-year plan (198085), which targeted 7.2% annual growth. The third five-year plan (198590) had a 5.4% annual growth target though only 3.8% was actually achieved.

In 1991, a new economic program was initiated that included financial sector reform and liberalization measures to encourage investment. This structural adjustment program was developed through the International Monetary Fund, which mandated a series of economic reforms. However, political turmoil from 1994 to 1996 preoccupied the government and hobbled the program. Growth slowed during this period but was renewed in the late 1990s until the global economic crisis that followed the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States all but halted new economic growth.

The post-9/11 economic slowdown exacerbated a serious drop in foreign direct investment in 2000 and 2001 that had resulted from Bangladesh's failure to implement the IMF-mandated reforms. A new government, led by Khaleda Zia, came into power in 2001 on a pledge of returning to the earlier economic liberalization policies. The IMF approved a $490 million plan in June 2003 to support economic reforms through the end of 2006. At about the same time, the World Bank approved $536 million in interest-free loans.


A system of pensions exists for public employees only, and there is a limited work injury and unemployment insurance system. These programs are financed entirely by employer contributions and cover only small percentage of the population. Sickness and maternity benefits are offered on a very limited basis.

Although the constitution prohibits discrimination, women and minority groups are confronted with social and economic disadvantages. Violence against women remained widespread. In 2004 reports continued of women being tortured and killed over dowry disputes. Rapes are seriously underreported due to the social disgrace to the victims. Acid attacks to women remained a problem.

Because of widespread poverty, children are forced to work at a very young age, and are frequently abused and subjected to dangerous working conditions. More than half of all children suffer from malnutrition. There is a huge problem of trafficking of both women and children. Some estimates place the number of child laborers as high as 10 million, including an estimated 29,000 child prostitutes. There are an estimated 400,000 homeless children, of which approximately 150,000 have no knowledge of their parents.

Although the government is secular, discrimination against minority religions leads to conflict and violence. The government's human rights record is poor, with many fundamental human rights restricted. As of 2004, disappearance, kidnapping, torture, and violent suppression of demonstrators were carried out regularly. Prison conditions are inhumane.


Malaria, tuberculosis, and other serious diseases remain endemic and public health problems are aggravated by widespread malnutrition and periodic natural disasters. Between 1995 and 2000, the prevalence of malnutrition in children under five years old decreased from 84% to 55%. In 2000, 97% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 53 % had adequate sanitation, up from 78% and 35%, respectively, in 1980. Because the lack of vitamin A plays a role in blindness and malnutrition, in 1993 the government of Bangladesh introduced a national system to distribute vitamin A capsules to children.

In the mid-1990s, only 45% of the population had access to health services. In 2004, there were estimated 23 physicians, 13 nurses, and 11 midwives per 100,000 people.

The average life expectancy in 2005 was 62.08 years. The government pays the majority of vaccination costs, which has helped increase participation. As of 1999, estimated immunization rates for children under one year of age were 71% for measles and 72% for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The infant mortality rate was 62.6 per 1,000 live births in 2005. It was estimated that 54% of married women (ages 1549) used contraception. Maternal deaths were estimated at 440 per 100,000 live births in 200, down from 850 in 1990.

A new strain of cholera was reported late in 1992. The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 13,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 650 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Housing has long been a vital concern in Bangladesh. The government maintains an urban housing program but does not have any housing development program for villages. The House Building Finance Corp. lends money for private as well as public housing. Dhaka and Chittagong urban development is conducted under the guidance of town planning authorities, which develops land and allocates it for private dwelling and commercial purposes.

As of the 2001 census, there were about 25.36 million house-holds with the average household contained 4.8 persons, down from 5.5 people in 1991. Over 76% of the population live in rural areas. Bamboo is still an important building material, used often for interior dividing walls, pillars, or crossbars on roofs. In rural areas, cane, jute, wood, mud bricks, and corrugated iron sheets are primary building materials for homes. Some rural villages still feature thatched huts. Traditional dwellings are typically separate homes, with some styles featuring an inner courtyard and/or rooms on elevated platforms. Row houses have been built in urban areas.

Since 1996, the government has launched a number of programs focusing on poverty and homelessness. The Asrayon ("shelter") program provided group housing and agricultural plots on government land for about 50,000 families according to a 2002 estimate. The Gahrey Phera ("return home") program helped displaced rural families return to their villages. The Grihayan Tahabil (Housing Fund) was established through the Bangladesh Bank as a way to provide loans to nongovernment organization that endeavor to build shelters for the urban poor.


Education is compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 11, although rural girls are exempted from this law. Primary education covers five years. Secondary education is divided into three two-year cycles of junior (three years), upper (two years), and higher (two years) secondary programs. After their junior level, students may choose to attend a vocational training school for two years, followed by a higher technical course of two years, instead of following the general education track. There is also a Madrasah system (Islamic education) which is required to support national curricula. Most educational institutions are supported by the government either fully or partially. The language of instruction is Bangla.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 84% of age-eligible students; 82% for boys and 86% for girls. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 44% of age-eligible students; 42% for boys and 47% for girls. It was estimated that about 73.3% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 56:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 34:1.

The principal administrative bodies for education are the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Association of Universities of Bangladesh. As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 2.4% of GDP.

There are 17 public universities and 10 medical colleges, and 10 teacher-training colleges. There are several polytechnical schools offering three-year courses in a variety of technical and engineering fields. Technical Training Centers offer certificate and diploma course. The Bangladesh Open University offers degree and non-degree continuing education programs. Research institutions include the Bangla Academy (which sponsors translations of scientific and literary works into Bangla), the Asiatic Society, and the National Institute of Public Administration's Institute of Law and International Affairs. In 2003, about 6% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 41.1%, with 50.3% for males and 31.4% for females.


The largest library in Bangladesh is Dhaka University Library (1921; with 5.5 million volumes). It houses the university's collection and that of the former Public Library of East Pakistan. The National Library of Bangladesh, also in Dhaka, holds 200,000 books and 200,000 serials available in Bengali, English, Persian, and Arabic. The National Library also holds the National Archives collection. The Bangladesh Central Public Library System (1958) has over one million volumes; besides the main branch in Dhaka, there are four regional branches and eight district branches. The Bangla Academy maintains an excellent research collection, as does the Bangladesh Institute of Development studies in Dhaka (100,000 volumes).

The Dhaka Museum contains a variety of sculptures and paintings from the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim periods. Both it and the Balda Museum have outstanding collections of Bengali art and ancient artifacts. Also in Dhaka are a science and technology museum and the National Museum of Bangladesh. The Ram Mala Museum at Comilla houses 7th-century archaeological finds, and the museum in Rajshahi contains many artifacts from the ruins of an 8th-century Buddhist monastery excavated nearby, as well as significant relics from the Kushon, Gupta, Pala, and Sena periods of Bengali history. There is a gallery of contemporary paintings as well as an ethnological museum in Chittagong.


All postal and telecommunications services are controlled by the government. In 2003, there were an estimated five mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 153,100 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 10 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Color television was introduced in 1980. The primary radio and television broadcast stations are owned and operated by the government. In 2004, there was only one private radio station and three private television stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 49 radios and 59 television sets for every 1,000 people. While cable television service is available, only about 27 of every 1,000 people are subscribers. Also in 2003, there were 7.8 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 2 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were three secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

The major Bengali daily newspapers (with 2002 circulations), all in Dhaka, are Ittefaq (200,000), Dainik Inqilab (180,000), Sangbad (71,050), Dainik Bangla (65,000), and Dainik Sangram (45,000). The largest English dailies, also in Dhaka, are the Bangladesh Observer (43,000), Bangladesh Times (35,000), and Daily Star (30,000). Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and United News of Bangladesh (UNB) are the two main news agencies.

The government is said, with some exceptions, to generally respect freedom of speech and press. On occasion, the government has censored criticism of Islam.


The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Foreign Investors' Chamber of Commerce and Industry are based in Dhaka. There are also many workers' associations, including the Bangladesh Teachers' Federation, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the Bangladesh Tea Board, and the Bangladesh Jute Mills Association. The Association for Social Advancement serves as a developmental organization assisting the poor. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) also serves as a welfare and development organization. Maulik Chahida Karmashuchi promotes economic and social development of rural citizens through educational, vocational, and economic programs. Parbatya Bouddha Mission particularly serves the needs of the indigenous tribal people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The Bangladesh Medical Studies and Research Institute and the Bangladesh Academy of Sciences promote research and education in a number of medical and scientific fields. Other medical associations include the Bangladesh Dental Society and the Bangladesh Society for Study of Pain

Various associations for the Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist communities have long been active in organizing religious festivals and social activities. Every town also has several cultural groups. The Bangladesh Women's Association is active in social life.

There are about 39 national youth organizations and about two hundred regional and local youth organizations. These generally hold membership in one of two coordinating bodies: the Bangladesh Youth Council (BYC) and the National Federation of Youth Organizations in Bangladesh. There are about seven major student unions including the Bangladesh federation of University Women. Particular youth groups include the Bangladesh Girl Guides, the Bangladesh Scout, Junior Chamber Bangladesh, and the YMCA/YWCA. There are several sports associations, including groups for badminton, track and field, tae kwan do, tennis, and weightlifting.

The Red Crescent Society, Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, Caritas, UNICEF, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and Greenpeace have chapters within the country.


The main tourist attractions include the old Mughal capital at Dhaka, nearby Sonargaon with its ancient architecture, the Buddhist cultural center of Mainamati, and the beach resort of Cox's Bazar. At the end of the 1980s tourism declined due to political unrest. Throughout the 1990s, however, figures began to increase. In 1997, about 172,000 foreign visitors arrived. In 2003, about 244,500 tourists visited the country. There were 4,565 hotel rooms with 10,165 beds and a 38% occupancy rate. Tourism revenues totaled $59 million. A valid passport and visa are required as well as a return or onward ticket.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Dhaka at $191. Expenses in other areas can be much lower.


Many Bengalis distinguished themselves in political life before the creation of Bangladesh. A. K. Fazlul Huq (d.1962), the former premier of Bengal Province, moved the Lahore Resolution of 1940, calling for an independent Pakistan, and dominated Bengali politics for half a century. H. S. Suhrawardy (18951964), another former premier of Bengal, served for a time as premier of Pakistan and was a mentor to the next generation of Bengali leaders. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (192075), a leader of the Awami League, led the successful fight for the independence of East Pakistan and was the first premier of Bangladesh (197275). Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman (193681) was military ruler of the country from 1976 until his assassination.


Bangladesh has no territories or colonies.


Bangladesh: From Stabilization to Growth. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1995.

Barter, James. The Ganges. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2003.

Baxter, Craig and Syedur Rahman. Historical Dictionary of Bangladesh. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2003.

The Economy of Bangladesh: Problems and Prospects. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

Mitra, Subrata K. (ed.). A Political and Economic Dictionary of South Asia. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2006.

Paratian, Rajendra. Bangladesh. Geneva: International Labour Office, 2001.

Saliba, Therese, Carolyn Allen, and Judith A. Howard (eds.). Gender, Politics, and Islam. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Shrestha, Nanda R. Nepal and Bangladesh: A Global Studies Hand-book. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABCCLIO, 2002.

Sisson, Richard. War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.

Stern, Robert W. Democracy and Dictatorship in South Asia: Dominant Classes and Political Outcomes in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.

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People's Republic of Bangladesh

Gana-Prajatantri Bangladesh



Bangladesh is situated in southern Asia, on the delta of the 2 largest rivers on the Indian subcontinentthe Ganges and Jamuna (Brahmaputra). It borders with India in the west, north, and east, with Burma (also known as Myanmar) in the southeast, and with the Bay of Bengal in the south. The country's area is 144,000 square kilometers (55,598 square miles), and it is divided into 6 administrative divisions (Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Barisal, Rajshai and Sylhet) and 4 major municipal corporations (Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi). Comparatively, the territory of Bangladesh is slightly greater than the state of New York. Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka, is located in the central part of the country. Bangladesh occupies the eastern part of the Bengal region (the western part of the region is occupied by the Indian state of West Bengal), which historically was part of the great civilizations in the northeast of the Indian subcontinent.


The population of Bangladesh was estimated at 129,194,224 in July of 2000, making Bangladesh the tenth-most populous state in the world. Having a total area the size of New York state, the country has a population equal to half that of the United States or 8 times the population of New York State. It has almost doubled since the 1960s, due to improved health, medical facilities, and longer life expectancy. In 2000 the birth rate stood at 25.44 per 1,000 (slightly higher than the world average), adding around 190,000 people every month. Meanwhile the death rate stood at 8.73 per 1,000. The estimated population growth rate is 1.59 percent, and if the current trend remains unchanged, the population could double within the next 45 years.

The Bangladesh population is relatively homogeneous, with Bengalis making up 98 percent of the population and other ethnic groups, including various tribal groups, making up the remaining 2 percent. Religion plays a very important role in this country, and the main division is between Islam and Hinduism. Almost 88.3 percent of the population are Muslims, 10.5 percent are Hindus, and 1.2 percent are Buddhists, Christians, or animists. The Bangladesh population is very young, with 36 percent below age 14 and just 4 percent of the population older than 65. In 1998 over 80 percent of Bangladeshis were living in rural areas, although during the last decade the growth of the population in the urban areas was twice as fast as in rural areas (due to both the migration of the rural population and the high birth rate). The rapid growth of the urban population is especially noticeable in the urban centers of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi.

In 1970, the population of Bangladesh was about 66 million, and the country at one time had one of the highest birth rates in Asia. The country's population doubled between 1950 and 1977 and almost doubled again between 1977 and 2001, putting severe pressure on the natural resources and leading to land shortages. In the 1970s the government introduced population control and family planning initiatives, aided by various international organizations, including United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the World Bank. The fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman) in Bangladesh declined from 6.8 babies per woman in 1965 to around 3 per woman in 1999. However, these population control initiatives were undermined by the fact that two-thirds of the population still lives in rural areas, where historically population growth was very high, and by the fact that almost two-thirds of the people in the country are illiterate. A number of issues still need to be addressed, including the supply of safe drinking water, malnutrition among children (which remains the highest in the world), early and forced marriages, and illiteracy among the population in general and women in particular.

The population growth in the country was offset by rapidly rising emigration of people, both permanent and temporary, in the 1980s and 1990s. The major destinations for Bangladeshi workers seeking temporary jobs are Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, where they are employed mainly in the low-skill and low-wage construction and service sectors and in agricultural plantations. Other popular destinations for emigration are Western Europe, the Americas and Australia, where large Bangladeshi communities formed during the last 3 decades. According to the CIA World Factbook, the emigration rate stood at the 0.77 migrant(s) per 1,000 population in 2000, or around 1 million a year.


Agriculture and labor-intensive manufacturing remain the 2 major pillars of the Bangladeshi national economy. Historically, a tropical climate and warm temperatures throughout the year made it possible to grow 2 or 3 crops of rice each year, although floods and cyclones regularly damaged crop yield. Flourishing trade, manufacturingtraditionally in light manufacturing and agricultural processingalong with the wealth of the region's nobility, attracted English, French, and Dutch traders. The British East India Company had slowly but steadily advanced into the region in the 17th and 18th centuries, acquiring trade privileges from the Mogul emperors and exploiting rivalries between local rulers, and gradually established control over the trade between India and Europe. The company and its often corrupt administration had greatly benefited from the trade between India and Europe. The British East India Company established control over administration of the Bengal province in 1765. However, in 1858 the company was abolished, and the British crown assumed direct control over British India, in response to the local uprising of 1857 to 1858 and to growing evidence of the company's inefficiency. Throughout the colonial era, East Bengal (the territory of modern Bangladesh) received very limited investments in its industrial sector or toward development of its transportation system, and largely relied on the production and export of its agricultural goods, including jute, rice, and tea. The British colonial rule in India was accompanied by uprisings, greater polarization of society, and a decline in the traditional values and institutions of the society; nevertheless, it included India in the global trade of the early capitalist era and introduced the British legal and political systems and the technological innovations of that era.

In August 1947, India was granted independence within the British Commonwealth and was divided into the dominions of India and Pakistan. Pakistan, which included the areas populated predominantly by the Muslims, was itself divided with the West Pakistan comprising the area now known as Pakistan, and East Pakistan, occupying what had been Eastern Bengal. Powerful West Pakistan was politically and economically dominant over East Pakistan, giving rise to a secessionist movement in the eastern province. Despite attempts to ease the tensions, these factions gradually grew into open hostility and in 1971 a brief but bloody civil war flared up that lasted for 2 weeks and ended with the intervention of Indian troops. On 17 December 1971 a new government in Dhaka declared the independence of the new state, Bangladesh.

After achieving independence in 1971, Bangladesh confronted the challenging task of developing and diversifying its economy, as the country had very limited natural resources and arable land with which to support its rapidly growing population. The task was complicated by years of political turbulence and military coups (in 1975, 1981, and 1982) that did little to attract international investors and by devastating natural disasters that regularly visited Bangladesh in the 1970s and 1980s. By the beginning of the 21st century, according to the World Bank, Bangladesh had become one of the poorest and least-developed economies in Asia.

During the 1970s and 1980s the government of Bangladesh promoted economic development based on heavy state involvement both in economic management and economic planning. In fact, after achieving independence, the government led by the Awami League, nationalized large and medium-sized enterprises in jute, cotton textile, sugar processing, banking and insurances. Its economic policies were centered on 5-year plans (the first 5-year plan was launched in 1973), which aimed at development and public resource allocation modeled on the Soviet 5-year experience. However, the Bangladeshi experiment with socialism did not last long, and the government eschewed radical changes. The country's average gross domestic product (GDP) growth of around 3.3 percent in the 1970s and 4.4 percent in the 1980s (World Bank calculation) were very impressive, but this growth was offset by even more rapid growth of the population.

In 1991 the first free and fair election was held in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) won the election. The new civilian government considerably revised the economic policies of the previous government, introducing elements of free market economy, limiting state intervention, downsizing the government, launching privatization and attempting to attract foreign direct investments (FDIs) and technologies. The political stability of the 1990s and the new economic policies attracted international investors and greatly contributed to the economic growth of around 5 percent throughout the 1990s. However, Bangladesh still depends heavily on international assistance and loans, as well as remittances from Bangladeshis working abroad. According to the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Country Report, in 1999 the country's external debt stood at US$15.145 billion, or 35 percent of GDP. This amount is relatively small according to international standards and mainly due to past capital account restrictions. According to the IMF, one of the peculiarities of the Bangladeshi foreign debt that makes it different from that of Indonesia or Malaysia is that it is almost entirely public, with private debt accounting for a low 5 percent of the total country's debt. Bangladeshi official reserves stood at a level of US$1.522 billion in 1999.

The structure of the Bangladeshi economy changed gradually over the last 3 decades. According to the World Bank, the contribution of agriculture to the country's GDP has been steadily declining from 55 percent in 1970 to 31.6 in 1999, although it still provides employment to large numbers of people. Bangladesh remains one of the world's leading producers of jute and rice, although most of the rice is for domestic consumption rather than export. The proportion of manufactured production grew from 9 percent of GDP in 1970 to 19.3 percent of GDP in 1999. Manufactured products accounted for around 60 percent of gross export earnings in 1999, with clothing goods becoming the single most important product. Tourism is a very small but rapidly growing sector of the economy that increased by around 42 percent between 1993 and 1998. Approximately 171,000 tourists visited the country in 1999, contributing Tk2.4 billion to the national economy. By comparison, tiny Singapore attracts a similar number of tourists every week.

For a long time Bangladesh struggled to diversify its economy. Large and medium state-owned enterprises dominate the manufacturing sector, although a number of private enterprises were established during the 1990s. Medium and small farms dominate the agricultural sector, and many farmers are still engaged in subsistence agriculture. Meanwhile, a number of medium and small, usually family-owned, enterprises dominate the service sector, especially retail . Bangladesh tried to catch up with the information technologies boom in the 1990s, but unlike neighboring India, it failed to promote this sector of its economy on a similar scale.

Economic growth and stability failed to bring economic prosperity to a large proportion of the population, especially in rural areas. Since the 1970s there has been an outflow of large numbers of the young and the most talented people from the country through various legal and illegal channels. Allegedly, organized criminal groups connected to drug trafficking control this outflow. Drugs are another important issue, as Bangladesh shares a border with Burma (Myanmar), which is a part of the world's largest opium producing region called the "Golden Triangle" (an area between Burma, Laos, and Thailand). The shadow economy is believed to be very large due to incomplete economic activities data collection, tax evasion, and a strong tradition of cash economy, although this shadow economy is not necessarily related to organized criminal activities. In 1996 a national account task force was formed to upgrade the outdated and inefficient system of national accounting, having among other goals to deal with the problem of calculating and capturing shadow economy activities.


Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy largely influenced by the British parliamentary system. Executive power is in the hands of the prime minister, who is the head of the cabinet, and who must be a member of the 300-seat Jatiya Sangsad ( unicameral parliament). She/he recommends the council of ministers to the president. The president is the constitutional head of state and is elected for a 5-year term by the parliament, but plays a largely ceremonial role. The president can act only on the advice of the prime minister, as the presidential power was significantly reduced in accordance with constitutional changes in 1991.

All adult citizens (18 years old and over) are eligible to vote, including women and ethnic minorities. One of the unique features of the political system in Bangladesh is that 30 seats (10 percent) in the parliament are reserved for female members, and they are elected by the members of the parliament.

Bangladesh experienced a number of military coups after achieving independence in 1971, and several military governments tried to restrict activities of political parties. However, after the return to civil rule in 1990, all political parties may openly function in the country. There are a number of political organizations in Bangladesh. Most prominent of them are: the Awami League (a coalition of 8 parties); the Bangladesh Nationalist Party; the Jatiya Party; and the Jamaat-e-Islami Party. The Awami League (AL), which led the country to independence in 1971, generally supports more government interventionist policies and has a very cautious attitude towards liberalization or opening of the national economy to international competition; in fact, in the early 1970s the party had strong pro-socialist elements in its economic policy. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was the ruling party from 1991 until its defeat in the parliamentary election of 1996, is more free-market oriented. The BNP introduced the policy of economic liberalization and privatized some state-owned enterprises. It opened the national economy to international competition in an attempt to attract foreign investors.

Once Bangladesh had achieved independence, political stability, the creation of a viable national economy, and the elimination of poverty became the major political issues shaping political debate and conflict in the state. The political process in the country was complicated by the hostility and often violent confrontations between the 2 leading parties, AL and BNP. The Awami League won the first post-independence general elections while promulgating ideas of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism. In economic areas, this government took a strongly interventionist role in the development and industrialization of the national economy. The party, however, could not overcome the economic and political divisions within Bangladeshi society and lost its power in a military coup in August 1975. The coup pushed the country towards even greater political instability, which continued until 1990, when charismatic General Hossain Ershad was forced to resign. Military rule failed to bring stability to the country because it did not stop the rivalry between the 2 major parties, the AL and BNP. In fact, the army was drawn into the groups' political confrontations.

In 1991, the first free and fair election was held in Bangladesh. Begum Khaleda Zia (widow of General Ziaur Rahman, the president from 1978 until his assassination in 1981) and her party (BNP) won the election. The new government brought radical changes to the economic policy, promoting private entrepreneurship, especially among representatives of poor communities, and supporting small- and medium-size businesses and privatization. This program was successful, and Bangladesh experienced economic growth throughout the 1990s. According to the World Bank, between 1989 and 1999 the average annual GDP growth was around 4.8 percent, with industrial production growing at an annual average of 7.3 percent and exports of goods and services at an annual average of 14.2 percent, albeit from a very low base. For the first time in decades the Bangladeshi government had brought a sense of stability to the country.

The 1996 parliamentary election, however, was again accompanied by irregularities and almost pushed the country into chaos again. The BNP won the February 1996 parliamentary election, which was boycotted by the AL-led opposition. The confrontation escalated in violence, and the BNP handed power over to a caretaker government. After 2 decades in opposition, the Awami League won the June 1996 parliamentary election, with support from the Jatiya Party. This time the Awami Party significantly moderated its position, supporting a gradual liberalization of the national economy, encouraging private entrepreneurship, and advocating the secular state; it had largely abandoned socialist ideas. One of the most important achievements of the 1990s was the diminishing role of the army in the political life of the state, although the army threatened to take matters into its own hands during the period of political conflict in 1996.

According to the IMF Country Report, the major source of government revenue comes from taxes, although the tax ratio of 7.6 percent of GDP remains one of the lowest in the world. Total government revenue was Tk210 billion in the 1997/1998 financial year. Tk51 billion came from value-added tax (VAT), Tk43.5 billion from customs duties , Tk20.0 billion from income and profit taxes, Tk21 billion from supplementary duties, and the rest from other sources. According to the U.S. Department of State, the maximum customs duty rate has been reduced from 350 percent in 1991 to around 37 percent in 2000.


Bangladesh is a country of a thousand rivers, large and small, and most of its territory is regularly flooded during the monsoon season. This fact makes it extremely difficult and expensive to build modern transportation and communication networks. The river boats and ferries traditionally used for transportation are cheap, but slow and inefficient. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Bangladeshi government has sharply limited resources not only for building new infrastructure but also for maintaining the existing one. From the colonial era Bangladesh inherited underdeveloped and unevenly distributed infrastructure and transportation networks. Poor and inefficient infrastructure undermined the economic development in the country, and only recently has the government been able to address the problem systematically and channel investments towards expanding its highways, railroads, seaports, and airports. More recently, with international assistance the government has also started to modernize its telecommunications infrastructure and introduce the Internet.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Bangladesh is served by a network of 201,182 kilometers (125,014 miles) of primary and secondary roads, but only around 10 percent of them, or 19,112 kilometers (11,876 miles) are paved. In June 1998 the huge US$1 billion Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge was completed, becoming the 12th-longest bridge in the world. The bridge connected for the first time the eastern and western parts of Bangladesh. The completion of this project made an important contribution to the development of the country's transportation network and significantly boosted the quality and speed of passenger and freight transportation. The number of privately-owned cars grew throughout the 1990s, albeit from a very low level (there were 40,000 private cars in 1994). Many cars are very old and in poor repair and produce high levels of pollution on the congested roads of the capital and other major cities. Despite all the problems with the roads and the often-outdated equipment, 66 percent of all freight and 73 percent of all passengers are carried by roads; however, animal-driven carts are still a part of the national landscape, as they provide the cheapest and most reliable transportation for people and goods in most of the country's rural areas.

Bangladesh has a railway system of about 2,745 kilometers (1,706 miles), of which only 923 kilometers (573.5 miles) is a broad gauge (1.676 meter gauge) and the remaining 1,822 kilometers (1,132 miles) is narrow gauge (1.000 meter gauge), according to CIA estimates for 1998. Major links run from the largest Bangladeshi port, Chittagong, to Dhaka and further to the north of the country; other links connect such centers as Khulna and Rajshahi. Historically, the railway was built by the British colonial administration in 1884, running between Calcutta (now India) and Khulna (now Bangladesh). Rail services were halted following the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965. In the 1970s cargo trains resumed their services between the 2 countries. According to a BBC report on 26 January 2001, the government of Bangladesh has expressed its interest in "seriously studying the potential of linking the national railways with the proposed Trans-Asian Railway Network." The Bangladeshi railway system remains a state-owned monopoly requiring large

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Bangladesh 9 50 6 N/A 1 N/A N/A 0.00 50
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
India N/A 121 69 18.8 1 0.2 2.7 0.18 2,800
Burma 10 95 7 N/A 0 0.1 N/A 0.00 1
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

subsidies , as it is notorious for its poor management and a long-established tradition of ticketless travel among the local population. In recent moves, the government began the privatization of some railway services, including ticket reservation and in-service catering. Despite all shortcomings, the railway remained an important mode of transportation, operating 3.7 billion passenger-kilometers and carrying 3.76 million metric tons of goods in the 1998-99 financial year.

The waterways are an important mode of transportation, especially to some remote areas of the country, as no other mode of transportation is available during monsoon season. Bangladesh has 3 major seaports, at Chittagong, Dhaka, and Mongla, and several smaller ports. The largest and most important port is Chittagong, situated around 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of Dhaka. According to the EIU Country Report, in 2000 the Chittagong seaport handled around 80 percent of country's imports and 75 percent of exports, or 14.6 million metric tons of cargo and 420,850 containers. There have been several plans backed by private investors to set up 2 modern container terminals (in Chittagong and in Dhaka), but these plans have met opposition from the labor unions. According to the U.S. Department of State, in 1998 the U.S.-based company Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) signed a US$440 million contract to develop a private container project, which includes the construction of 2 container terminals.

Currently, Bangladesh is putting considerable efforts into developing its aviation industry to serve growing tourism and business needs. According to the CIA World Factbook, the country has 16 airports with paved run-ways, including 2 international airports (Chittagong and Dhaka). The largest, Zia International Airport at Dhaka, is capable of handling 25 million passengers and 1.2 million tons of cargo annually. Bangladeshi Biman Airline, the national air carrier, operates a fleet of about 15 aircraft, including 3 Airbus 310-300s, flying to 25 international destinations and serving several domestic routes. In the 1998-99 financial year it carried 1.22 million passengers and 30,869 metric tons of cargo.

Bangladesh belongs to the group of countries with the lowest commercial energy consumption per head in the world. The CIA estimated that in 1999 the country produced 12.5 billion kWh, 85 percent of which was produced using gas, 7.0 percent was produced at hydroelectric power plants, and around 8 percent by using liquid fuel. According to the EIU Country Profile, 85 percent of households in Bangladesh have no electricity and in these places where it is delivered, 40 percent of the electricity generated is not paid for. The country experiences regular electricity blackouts and shortages, and its poor reliability is often cited among factors driving away foreign investors. The Bangladeshi government is willing to address the problem but in general has not had enough resources to build new electric power generating plants. In a recent trend, the Asian Bank of Development (ABD) approved a US$140 million loan to construct a 450-mw gas-fired power station near Dhaka, scheduled for completion in 2003.

Telecommunication services in Bangladesh are underdeveloped and provide one of the lowest rates of telephone ownership per 1,000 inhabitants in the world. The largest company is the Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB), which enjoyed a state monopoly until 1972, when private operators were allowed. As most of the telephone service uses outdated analogue technology, the quality of telecommunication services is often poor and in need of upgrades. In 2000 the country had a mere 490,000 telephone lines and 52,000 mobile phones serving 129 million people. The government is aiming to provide telephone coverage of remote towns and villages that until now have had no telephone connections. With international assistance and increasing private investments, Bangladesh is upgrading its telecommunication system, replacing analogue technology with digital, introducing the Internet and e-mail services, and expanding cellular mobile services.


According to the World Bank Development Indicators, Bangladesh is the 50th-largest economy in the world, judged by its gross national income, although it is the 10th-largest state in the world if judged by its population. Although it has a good environment and climate for the production of various crops and huge potential for developing a tourist industry, the country suffers from scarcity of natural resources, shortage of arable land, regular natural disasters (flooding and cyclones), and a lack of investment.

For decades after independence, political instability, low demand in the local market, and economic stagnation hindered the economic development of the country. Since establishing a civil government in 1991, Bangladesh has been struggling to diversify its economy, to reform its agricultural sector, and to expand its industrial sector, as it needs average annual economic growth of at least 7 percent in order to eliminate widespread poverty. In the 1990s while Bangladesh was unable to solve its economic difficulties and eliminate poverty, it achieved impressive growth in many areas, including manufacturing and agriculture. Recognizing the difficulties, the Bangladeshi government was willing to accept the IMF's recommendations and to conduct structural changes, which included relinquishing its socialist orientation and state control over the economy, decentralization of economic management, and privatization, although many of these changes were painful and implemented only slowly.

Agriculture is still the single most important sector of economy. Between 1989 and 1999, it experienced stagnation with an average annual growth of only 1.6 percent, which was not enough to support a rapidly growing population. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Bangladesh tried with some success to achieve politically and economically important self-sufficiency in food production, increasing productivity and diversifying the crop base. Nevertheless, the share of agriculture in the GDP declined from 55 percent in 1970 to 19.6 percent in 1999.

The role of the manufacturing sector is growing, but the growth is painfully slow due to a lack of foreign investment, small demand in the local market, and red tape and inefficiency in the local bureaucracy. According to the World Bank, the industrial sector in Bangladesh grew at an average annual rate of around 4.1 percent between 1979 and 1989 and around 7.3 percent between 1989 and 1999. Bangladesh has a relatively large reserve of gas, which has become increasingly important as a source of energy and has potential to become a source of export revenue.

Bangladesh tries to promote its service sector, especially tourism and the information technologies sector. However, in doing so it has to compete with neighboring India. Local trade, tourism, and other services currently make important contributions to the country's GDP, providing employment for 26 percent of the labor force in the country.


Agriculture remains the most important sector of Bangladeshi economy, contributing 19.6 percent to the national GDP and providing employment for 63 percent of the population. Agriculture in Bangladesh is heavily dependent on the weather, and the entire harvest can be wiped out in a matter of hours when cyclones hit the country. According to the World Bank, the total arable land in Bangladesh is 61.2 percent of the total land area (down from 68.3 percent in 1980). Farms are usually very small due to heavily increasing population, unwieldy land ownership, and inheritance regulations. The 3 main cropsrice, jute, and teahave dominated agricultural exports for decades, although the rice is grown almost entirely for domestic consumption, while jute and tea are the main export earners. In addition to these products, Bangladeshi farmers produce sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, and various fruits and vegetables (sweet potatoes, bananas, pineapples, etc.) for the domestic market.

Rice is the staple food in the everyday diet of Bangladeshis. The production of rice, which can be harvested 2 or even 3 times a year, reached 19.9 million metric tons in 1998-99. The production of wheat reached about 2 million metric tons in 1998-99. Both crops play an important role in achieving self-sufficiency in food production. However, due to weather conditions the production of rice and wheat fluctuate greatly, forcing Bangladesh to import food from the international market or turn to international aid. Bangladesh imported 1.6 million tons of wheat (mainly from the United States) in 2000 in order to meet the demand in the local market.

Jute, often called the "golden fibre" of Bengal, is the main export-earner for Bangladeshi agriculture, as Bangladesh remains the world's second-largest producer of jute (after India) and the world's largest exporter of fiber. Jute is traditionally used for the fiber of carpet backing, burlap bags, cheap paper, and various other purposes. Its importance for the Bangladeshi economy comes from the fact that almost 3 million farms are involved in jute production. In 1999 Bangladeshi export earnings from jute amounted to US$55 million, with the country producing 720,000 metric tons of jute, although this is about one-third of the jute production of the middle of the 1980s. The decline in jute production is attributed to declining world prices for this crop and to farmers switching to other crops.

Bangladesh also produces tea leaves, mainly for export, although the export of this product contributes only 1 percent of the country's hard currency earnings. In 1998-99 the country produced 56,000 metric tons of tea leaves, but it could produce twice that amount. The main obstacle to increasing production is in falling prices for tea in the international market and in management and regulation problems in the industry in the country.

Tropical rainforest is important for maintaining the ecological balance in Bangladesh, and forestry contributes 1.9 percent to the GDP (1999-2000). The forest covers around 17 percent of the country's territory, or 2.5 million hectares (6.18 million acres). The timber is used by the construction industry as a source of building materials, by the printing industry as a source of materials to produce paper, and in the agricultural sector as a source of firewood. Commercial logging is limited to around 6.1 million cubic feet, and the government plans to plant more trees within the next 15 years.

Fishing is another important activity in the country, contributing 4.9 percent to the GDP (1999-2000) and providing 6 percent of the total export income. The overall fish production was around 1.6 million metric tons (1999-2000). Bangladesh mainly exports its shrimp to the international market.



The main commercially viable natural resource in Bangladesh is gas, although there are reports of the existence of moderate-sized reserves of coal. Total gas reserves are estimated at 21,000 billion cubic feet. In 2000 Bangladesh utilized 370 billion cubic feet, mainly for domestic consumption. The major gas fields are situated in Greater Sylhet district, the Bay of Bengal, and Greater Chittagong district. Transnational corporations are keen to be involved in gas exploration in Bangladesh and its exportation to the huge Indian market, however the Bangladeshi government is resistant to the idea of exporting the gas, as according to local experts' estimates the proven reserves could run out within the next 30 to 40 years.


During the 20th century Bangladesh, like neighboring Burma (Myanmar) and Nepal, largely missed the industrialization wave that changed the economies of many countries in the Asian region, such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. At the beginning of 2001, manufacturing contributed about 24.3 percent of the GDP, providing employment to 6.2 million people or 11 percent of the workforce. Between 1989 and 1999, the manufacturing sector in Bangladesh grew at an average annual rate of around 7.2 percent, albeit from a very low base. The cheap, reliable, and abundant labor available in Bangladesh is attractive to the world's leading transnational corporations, but they have been very slow to move into the country, as they face regular industrial unrest led by radical trade unions, poorly developed infrastructure, red tape, and a very small local market. As in neighboring India, the Bangladeshi government promoted the idea of state-led industrialization combined with heavy state involvement in and state control of enterprise activities.

The manufacturing sector in Bangladesh comprises mainly small, privately-owned, often unmechanized enterprises or large, state-owned, often loss-making enterprises. The main industrial centers are Dhaka, Chit-tagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi, which have (by local standards) well-developed transport infrastructure, including access to seaports and railways and the sizeable and very cheap unskilled and skilled labor force. The industrial enterprises concentrate mainly on the production of jute goods, ready-made garments, foodstuff processing, and chemical production.

Most of Bangladeshi jute goods are produced in large state-controlled enterprises for export to the United States, Europe, and other markets, contributing Tk13.3 billion in 1997-98 to the country's export earnings and Tk11.7 billion in 1998-99. According to the EIU Country Profile, Bangladesh accounts for 90 percent of world jute fiber exports. The jute processing enterprises are vulnerable to downturns in the regional and international market and experienced some recession in 1998-99. Additionally, during the last few years the demand for jute in the international market has been in decline due to increasing use of synthetic materials in the areas where jute was previously used. However, these jute processing businesses still have plenty of the cheap local supply of raw materials and, if they continue to improve the quality of their products, with efficient management and marketing they may expand their export potential.

During the last 2 decades Bangladesh has found a strong niche in ready-made garments (RMG), becoming one of the world's leading exporters of these products. There are around 2,600 small and medium-size garment-manufacturing enterprises, providing employment for about 1.4 million local workers, mainly women. Access to cheap and reliable local labor makes Bangladeshi RMG manufacturers very competitive in the international market, although most of the fabrics and machinery must be imported (in 2000 Bangladesh imported 160,000 metric tons of cotton from the United States). According to the U.S. Department of State, total clothing exports reached about US$5 billion in 1999-2000, mainly to the United States, Europe, and Canada. Bangladesh especially benefited from the multi-fiber arrangement with the United States and the generalized system of preferences with the European Union, which set special quotas for the RMG imports from Bangladesh. The RMG sector experienced rapid growth during the last 5 years, but with the rise of free trade and elimination of the quota system at the end of 2004, Bangladesh will face very tough competition from other Asian countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Bangladesh has a well-established food processing sector, which relies on domestic agricultural production and is oriented mainly to domestic needs. It includes sugar refining and milling, production of edible oils, processing and preserving of fruits and fruit juices as well as fish processing, especially shrimp and prawns. As a tropical country Bangladesh has a plentiful domestic supply of exotic fruits and sea species.

In the 1990s 2 major changes affected the development of the industrial sector in Bangladesh. First, the end of the numerous military coups and the establishment of civil government brought in political stabilization, which attracted direct international investments and encouraged the inflow of foreign aid. Secondly, the policy of economic liberalization, structural adjustment, and privatization helped to increase the competitiveness of the local industries and encouraged them to search for new overseas markets. In order to promote the attractiveness of the Bangladesh economy, the government established special export-processing zones (EPZ). They are situated in Chittagong, Dhaka, Chalna (near Mongla port in Khulna) and in Commila, where investors are given access to well-developed infrastructure and enjoy tax breaks and other privileges. By the year 2000, the EPZs had attracted around US$415 million worth of foreign investments and more than 150 firms had moved there. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States is the single largest foreign investor in Bangladesh with total fixed direct investment of about $750 million. The major investment projects were in the chemical, electronics, and electrical industries. The United States is followed by Malaysia, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and the next tier of investors are Singapore, India, Hong Kong, China, and South Korea. The U.S. State Department estimates U.S. investment in Bangladesh will be about $2.5 billion in 2 to 4 years.



Tourism is a small but rapidly growing sector of Bangladeshi economy. According to the International Labor Organization, together with the wholesale and retail sector it provides employment for almost 6.0 million people (1996), or around 10.8 percent of the labor force. Government statistics state that 171,000 tourists visited the country in 1998, contributing Tk2.4 billion to the national economy. Most visitors were from India, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Tourism could only take off in the 1990s, after the stabilization of the political situation in the country and the end of the tribal insurgency in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area (southeast of the country). Bangladesh has huge potential for attracting foreign tourists as it has a deep cultural heritage, a number of ancient monuments and temples, and a rich natural heritage, including tropical forests, beautiful hills, rivers, and national parks. The country offers bargain-shopping and exotic souvenirs, as well as a wide variety of activities, from eco-friendly to adventure tourism. However, it needs to renovate and expand its hotels' infrastructure and other services, which are still underdeveloped.


The financial service industry remains underdeveloped in spite of a decade of major reforms conducted under the Financial Sector Reforms Program. According to the International Labor Organization, this sector provides employment for 213,000 people (1996). Since independence it has been under state control, as the major commercial banks were nationalized soon after independence. The local banks are often accused of providing poor financial services and being beset by corruption, inefficient management and capital inadequacies. Bangladesh lags behind in the introduction of computerized banking payment systems, the development of electronic payment systems, and electronic banking. The Agrani Bank, Janata Bank, Rupali Bank and Sonali Bank are the main financial institutions still under state control. They account for almost half of all deposits.

In 1999 the government launched a Commercial Bank Reform Project intended to improve the functioning of the private commercial banks. One bank has provided a success story: the Grameen Bank, which was founded by university professor Mohammad Yunus, pioneered in providing small credits to local communities in need. At present the IMF and the World Bank, which are often notoriously ineffective in the poor countries of Asia and Africa, have carefully studied the Grameen Bank's microcredit model with a view to applying it in other developing countries.


In Bangladesh, as in many other Asian countries, many small- and medium-sized businesses have been built around the retail sector and are often associated with small shops and restaurants. The retail sector provides employment for a large number of people, but it still remains relatively underdeveloped, due to a generally low level of income among the population. There are still a number of small family-run traditional shops and cafes, selling mainly locally-made products.

The United States has found that the enforcement of intellectual property rights is "weak" and that "intellectual property infringement is common." The Bangladeshi government has begun to address this problem seriously, introducing a new Copyright Act in 2000 in order to bring the country's copyright laws into compliance with the WTO. This act updated the Patents and Design Act of 1911, and some other outdated regulations.


Bangladeshi international trade is extremely small relative to the size of its population, although it experienced accelerated growth during the last decade. It is not very diversified and depends on the fluctuations of the international market. The Bangladeshi government struggles to attract export-oriented industries, removing red tape and introducing various financial and tax initiatives. Between 1990 and 1995 Bangladesh doubled its exports from US$1.671 billion in 1990 to US$3.173 billion in 1995 and then almost doubled them again from US$3.173 billion in 1995 to US$5.523 billion in 1999.

During the 1990s, the United States has been the largest trading partner for Bangladesh, with its exports to the United States reaching 35.7 percent in 1998-99. This percentage consisted mainly of Ready-Made Garments (RMG). Germany is the second-largest export market, with the proportion of goods reaching 10.4 percent; and the United Kingdom is in third place at 8.3 percent. Other export destinations are France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Japan.

India, China, and Singapore are the 3 largest sources of imports. Most Bangladeshi imports originate from

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Bangladesh
Exports Imports
1975 .327 1.321
1980 .793 2.599
1985 .999 2.772
1990 1.671 3.598
1995 3.173 6.497
1998 3.831 7.042
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

neighboring India, reaching 20.8 percent in 1998-99. The second most important source is China, totaling 9.3 percent, third is Singapore with 8.6 percent, with Hong Kong fourth at 7.6 percent.

During the last decade, Bangladeshi exports shifted from the sale of agricultural products and raw and processed natural resources to labor-intensive manufactured goods (including clothing, footwear, and textiles), but the country, unlike neighboring India, could not catch up with the exporters of skill-intensive products. While India is becoming an important international player in the field of software and applications development, Bangladesh lags far behind, despite the government's efforts to promote this area.

Bangladesh has a long history of maintaining a negative trade balance, importing more goods than it exports. In the 1970s and 1980s it imported goods and services twice and sometimes 3 times as much as it exported. Even during the relatively successful 1999 financial year, the country exported just US$5.523 billion worth of products while it imported US$8.381 billion worth of products, leaving a large trade shortfall of US$2.858 billion.

At present, Bangladesh faces growing economic competition from India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, countries which could offer better infrastructure and larger and growing domestic markets. A border conflict between Bangladesh and India, the worst in the last 30 years erupted in April 2001, bringing political and economic uncertainty to the region and undermining international investor confidence in the Bangladeshi market. If the investors move out, they could cause further social polarization and increased poverty in the country.


The Bangladeshi government tightly controls the exchange rate of the taka against the U.S. dollar and major regional currencies. During the last decade the value of the currency showed a steady decline, mainly due to the devaluation of many of the neighboring currencies

Exchange rates: Bangladesh
taka (Tk) per US$1
Jan 2001 54.000
2000 52.142
1999 49.085
1998 46.906
1997 43.892
1996 41.794
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

(especially the Indian and Pakistani rupees). In 1995 the Bangladeshi taka was valued at 40.278 taka per US$1; in January 2000 the value of the taka declined to 51.000 taka per US$1. According to the IMF, the Bangladesh Central Bank has followed a policy of gradual depreciation of the taka against the U.S. dollar since the middle of the 1990s, devaluing the taka in gradual steps of 1 to 2 percent 2 or 3 times a year. The taka's market value has been protected by the large sums of foreign currencies Bangladesh receives every year through aid transfers and through remittances from overseas workers. The taka is still not fully convertible. The government periodically revises its exchange control regulations, introducing further liberalization of the controls. The government lifted restrictions on the repatriation of the profit and dividends from foreign direct investments (in the industrial sector); however, non-residents are not allowed to buy money market instruments or treasury bills .

During the period between 1970 and 1980 inflationary pressure was relatively small, as the country's economy was closed to outside influences and was tightly controlled by the government. In the 1990s consumer prices became more volatile, fluctuating between a low of 2.9 percent and a high of 8.9 percent a year, due to the liberalization and gradual opening up of the national economy to international competition.

The Bangladeshi banking system suffers from a lack of capital and poor management. Other problems include banks' exposure to corruption and to bad loans allegedly made to politically well-connected businessmen. There are 43 private banks in the country, including 29 domestic and 14 foreign banks, but most of them are active in major urban areas (Dhaka and Chittagong). The foreign banks are represented by such names as the Scotiabank of Canada and Societe Generale of France.

The 1997 Asian financial crisis did not bring damages in the scale of the economic and financial downturn in Indonesia, although it did negatively affect Bang-ladeshi exports. This escape was mainly due to the limited size of the Bangladeshi market, existing currency exchange controls and the relatively closed nature of its economy. Nevertheless, the Bangladeshi taka depreciated between 1997 and 1999 at a faster rate, declining from Tk43.892 in 1997 to Tk49.085 in 1999.

Bangladesh has 2 stock exchanges, the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) and the Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE; opened in 1995). Share prices shot up after the 1996 parliamentary election and market capitalization reached US$6.0 billion in November 1999; however, share prices fell dramatically the following year, with some shares losing up to 60 or 70 percent of their value. The all share indexes both in the DSE and the CSE still remain far below those of the 1996 levels.


Bangladesh belongs to the poorest group of countries in the world; during the last 3 decades its GDP per capita income barely increased from US$203 in 1975 to US$348 per capita in 1998. The World Bank's World Development Indicators puts Bangladesh in 170th place (out of 207 countries) in the global ranking of gross national income per capita. Despite considerable international assistance, Bangladesh has been unable to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger. There is a huge disparity between standards of living in urban and rural areas of the country. The urban areas, especially the capital Dhaka, and major industrial cities such as Chittagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi, enjoy a better quality of living, with electricity, gas, and clean water supplies. Still, even in the major cities a significant proportion of Bangladeshis live in squalor in dwellings that fall apart during the monsoon season and have no regular electricity. These Bang-ladeshis have limited access to health care and to clean drinking water. The rural population, meanwhile, often lives in traditional houses in villages with no facilities associated with even the most modest standards of living.

Disparities encompass 3 dimensions that define considerable differences: geographic, educational, and gender. There is still considerable inequality in the distribution of income between rural and urban populations. In general, the urban population, in the areas around Dhaka, Chittagong, and other large cities, has long been involved in small- and medium-sized businesses or employed in various industries. They benefited from the recent growth and have higher incomes. Meanwhile, the rural population experience chronic shortages of land and regular floods and cyclones, which often a within matter of hours sweep away the results of months of hard work. The 1998 flood, for example, affected two-thirds of the country, wiping out the entire winter crop and displacing millions of people.

Education is another problem, as the adult literacy rate reached just 60 percent in 2000, despite the fact that primary education is universal, compulsory and free. The illiterate section of the population is generally much

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Bangladesh 203 220 253 274 348
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
India 222 231 270 331 444
Burma N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Bangladesh
Lowest 10% 3.9
Lowest 20% 8.7
Second 20% 12.0
Third 20% 15.7
Fourth 20% 20.8
Highest 20% 42.8
Highest 10% 28.6
Survey year: 1995-96
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

poorer as they are missing employment opportunities in the industrial sector as well as government and international assistance in form of micro-credits, and awareness of better cultivation methods and other market skills. Also, women in Bangladesh, especially those with large families, have heavier workloads and often fewer skills than the male population; the illiteracy rate is much higher among women than men. These differences may be seen in the statistical data. The wealthiest 20 percent of Bangladeshis control 42.8 percent of the wealth. The poorest 20 percent of the population control only 3.9 percent of the wealth. In fact, the poorest 40 percent of the population controls just 20.7 percent of the wealth.

Since the 1970s, the Bangladeshi government has implemented a social policy aimed at the elimination of poverty and social inequality, and largely funded by international organizations and individual donors. This policy aims at increasing the literacy rate, providing access to safe drinking water, family planning, and micro-crediting the poorest and most disadvantaged groups of society.

Throughout the 1990s the Bangladeshi government achieved some positive results, although the 1998 floods put pressure on scarce government resources, brought hunger to some areas of the country, and made food prices higher. These difficulties particularly affected the most vulnerable social groups of society, both in rural areas and in major urban centers. The chronic poverty, under-employment and unemployment forced large numbers of people to migrate from the country, using all possible legal and illegal channels. Bangladesh's quality of life remains much lower than in neighboring India, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka. According to the CIA World Factbook, in 1996 around 35.6 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, most of them in rural areas of the country.


Due to rapid growth of the population in the last few decades the Bangladeshi labor force has grown rapidly, as there was a large proportion of young people born in the 1960s and 1970s. According to the EIU Country Profile the Bangladeshi labor force almost doubled in a matter of a decade, growing from 30.9 million people in 1985-86 to 56.0 million people in 1995-96. Although all sectors of the national economy experienced significant growth, they were far below the speed of the labor force growth. According to Bangladeshi national statistics, in 1995-96 only 12.4 percent of the labor force had formal employment, while 40 percent were considered "employed in family-based" businesses, 29.6 percent were considered "self-employed," and 17.9 percent had their jobs on a "daily basis." In general, the competition for working positions in the country is intense, and the working conditions are very harsh, especially in rural areas, where 63 percent of the labor force are employed.

The Bangladeshi government pays special attention to improving education at all levels, as it wants to attract labor-intensive manufacturing and services to the country. Primary education is compulsory. Various initiatives have been tried, including direct special stipends, designed to increase the proportion of female students at school. However, as the government admits, the country's education system suffers from poor quality education, chronic shortages of trained teachers, and a shortage of books. Secondary education is not accessible for

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Bangladesh 49 4 18 8 9 4 8
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
India N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Myanmar N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

children from many poor families. The government channels considerable funds into tertiary education, and the quality of teaching in some areas, particularly in technical subjects, is relatively strong. Nevertheless, the overall quality of the Bangladeshi universities' graduates often does not match the demands of modern technological developments in many areas, including information technologies and engineering. A number of Bangladeshis, receive their education overseas, many with state or international organizations' support, although in the past many of the students have opted not to return home after graduating from overseas universities. Bangladesh suffers shortages of medical doctors, information technology specialists, qualified teachers, and professionals in various other areas.

The very low wages, starting from Tk1,500, and harsh working conditions drive large numbers of people to seek jobs as temporary workers in Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emi-rates. According to some unofficial estimates there are as many as 20 million Bangladeshi illegal immigrants in neighboring India. Many are hired to work in the low-skill and low-wages construction and service sectors and on agricultural plantations. The workers' remittances, sent home regularly, are one of the most important sources of hard currency not only for the extended families of these workers, but also for the national economy as well, totaling, according to the IMF's figures, US$1.706 billion (1998-99) or equivalent to the Bang-ladeshi gross official currency reserves in 1998-99.

The trade unions are very strong in Bangladesh, although only 3.5 percent of the workforce is unionized, but most of the unions are limited to the public sector or state-controlled enterprises. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), there are a total of 23 national trade union centers in Bangladesh and approximately 5,450 trade unions. The largest of these are the Bangladesh Jatio Sramik League (BJSL); the Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Sramik Dal (BJSD); the Jatiya Sramik Party (JSP); the Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress (BFTUC); and the Jatio Sramik League (JSL). These bodies are organized together in the ICFTU Bangladesh Council. About 1.8 million of the country's workers belong to unions, out of a total workforce of approximately 58 million. The unions tend to have strong links to major political parties or are controlled by political figures, and they often lead political action and strikes in the country. The power of the trade unions is exemplified in the fact that their continuous general strikes (hartals) forced the BNP government to resign in 1996, and their support led to the victory of the Awami League in the 1996 parliamentary election. Strikes are extremely common in Bangladesh and can paralyze business activities for weeks. The private sector is less unionized and trade unions are practically banned from the Export Processing Zones (EPZ), as the EPZ is exempted from certain labor laws. In case of industrial dispute the problems are supposed to be solved through the Labor Tribunal.

Unlike many Middle Eastern countries, women in Bangladesh enjoy considerable freedom and are generally involved in education and labor, although the employment and literacy rates among them generally are lower than among men. Recent surges in the garment industry brought new employment opportunities for women, as around 95 percent of people employed in this sector are women. However, in the rural areas the women very often are disadvantaged and among the poorer members of the communities. Currently, more than 37 percent of the labor force is women. However, unionization among women, and hence the protection of their rights, is generally lower than among men.

Despite the presence of strong trade unions, the use of child labor was quite common until recently. Not until 1995 did the Bangladeshi garment exporters' association agree to eliminate children from the industry. However, according to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, included in export sectors such as garments and leather production, there are over 6 million child laborers between the ages of 5 and 14 years who work for pay and are not enrolled in school. About 1.9 million working children are below the age of 10. In addition to remunerated employment, children often have to work alongside other family members in small-scale and subsistence agriculture. Bangladesh has not ratified either of the ILO core conventions on child labor, although there are various laws and regulations protecting children.


1500 B.C. Hinduism, the system of beliefs, practices, and socio-religious institutions of the Hindus, is introduced in the Indian subcontinent.

327 B.C. Alexander the Great invades the province of Gandhara, in northwest Indian subcontinent.

800s A.D. The first Muslim Arabs appear in the north of the Indian subcontinent, and the first Muslim trading communities are established in various parts of the region.

1192. Muhammad of Ghur wins the battles of Taraori, which leads to the establishment of the Delhi sultanate, principal Muslim sultanate in North India from the 13th to the 16th century.

1341. Most of Bengal becomes independent of Delhi.

1498. Vasco da Gama, Portuguese traveler and adventurer, lands at Calcutta.

1576. Akbar, the great Mogul emperor, conquers the territory of modern Bangladesh.

1608. Dhaka becomes the Mogul's capital of Bengal province.

1757. The nawab (ruler) of Bengal is defeated by Robert Clive's British force at Plassey.

1765. The British East India Company establishes control over the administration of the territory of Bengal.

1857. Indian Sepoys (soldiers) in the Bengal army of the British East India Company rebel against British rule in India (known as the Sepoy Rebellion).

1858. The East India Company is abolished, and the British crown assumes direct control over British India.

1885. The Indian National Congress is founded.

1905. The British colonial administration introduces division into West Bengal and East Bengal, with East Bengal being more or less within the territory of modern Bangladesh, although the partition is withdrawn in 1911.

1947. Bangladesh becomes independent as a part of Pakistan under the name "East Pakistan."

1970. In November, a powerful cyclone hits Bangladesh, causing great damage and more than 500,000 deaths, one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century.

1970. In December, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (popularly known as Sheikh Mujib) and his political party, Awami League (AL), win both national and provincial elections and demand greater autonomy for East Pakistan.

1970. The AL declares its intention to achieve independence from West Pakistan.

1971. With the help of Indian forces, the Bangladeshi pro-independence movement wins independence.

1974. A state of emergency is declared in Bangladesh.

1975. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman becomes president and assumes absolute power.

1975. President Sheikh Mujib is assassinated in a military coup in August.

1975. Abusadat Muhammad Sayem becomes president but resigns 2 years later.

1978. General Ziaur Rahman wins the presidential election.

1981. President General Ziaur Rahman is assassinated in a military coup.

1981. Abdus Sattar wins the presidential election in November.

1982. General Hossain Ershad takes power in a military coup.

1985. General Hossain Ershad wins the presidential election and bans all active political opposition.

1988. Devastating floods hit three-quarters of the country, leaving 30 million people homeless and causing food shortages.

1990. General Hossain Ershad resigns.

1991. The first free and fair election is held in Bangladesh. Begum Khaleda Zia (widow of General Ziaur Rahman) and her party, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), win the election.

1991. A powerful cyclone hits Bangladesh, causing the deaths of more than 120,000 people and great damage to the economy.

1996. Begum Khaleda Zia wins the April parliamentary election, which is accompanied by violence and a low turnout, but is forced to resign shortly after.

1996. Hasina Wajed, daughter of Sheikh Mujib, and her Awami League (AL) win the June parliamentary election.

1996. An important 30-year agreement is reached with India on the sharing of the Ganges River's water.

1997. A peace treaty is signed between the government and Chakma rebels, ending a 20-year uprising.

1998. Another powerful cyclone hits the country, causing extensive damage to the national economy.

2001. Indian and Bangladeshi forces clash on the border between their 2 countries.


For decades after 1971 the development of the Bangladeshi national economy has been hindered by political instability, poor economic performance, pressure on scarce natural resources by the rapidly growing population, and an ineffective bureaucracy. The major changes introduced during the 1990s included more flexible economic policies, export-oriented industrialization, and inflow of foreign direct investments. Inflation remains low and is under control. The Bangladeshi currency exchange managed to avoid any spectacular failures similar to Indonesia or South Korea during the Asian financial crisis of 1997, and it is still stable, tightly regulated and pegged to the basket of the regional currencies. In 1999 and 2000 Bangladesh achieved strong economic recovery after the devastating floods of 1998, and if the regional and global economic environment remains positive, the Bangladeshi economic annual growth rate of 5 to 6 percent might continue. This development may ease the poverty, low standards of living, underemployment, and unemployment problems.

Nevertheless, there are several issues to be addressed. There is strong potential for all the problems, including political instability and recession, to return if the government fails to improve the economic situation in the country or if global recession or global competition negatively affect the country's exports. Both the border clashes with Indian border guards in early 2001, which led to heavy casualties, and confrontations along the border with Burma (Myanmar) show how fragile regional stability is. Meanwhile, although the changes brought some positive results to the national economy and some level of prosperity to some groups of the population (often limited to the educated urban population of the large metropolitan areas), they also brought new social ills such as growing criminality and drug usage among youth. The government has often been criticized for its intervention in economic development and its inability to improve economic management or to conduct further reforms, including privatization. There is also a serious problem with widespread corruption, with some political groups accused of wasting public resources. The experience of Indonesia shows how dangerous corruption and political instability are. It remains to be seen whether economic liberalization combined with the force of globalization measures will strengthen the performance of the national economy.

In the longer term, Bangladesh will need to maintain its international competitiveness, since the current globalization trend eliminates borders for international trade and brings growing competition from emerging markets for FDIs and for the transfer of modern technologies. Political and social unrest in neighboring Burma might affect Bangladesh, threatening and undermining regional stability and thus scaring off potential investors. Environmental issues are also very important for Bangladesh in the longer term, as global climate change and the rise of the surface level in the world's seas may undermine the country's agriculture, which still plays a dominant role in the national economy. In fact, a warmer Earth could well witness sizeable areas of the country covered by water, or it might increase salinization of the currently arable land, making it impossible to continue agricultural activities.


Bangladesh has no territories or colonies.


Alauddin, M., and Samiul Hasan, editors. Development, Governance and the Environment in South Asia: A Focus on Bangladesh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Caf, Dowlah. Privatization Experience in Bangladesh, 1991-1996. Washington D.C.: World Bank, 1997.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Bangladesh: EIU Country Profile 2000. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Bangladesh: EIU Country Report. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, February 2000.

Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. <>. Accessed August 2001.

Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Ministry of Planning Statistics Division. <>. Accessed August 2001.

The Independent (newspaper). <>. Accessed August 2001.

Moon, P. The British Conquest and Dominion of India. London: Duckworth, 1989.

Spear, Thomas. The Oxford History of Modern India. 2nd edition. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Statistical Pocketbook of Bangladesh. Dhaka: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 1998.

World Bank. Bangladesh: from Stabilization to Growth. Washington D.C.: World Bank, 1995.

World Bank Group. The World Bank Dhaka Office. <>. Accessed August 2001.

Rafis Abazov




Taka (Tk). One Bangladeshi taka equals 100 paisa. Notes are in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 taka. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50, and 100 paisa.


Garments, jute and jute goods, tea, leather and leather products, frozen fish, and seafood.


Machinery and equipment, chemicals, fertilizers, iron and steel, textiles, raw cotton, food (mainly rice and wheat), crude oil and petroleum products, and cement.


US$187 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$5.523 billion (1999). Imports: US$8.381 billion (1999).

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People's Republic of Bangladesh

Major Cities:
Dhaka, Chittagong

Other Cities:
Barisal, Comilla, Dinājpur, Faridpur, Jessore, Khulna, Mymensingh, Narayanganj, Pabna, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Sirājganj, Sylhet


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated August 1997. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


BANGLADESH , on the Bay of Bengal between India and Burma, is the most densely populated, yet one of the least developed and poorest countries in the world. Its needs are many, and its resources few. Marked by famine, floods, an astronomical birthrate, and a tenuous economy, it is struggling to improve the welfare of its citizens.

Physically, Bangladesh is semi-aquatic. The land, basically flat, is broken by the delta system of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, and thousands of lesser waterways, tributaries, and streams course through the country. Tea plantations and bamboo jungles add diversity to the landscape.



Dhaka, the capital, has developed over centuries as a city of culture, commerce, and government in the Bengal region. Buddhist and Hindu domination ended in the 13th century and was followed by 500 years of Muslim economic and cultural influence. In the 17th century, under Moghul rule, Dhaka occupied the role of capital city and was an important trade and commercial center. During the European domination of the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly during the British raj, Dhaka served as a district headquarters, although Calcutta was the chief seaport and industrial center of Bengal. It was not until independence in 1971 that Dhaka again achieved capital status. From a population of less than 2 million in 1971, it has grown to approximately 7 million today.

Divided into districts, Dhaka lies in the south along the banks of the Buringanga River. The once splendid buildings and residences have deteriorated into shops and small dwellings. The majority of Dhaka residents live in this area. Most of the modern public institutions and commercial development are concentrated in Dhaka center. However, due to increasing congestion some businesses are spreading to more newly developed areas. On a narrow strip of high ground north of the city, the upper-class areas of Banani, Gulshan, and Baridhara Model Towns have developed.


Locally, you may purchase meat, fish, shrimp, eggs, fresh vegetables, and fruit. For the coolest 6 months of the year, a wide variety of vegetables are available, although the size and quality are not up to U.S. standards. Individuals should soak all vegetables in chlorine for 30 minutes. All meat must be frozen 7 to 14 days or cooked very well to avoid diseases. Several types of leaf lettuce, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, green pepper, celery, and tomatoes are only in the market during the coolest part of the year. During the hottest 6 months, vegetables are limited to potatoes, onions, eggplant, cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, and a variety of local greens and squashes.

Several varieties of tropical fruits are available locally in season, including mangoes, pineapples, bananas, papayas, lychees, and guavas. Oranges, apples, and grapes are imported from India or Pakistan. Packaged food items can be found on the local market but at considerably higher prices.

Home gardens can provide a variety of foods to your diet. For those who don't have a yard in which to plant a garden, large flowerpots on the roof can be used to plant vegetable seeds. Tomatoes, carrots, beets, snow peas, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce (leafy varieties), and herbs can be grown. Much attention needs to be given to a vegetable garden in order to keep the insects and crows from consuming the fruits of your labor.


An umbrella is good protection against the rain or sun. Bring a large supply of summer clothing and shoes for all occasions. Loose-fitting cotton clothes are more comfortable than synthetics for the high humidity that prevails throughout much of the year. Clothes wear out due to frequent washing and required changes.

Because black rust permeates everything and mildew is prevalent 9 months of the year, clothing and leather items must be given special attention. Plastic garment bags are not recommended. Use old sheets, etc., to cover stored clothes and to act as dust covers on open clothing racks. Local tailors can make basic men's, women's, and children's clothing. Success is most often achieved when a garment copy is supplied. Bring a good supply of fine cotton fabrics and sewing notions and have clothes made locally. Tailors cannot use paper patterns, but include them if you sew yourself. Local fabric and notion selections are limited in quality, color, and selection.

Wool clothing and sweaters can be worn a few weeks during the cool season and for traveling to neighboring India and Nepal. Clothing customs vary with the season; lightweight suits are worn by men more often during the cooler months.

Men: Local safari suits or sport shirts and slacks are worn to work most of the year. Ties are appropriate in most offices. During the cool season, lightweight suits are often worn. Sweatsuits are handy for the cooler months.

All-cotton shirts and slacks are most comfortable for 9 months of the year. Blends, however, are tolerable for work in the air-conditioned office and for cooler weather. Bring an adequate supply of shoes for work and sports, including sandals and thongs for poolside use. Sweaters and other lightweight wool clothing are used during the cool months and for travel. Include a good supply of cotton underwear, socks, and proper athletic wear for a variety of sports.

Women: Bring lightweight, comfortable clothing for home or office wear. Mid-calf-length dresses or sleeved blouses with skirts are most common; pants with long blouses are also appropriate. Bring washable fabrics; dry-cleaning is available but not reliable.

Modest attire with covered back and shoulders and mid-calf skirts is appropriate for occasions that include Bangladeshis. A lightweight shawl or jacket to cover shoulders is often sufficient to use with more typically U.S. summer styles; jackets are handy for air-conditioned rooms as well. Sundresses and shorts can be worn at home, at the home of an American friend, or at the American Recreation Club. Two-piece swimwear is acceptable at private clubs. It is important, however, to be covered when you are traveling between home and your destination.

Many discover the practical comfort of the "shalwar kamiz," a traditional costume with cool, loose-fitting pants and a long tunic or blouse. It may be purchased locally in cotton or silk or tailored for you in a fabric of your choice.

Children: Good-quality, ready-made clothing for children is not available. Clothing for boys is particularly hard to find. Bring a good supply and keep in mind how quickly children grow. Bring a large supply of tennis shoes and sandals.

Consider the warm weather and include sundresses, shorts, T-shirts, cotton underwear, a large supply of socks, and several bathing suits. Sweatpants, jeans, and sweaters are necessary for winter and travel. Dressy clothes are seldom needed. A typical school outfit includes shorts, T-shirts, and tennis socks for both boys and girls.

Besides umbrellas, you might want to bring a lightweight rain slicker, galoshes, or gumshoes. However, the heat during the rainy season may render such items impractical. The galoshes might be more practical for children who might play outside after a storm. Bring nonskid shoes and slippers, as the floors in most houses are a noncarpeted tile. Costumes for Halloween and school plays are useful items, but costumes can easily be made by the local tailors.

Bring all clothing for infants. Rubber pants with diapers encourage skin rashes; try improved products available in the U.S. Bring diapers and good-quality pins and rubber padding. Some cotton clothing, but not the best quality, can be found locally.

Supplies and Services

Bangladesh has strict import laws. Many items may be found on the local market but at very high prices.

Dhaka has several beauty parlors. Bring your own hair-coloring products; henna is available here and has been popular among the Americans. Dry-cleaning services are inexpensive but not very reliable. Picture framing is also reasonable; however, proper matting material is not available. Film processing is adequate and reasonably priced. Local tailors can sew basic styles or copy an existing garment successfully and inexpensively; local fabric selection and notion supplies are limited. Basic vehicle repairs are done locally, though parts are sometimes difficult to find.

Religious Activities

The Constitution of Bangladesh grants all religions the freedom to preach, practice, and propagate their faith. Catholic and Protestant congregations have been established for generations in Dhaka.

Most Roman Catholics from the American community attend English-language Masses held on Saturday at St. Mary's Cathedral in Ramna or on Sunday at Banani Seminary in Banani. Many priests are U.S. citizens (Holy Cross Fathers). First communion and religious education classes are also held.

An interdenominational Protestant church holds English-language services every Friday morning in Gulshan. This interdenominational congregation sponsors an active group for all youth from grades 6 through 12. The Anglican church, St. Thomas' New Centre, has English-language services twice weekly. Seventh-day Adventists, Latter-day Saints, Mennonites, Bahai, and Assemblies of God are also represented in Dhaka.


The American International School Dhaka (AIS/D) is a coeducational day school for students of all nationalities from preschool (4 years old) through grade 12.

The school is divided into three sections, elementary school, middle school, and high school, with a student population of approximately 500. AIS/D is administered by an American superintendent and two principals and governed by a 10-member school board comprising parents of students enrolled in the school. Three positions on the board are direct-hire U.S. Embassy employees, two are other Americans, and four are other nationalities. AIS/D is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the European Council of International Schools.

The school occupies a 4-acre campus in Baridhara, a suburb of Dhaka. The modern, air-conditioned building consists of a library; 47 classrooms, including 2 art, 2 music, 5 science, and 3 computer rooms; a gymnasium; a multipurpose room; and an auditorium. School grounds encompass a softball/soccer field, volleyball and basketball courts, a 25-meter swimming pool, and a playground area.

A library of 25,000 volumes is available for students and their families. The facility is available on a fee basis to expatriate employees of any organization that sponsors children attending the school. All instructional and art materials are furnished by the school. AIS/D operates its own fleet of 15 modern buses for transporting students to and from school. Transportation is also provided for all after-school activities.

The curriculum is based on the American model. Numerous specialty teachers are employed: art, music, physical education, computers, English as a Second Language, resource specialist, French, Spanish, and south Asian studies. The school's scholastic standards are high, and graduates attend many fine universities worldwide. AIS/D can accommodate some students with minor learning difficulties, but it does not have a special education program. Parents of children with special needs must contact the school before accepting a posting in Dhaka.

A strong extracurricular program is maintained for students of all ages. Each quarter, after-school activities are offered for a small fee. On average, 30 different activities are scheduled each quarter. The school participates in the South Asia Inter School Association (SAISA) and sponsors athletic teams including swimming, track and field, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. In addition, the school's PTA sponsors a weekend soccer program and scouting opportunities. PTA activities depend on parent volunteers.

Students travel in and out of the country to participate in SAISA events and educational field trips. A summer session is available but is recreational in nature. The academic year begins in mid-August and ends in early June.

Parents wishing to enroll their children should write: Superintendent, American Embassy (AIS/D), Dhaka, Bangladesh, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-6120. There is an application fee and a yearly capital fee. Tuition rates for 1995-96 were as follows: Preschool, $2,700; Kindergarten-Grade 3, $6,850; Grades 4-5, $7,250; Grade 6, $8,550; Grade 7, $8,450; Grade 8, $8,800; Grade 9, $9,000; Grade 10, $9,400; Grade 11, $9,000; Grade 12, $9,500.

Alternative schooling is very limited in Dhaka. Several other preschools are available.

High school students may choose to attend a boarding school in the U.S. or one of two schools in India. The schools in India are missionary founded and of high quality. Woodstock begins and ends in June with a 3-month break from December 1 to March 1. Kodaikanal follows a more typical American calendar. For additional information, write directly to the schools:

Woodstock School
Mussoorie, U.P.

Kodaikanal School
Kodaikanal, Post Box 25
Tamil Nadu 624101, India
Fax: (91) 4542-41109

Special Educational Opportunities

The Heed Institute in Dhaka offers lessons in Bangla scheduled for half-day sessions. French may be taken at the French School and Alliance Française. Trenton State College periodically offers graduate courses for the faculty of AIS/D in which members of the community may also enroll. AIS/D recently began a few short courses for adults at the school. Such courses include computer and swimming classes.


The American Recreation Club is an extremely attractive compound covering about half a city block and located in Gulshan Model City It includes two lighted, hard-surface tennis courts; one air-conditioned squash court; swimming and wading pools; volleyball and badminton areas; a basketball court; two playgrounds; and (in 1996) a weight/aerobics room. Inexpensive squash and tennis lessons are available, but we suggest you bring all of your own equipment and sportswear, as local availability of such goods is sporadic.

Club amenities also consist of a restaurant and bar, a large multipur-pose room, a cabana by the pool, a video rental facility (U.S. specifications), and a fine catering service. Special activities are featured monthly, sports tournaments are held frequently, and the weekly Thursday highlight of Pizza Night is a popular event. The club is open for breakfast on weekends and holidays. Monthly dues apply.

The Kurmitola Golf Club is located on the Dhaka Cantonment near Gulshan. In addition to an 18-hole golf course, the facility has a swimming pool and a restaurant/bar open daily. Membership fees are high and fluctuate from year to year. There is restricted access to the golf club for nonmembers. Members must pay an additional monthly fee. Lessons are available, usually from a caddie since the club has no pro on staff. No rental clubs exist. Bring all equipment including clubs, balls, and pull-cart if desired.

The Sheraton and Sonargaon hotels also provide recreational opportunities. Memberships are available for the health club, tennis, and swimming facilities. Fees are moderately high.

Numerous opportunities for adult team sports are available. Currently, active teams exist for slow-pitch softball, volleyball, basketball, rugby, tennis, and soccer. Hashers race throughout the year. Aerobics classes are also available. Activities vary depending upon expatriate interest.

Bicycles may be used in residential areas, but traffic is congested, and it is quite dangerous for children learning to ride.

Boating and fishing are limited, but it is possible to either buy or rent a country boat. Large boats can be hired at Sadarghat in Old Dhaka or Narayanganj, approximately 10 miles from Dhaka. Groups often go on boating parties.

Cox's Bazar, which is south of Chittagong, is the only usable ocean beach in Bangladesh. Swimming in local rivers and ponds is not safe.

There are several clubs operated by other foreign embassies and international groups. Most of the clubs have tennis courts, squash courts, and swimming pools. Several of these clubs have open nights when members of other clubs are welcome to attend. Each of the clubs sponsors various social events throughout the year for the expatriate community.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Interesting buildings and sights in Dhaka include the High Court, Dhaka Museum, Lalbagh Fort, Armenian Church, and Nawab's Palace. The Star Mosque, known for its lovely blue star external ornamentation, and the Baital-Mukarram, built in the style of the Kaaba at Mecca, are two of the most notable of the several hundred mosques throughout the city.

The zoo and botanical gardens provide interesting diversions from the crowded city streets. The narrow, winding streets of the Chowkbazaar section of Old Dhaka have picturesque bazaars and shops. The main riverfront of the city, Sadarghat, lies on the bank of the Buriganga River; a visit to the ferry terminal is a good starting point to see Old Dhaka.

Many people limit their travel outside and around Dhaka due to traffic congestion and lack of public services. During monsoon season, bridges are often washed out, which restricts land travel, making people rely on the airline and train companies, which are not always reliable.

Approximately 10 miles from Dhaka is Narayanganj, the center of the jute trade in Bangladesh and a thriving river port. A number of Moghul and Buddhist ruins are within 25 miles of the city. A river trip to Khulna is an enjoyable 3-day outing from Dhaka. The beautiful scenery and the active life of the Bangladeshis along the river's edge can be viewed from the calmness of the boat's deck.

Cox's Bazar, 94 miles south of Chittagong, has a 75-mile, unpopulated beach along the Bay of Bengal. The Bangladeshi Government encourages the development of Cox's Bazar as a tourist resort; three modern, modest hotels are there. Round-trip flights from Dhaka are available at relatively reasonable rates.

Sylhet, with 78,000 acres and 132 tea estates, offers a pleasant and relaxing change from city life. Rangamati, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, is a tribal area recently opened to expatriates. It is a nice place to visit, where you can take quiet walks and visit some of the tribal villages. A visit to the Sunderbans is pleasant if you like roughing it. The Sunderbans claims to be the largest mangrove forest in the world. It might be your one chance to see the famous Bengal tiger (but don't count on it!).

Round-trip flights from Dhaka leave daily for Calcutta. There is currently a direct flight to New Delhi on British Airways four times a week.

Daily flights to Bangkok leave Dhaka. Bangkok is a busy city and a nice diversion from Dhaka. Flights to Katmandu leave Dhaka five times a week, offering cooler weather in Nepal and an opportunity to trek in the Himalayas. On Thursdays and the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, there are direct flights to Rangoon.


There are no acceptable recreational facilities for picnicking, hiking, or hunting within easy reach of Dhaka. There are no theaters that offer movies in English. Recreation is limited in variety and consists largely of self-generated dinners or receptions. Everyone makes use of the limited facilities and activities availableprimarily the American Recreation Club, school, and private residences. Reception rooms in the two hotels can be rented at a high cost.

Western cultural presentations are limited. USIS and other diplomatic agencies, including the British Council, Alliance Française, and German Cultural Center, occasionally sponsor plays, lectures, films, and musical programs. Plays are presented throughout the year by the Dhaka Stage theater group and AIS/D. The Dhaka Chorus and AIS/D present concerts during the year.

A number of restaurants serve Asian dishes. Italian and Indian restaurants are also available. The Sonargaon and Sheraton hotels have several restaurants that offer a greater variety of entrees.

The National Museum, Shilpakala Academy, and Osmani Hall host exhibitions and cultural performances. You may enjoy folk music, dance festivals, plays, poetry readings, art exhibitions, and recitals.

Other sponsoring groups include the Art Council of Bangladesh, the Bulbul Academy of Fine Arts, the College of Music, the College of Arts and Crafts, Nazrul Academy, and foreign cultural missions (USIS and the British Council, German Cultural Institute, and Alliance Française). The Dhaka Museum includes collections of 10th-and 12th-century Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, folk arts and crafts of tribal groups, painting, ancient coins, and Moghul arms and jewelry.

Social Activities

Organizations within the American community include the ARA and the Dhaka American Women's Club (DAWC). Currently, a complete Boy Scouting program is available, as are Brownies for girls. Several organized play groups for small children are active.

All women are invited to join the DAWC. In addition to charitable work and community service, the DAWC organizes excursions and activities. A monthly newsletter, the Bangladasher, is also published by the club.

A number of expatriates, who can best be met through the cultural, special interest, and sports activities, live in Dhaka. The U.N. Women's Association (UNWA) offers an associate membership to women who are not spouses of U.N. employees. There is an active Dhaka International Garden Club. The Dhaka Stage theater group welcomes volunteers for its productions. Dhaka has several international service clubs. Individual and team sports competitions provide a good opportunity to meet the large expatriate community. The Dhaka Chorus sings each week and gives two concerts a year. Duplicate bridge and mah-jongg groups meet weekly.


Chittagong is located 12 miles from the mouth of the Karnaphuli River in southeast Bangladesh, near the Bay of Bengal and about 125 miles south of Dhaka. It is situated in one of the regions of heaviest annual rainfall in the world. Bangladesh's chief port, with modern facilities for oceangoing vessels, Chittagong is also an important rail terminus and administrative center. Exported items include jute, tea, skins, and hides, while cotton and other fabrics, machinery, and construction materials are items imported.

During the 1960s, oil installations were set up offshore. Chittagong has an oil refinery and blending plants, as well as other industries that include cotton and jute processing mills, tea and match factories, engineering and chemical works, iron and steel mills, and fruit canning, leather processing, and shipbuilding facilities. Power for the local industries is supplied by the Karnaphuli hydroelectric project.

The city has a current population of nearly 2 million (1991 est.), and has landmarks that include Hindu temples, Buddhist ruins, and several examples of Mogul art. There are a university, founded in 1966, and several arts and professional colleges.

Historically, Chittagong was known to the civilized world in the early centuries (A.D.). The port was used by Arakan, Arab, Persian, Mogul, and Portuguese mariners; the latter called the city Porto Grande. Chittagong was originally part of an ancient Hindu kingdom and was conquered by a Buddhist king of Arakan in the ninth century. It became part of the Mogul empire in the 13th century, was retaken by the Arakans in the 16th century, and was recaptured by the Moguls a century later. The British East India Company took control in 1760. Chittagong's port facilities were damaged during the Indo-Pakistani War in 1971.


BARISAL is an important river port in southern Bangladesh on the Ganges River delta, 90 miles south of Dhaka. With a population of approximately 188,000 (1991 est.), Barisal is a transshipment point for jute and rice, as well as a market for fish and betel nuts. Jute, oilseed, flour, and rice mills are also located here. The city has three colleges affiliated with the University of Dhaka. A phenomenon named the "Barisal guns" occurs in the city; these are unexplained sounds that resemble thunder or cannons, and are believed to have a seismic origin.

COMILLA , 50 miles southeast of Dhaka, lies on an affluent of the Meghna River. Situated on the main railroad and highway linking Dhaka and Chittagong, Comilla is an administrative center and collection point for hides and skins. The city also has a cottage industry in cane and bamboo basketry. The site of three colleges affiliated with the University of Dhaka, Comilla has a population exceeding 155,000 (1991 est.) and is one of the most densely populated areas of Bangladesh.

DINĀJPUR is the headquarters of the eponymous district, located about 190 miles northwest of Dhaka. Employment here is provided by mills, farms, and a power station. Dinājpur's northeastern section contains the old city, with the former house of the maharajah. The University of Rājshāhi is associated with two government colleges here. An estimated 138,000 people live in Dinājpur (1991 est.).

FARIDPUR , named for the Muslim holy man Farid Shar and the site of his shrine, is in southern Bangladesh, about 50 miles west of the capital. With a population of about 50,000, Faridpur is an administrative center, railway terminus, and market town for rice and jute. Two colleges affiliated with the University of Dhaka are located here.

JESSORE lies on the Bhairab River, 90 miles southwest of Dhaka. An administrative headquarters, the city has approximately 154,000 residents (1991 est.). Landmarks here include shrines of Muslim saints and the Rajbāri of Chanchra. Supposedly, Jessore's name is taken from ya õ ohara, or "glory depriving"; Gauer was the pre-eminent city at the time, until Jessore surpassed it in importance. A library, a stadium, and four government colleges are located here.

KHULNA , whose population is 1 million (1991 est.), is located near the Ganges delta about 125 miles southwest of Dhaka and 77 miles northeast of Calcutta, India. The city is one of Bangladesh's chief ports and the trade and processing center for the products of the Sundarbansa swampy, forested region. Rice, jute, and other agricultural products are processed here, and there is also some shipbuilding and textile manufacturing in Khulna. Timber and forest products are exported.

MYMENSINGH (also spelled Maimansingh) is in north-central Bangladesh, on an old channel of the Brahmaputra River. Rice, jute, sugarcane, oilseeds, tobacco, mustard, and pulse (edible seeds of leguminous plants) are traded in Mymensingh. The city was once known for the manufacture of glass bangles, and now its industries include jute pressing and electrical supply factories. Mohan College, affiliated with the University of Dhaka, is located here. There is also an agricultural university, a veterinary training institute, and the Institute of Radiation Genetics and Plant Breeding. Formerly called Nasirabad, the city today has a population close to 202,000 (1991 est.).

NARAYANGANJ (also spelled Narayungunj) is the river port for Dhaka and one of Bangladesh's busiest trade centers. Located at the confluence of the Bakhya and Chaleshwari Rivers, the city's population is estimated at 296,000 (1991 est.) Dhaka and Narayanganj together comprise Bangladesh's principal industrial region. Narayanganj is also a collection center for hides and skins, and a receiving point for imports from and exports to Calcutta, India. Industries in the city range from jute presses, cotton and textile mills, and ship repair facilities, to leather, glass, footwear, and undergarment manufacturers. The famous shrine of the Muslim holy man Kadam Rasal is located nearby.

PABNA is in western Bangladesh on the Ichamati River, about 75 miles northwest of the capital. Known for its handmade products and hosiery, Pabna is the site of the Hindu temple of Jor Banga. With a current population of close to 112,000 (1991 est.), Pabna has a college affiliated with Rajshahi University.

RAJSHAHI is in west-central Bangladesh on the Ganges River, about 130 miles southwest of Dhaka and 40 miles west of the Indian border. Formerly called Rampur Boalia, the city is the administrative center for a region that produces nearly all of the country's silk. Industries in Rajshahi include oil pressing plants, match factories, and sawmills. The Varenda Research Museum, a silk institute, and a university (founded in 1953) with several affiliated colleges, are also located here. Rajshahi has a population of over 430,000.

RANGPUR , in northwest Bangladesh on the Little Ghaghet River, is 175 miles north of Dhaka. Situated in a tobacco growing district, Rangpur manufactures cigarettes and cigars and is noted for its cotton carpets. With an estimated population of 549,000 (1991 est.), Rangpur has a college that is affiliated with Rajshahi University.

SIRĀJGANJ , located about 68 miles northwest of the capital in the north-central region, is a principal jute center. The first jute mills in the Bengal were opened here. Sirāj-ganj became a city in 1869; it has three colleges and a population of about 108,000 (1991 est.).

SYLHET , situated just south of the Indian border and 125 miles northeast of Dhaka, is the administrative center for a region that cultivates rice and tea and has extensive limestone quarrying. Industries within the city include tea factories and a well-known cane facility. Sylhet is a center of Islamic culture and is the site of several tombs of Muslim holy men. Three colleges affiliated with the University of Dhaka are located in Sylhet. The city's population is close to 117,000 (1991 est.).


Geography and Climate

Bordered on three sides by India and sharing a border with Myanmar (Burma), Bangladesh is located in south Asia on the northern edge of the Bay of Bengal. Approximately 120 million people inhabit an area the size of Wisconsin.

Bangladesh consists primarily of low-lying plains that never rise more than 35 feet above sea level. The delta region of 55,598 square miles is formed by the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers and smaller tributary rivers. Changes in topography occur only in the northeastern hilly tea-growing regions of Sylhet and the southeastern forest regions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The capital, Dhaka, is less than 25 feet above sea level.

Bangladesh has three main seasons. The mild (70°F) season, from mid-October to the end of February, is characterized by clear sunny skies and cool (50°F) evenings. This is when cyclones are least likely, making travel in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox's Bazar ideal.

The hot season, from March until the end of May, has little rain. The early part is pleasant (75°F), but as the monsoon approaches, hot (95°F) temperatures and high humidity make life extremely difficult.

The monsoon season is June to mid-October. At the beginning of the monsoon, the continuous rains cool the atmosphere. Temperatures are milder (85 to 90°F), but it is the oppressive humidity that makes the climate uncomfortable.

Tropical cyclones that emerge from the Bay of Bengal with high winds and tidal waves hit Bangladesh an average of 16 times a decade. Travelers must be prepared for flooding and cyclones, particularly in the coastal areas, throughout the monsoon season. Unpredictable weather patterns during the monsoon season greatly affect living conditions and agricultural crops throughout the country.


The population of Bangladesh is estimated at 131.3 million (1991 est.) with an annual growth rate of 2%. Bangladesh is the most densely populated agricultural country in the world. The areas around the capital city, Dhaka, and around Comilla are the most densely settled. The Sunderbans, an area of coastal tropical jungle in the southwest, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts on the southeastern border with Myanmar and India are the least densely populated areas. Population growth is a concern of the Bangladeshi Government.

About 35% of the population is under 15 years of age. The literacy rate is 63% for males and 49% for females. Life expectancy is 60 years, and unemployment and poverty are considerable. Over 35% of the population lives at or below subsistence level; the average per capita income is approximately US$1,570 (2000 est.).

Urbanization is proceeding rapidly, and it is estimated that only 30 percent of the population entering the labor force in the future will be absorbed into agriculture, although many will likely find other kinds of work in rural areas. Unemployment and underemployment will remain substantial problems.

Bangladesh, like all modern countries, has a mixture of people of varied origins. The great majority of the Bangladeshis are of mixed Aryan-Dravidian stock; however, many families can also track their ancestors back to the Middle East and central Asia. These Bengalis inhabit most of the broad plains of Bangladesh. The original tribal people, with less than 1 percent of the population, migrated hundreds of years ago from Burma, Thailand, Assam, and other areas in Southeast Asia. They possess oriental features and live mainly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and along the northern borders of the Dinajpur, Mymensingh, and Sylhet Districts. Bangladeshis are mostly Muslim; Hindus comprise a 16 percent minority. The other religions in Bangladesh, Buddhists, Christians, Baha'is, and animists, number only 1 percent. Islam was declared the state religion in 1988 and affects all aspects of life in Bangladesh.

Although English is spoken in some urban areas and among the educated, Bangla (also referred to as Bengali) is the official language. English is no longer used for instruction in public primary or secondary schools; it is used sporadically in judicial proceedings, businesses and universities. Technical writing is in English.

The statutes of Bangladesh conform to Islamic laws, but the system of law in the courts derives from English common law. In rural areas, where most of the people live, interpretations of conservative Islam and local customs predominate. Freedom of religion is guaranteed; however, minorities do not have the same access to upward mobility as Muslims.

The people of Bangladesh are friendly. Crowds are everywhere. The vast numbers of people sometimes overwhelm a newcomer. The tradition of secluding women creates a largely male population to be seen on the streets and in the marketplace in older sections of Dhaka and the villages. With the expanding garment industry, however, more women are working and in public view.

Public Institutions

The region encompassing Bangladesh, the delta of two major river systems, has been a center of commerce and culture since the beginning of recorded history. Bangladesh attained its independence in 1971.

British rule over modern Bangladesh ended in August 1947, when India and Pakistan became independent nations. The serious political, linguistic, historical, cultural, and economic differences dividing East and West Pakistan were temporarily masked by enthusiasm for independence from the British. Although East Pakistan (Bangladesh) had a larger population and was the chief foreign exchange earner, government power was centered in West Pakistan. As Islamic brotherhood as a rallying cry lost its appeal, Bangladeshi identity in East Pakistan began to take precedence over Muslim identity.

In March 1971, the leader of the East Pakistan Awami League, which stood for Bengali nationalism, was arrested for political activities and unwillingness to compromise on the issue of provincial autonomy. Other Awami League leaders fled to India and established a government in exile. Civil war began. Millions crossed the Indian border, and hundreds of thousands were displaced in Bangladesh. Approximately 35,000 were killed in 9 months. A beleaguered Pakistani Army fought the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army).

The refugee pressure in India in the fall of 1971 produced new tensions. Indian sympathies were with East Pakistan. In November, India intervened on the side of the Bangladeshis. On December 16, 1971, Pakistani forces surrendered, and the new nation of Bangladesh was born. The U.S. extended diplomatic recognition on April 4, 1972, and the People's Republic of Bangladesh became a member of the U.N. in September 1974.

The People's Republic of Bangladesh is governed under the provision of a written Constitution. The Constitution created a strong executive Prime Minister, an independent judiciary, and a unicameral legislature on a modified Westminster model. The Constitution adopted as state policy the Awami League's four basic principles of nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy.

There are 30 to 40 active political parties in Bangladesh. Only four parties have more than 10 members elected to the current parliament.

Arts, Science, and Education

Bangladeshis take great pride in their rich and subtle language, Bangla, and in its long tradition of literature, poetry, and music. Assertion of their national identity and language became a prime rallying point during the Bangladeshis' struggle for independence from West Pakistan and remains a dominant theme in all sectors of life and culture.

Bangladeshi artistic expression is best expressed in its handicrafts: inlaid woodwork, brass, and pottery. Bangladeshi folk embroidery, "nakshi kantha," depicts realistic and stylized scenes or designs and may be found intricately stitched and greatly detailed or in rustic and simple form. Representational art shows a distinct traditional Moghul influence. Modern painters can also be found.

Music and song are greatly appreciated in Bangladesh in both folk and classical forms. The songs of the "bauls," the traditional wandering folk minstrels, are especially popular. The bauls sing simple and lively songs that tell tales and describe mystic inspiration, playing rudimentary stringed instruments and drums, with the singer dancing and interacting with his audience. Also popular are songs of revered Bengali poets. Moghul traditional court music forms the basis for modern classical counterparts, using instruments such as the sitar, a stringed instrument, with percussion accompaniment of the tabla. Classical dance is similar to the stylized forms of Northern India. Bangladeshi pop music consists of songs from Bangla and Hindi films and is ubiquitous throughout Bangladesh, as it is throughout the subcontinent.

The educational system in Bangladesh includes 5 years of primary education, 5 years of secondary education, and 2 years of college (U.S. senior high equivalent), which results in an intermediate arts degree. The final 2 years of higher education for a bachelor of arts or science degree are equivalent to a U.S. associate of arts degree. Formal education in Bangladesh ends at this level, although some students may pursue a graduate-level master's degree (equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's degree). The quality of public education is low due to lack of facilities and supplies. Attendance for school-age students is 70% in primary education and 18% in secondary education. In 1996, only about 3% of the GDP was allocated to education.

Commerce and Industry

Bangladesh's economy is primarily based on agriculture. Despite devastating floods in 1998, successive record harvests have led to a slight rebound in the economy. Agriculture accounted for 26% of GDP in 2000 and is the primary occupation of about 70.0% of the population.

Major industries include jute and leather goods and cotton textiles. Others are sugar, iron and steel mills, fertilizer plants, and a small number of food-processing plants. Natural gas deposits are being exploited, but Bangladesh does not have many other natural resources. A growing garment industry is located throughout Bangladesh for assembling garments for export.

Aid from the U.S. and other donors is about 60 percent of the domestic development budget. In addition to the U.S., major donors are the World Bank/International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japan, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Western Europe. Most of Bangladesh's exportsraw jute and jute goods, leather, frozen seafood, and teago to the U.S., Italy, the U.K., Germany, and Japan. Bangladesh imports most of its food grains, machinery, petroleum, vegetable oils, and fertilizer from Japan, the U.S., Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. Over 80 nongovernmental voluntary aid agencies (NGO's), in addition to official agencies, operate in Bangladesh.

The USAID program in Bangladesh is one of the U.S. Government's largest. It focuses on reducing poverty by reducing the rate of population growth, increasing agricultural productivity, and building democratic institutions. The Bangladeshi Government places a high priority on these development goals.


Bicycle rickshaws, baby-taxis (small three-wheeled motorized vehicles), and buses provide public transportation. A private vehicle for personal use around Dhaka is useful. Driving is on the left, but both right-hand-and left-hand-drive vehicles may be used. Only leaded gas and diesel fuel are available in Bangladesh. Compact or intermediatesized cars are best suited for the congested road conditions. Many city streets are narrow, rough, and crowded with buses, trucks, rickshaws, pushcarts, animals, and pedestrians. Air-conditioning is strongly recommended.

A few car rental agencies are available; prices are high but include both insurance and driver.


Telephone and Telegraph

Phone services are inadequate. Though efforts are slowly underway to upgrade the telephone system, including expanding domestic and international capacity and installing digital exchanges, the government-run service currently has only about 580,000 lines to serve 130 million people.

Four private companies now are operating cellular service. Several Internet service providers now exist in Dhaka.

Radio and TV

Bangladesh currently has one local TV station broadcasting in Dhaka and to relay stations around the country. TV is government controlled, and telecasts are 7 hours daily with extended hours on Fridays. Programs include a 10 pm English newscast. A few popular U.S. and British serials and movies may be seen following the late-night news. In the morning, the BBC (7 am to 8 am) and CNN (8 am to 11 am) are broadcast.

Bangladesh TV uses the PAL TV system (625-line color). A PAL or multi-system TV and video recorder are necessary to view local TV or rental tapes from local private video shops. An American TV (NTSC system) will work with a VCR but will not receive local programs.

Radio is the primary communications medium in Bangladesh. Radio Bangladesh broadcasts a wide schedule of AM programs and also programs in FM through the TV system. Occasionally you are able to pick up signals of Western music on the FM station, including BBC transmissions. A high-quality short-wave radio is needed to receive broadcasts of Voice of America, Radio Australia, and the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network.

Health and Medicine

Preventive Measures

Before arrival in Bangladesh, individuals should ensure that all of their immunizations are current. In addition to the standard childhood immunizations, the following immunizations are strongly recommended: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, rabies, and typhoid fever. Immunizations are available at post, but postponing the immunizations until arrival will delay for several months the onset of disease immunity.

Malaria prophylaxis is no longer recommended within Dhaka but is required for travel outside the city. Either mefloquine or the chloroquine/Paludrine combination is recommended.

Dhaka's water supply is contaminated All water used for drinking, brushing teeth, and washing fruits and vegetables must be boiled for 1 minute. Servants should be instructed carefully and supervised frequently in the boiling procedure.

The water in local restaurants is often not boiled. Drink only bottled water without ice cubes. Restaurants allow you to bring your own drinks.

It is possible to shop for meats, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables locally. Fruits and vegetables must be carefully soaked in Clorox. Cook meat from local markets thoroughly and determine the freshness of fish before eating.

Occasional gastrointestinal upsets are unavoidable. With normal precautions, serious amebiasis, bacillary dysentery, and intestinal parasites can be kept at minimal levels. Respiratory and superficial skin infections are common. Even the smallest of wounds should be carefully cleaned.

By taking necessary precautions, most people in Dhaka remain healthy. Most problems are not exotic tropical diseases; rather, they are the same pattern of colds, allergies due to unhealthy and polluted local conditions, and childhood illnesses encountered at home.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Feb. 21 Martyrs' Day

Mar. 26 Independence Day

Mar/Apr. Bengali New Year*

Aug. 15 Day of Mourning

Nov. 7 Revolution Day

Dec. 16 Victory Day


Id e-Milladunnabi*




Id al-Fitr*


*variable, by Islamic and Hindi calendars


Passage, Customs & Duties

Routes via London or Amsterdam are on an American carrier. Through London, British Airways flies to Dhaka 4 days a week, Biman Bangladesh Airlines flies 5 days a week and Emirates flies to Dhaka 4 days a week. If you route through Amsterdam via New York or Boston, there are flights to Dhaka arriving on Monday and Thursday on KLM.

Northwest or United Airlines may be flown from the west coast via the Pacific to Hong Kong, Bangkok, or Singapore. Daily connections to Dhaka are available from these cities via Dragon, Thai, Singapore, or Biman Airlines.

A passport and onward/return ticket are required. A visa is not required for a tourist stay of up to 15 days. Visas (landing permits) are available for a fee upon arrival by air. Further information on entry requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, 3510 International Drive, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone 202-244-0183, fax 202-244-5366, web site or from the Bangladesh consulates in New York, 211 E. 43rd Street, Suite 502, New York, NY 10017, telephone 212-599-6767, or the Bangladesh Consulate in Los Angeles, 10850 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1250, Los Angeles, CA 90024, telephone 310-441-9399, web site

Americans living in or visiting Bangladesh are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka and obtain updated information on travel and security within Bangladesh. The U.S. Embassy is located at Diplomatic Enclave, Madani Avenue, Baridhara, Dhaka, telephone (880-2) 882-4700 through 22, fax number (880-2) 882-4449. For emergency services during business hours, call (880-2) 882-3805. For emergency services after hours, call (880-2) 882-4700 and ask for the Duty Officer. The Embassy's Internet home page is Their workweek is Sunday-Thursday.


Bangladesh has no quarantine requirements for pets. Have your pet fully inoculated (rabies, distemper, etc.) and bring vaccination certificates and certificate of good health properly executed by a veterinarian. If pets accompany the traveler as excess baggage, no customs formalities are required. No established kennels are available. Veterinarians are available, although their competence varies. Bring a leash and all other pet supplies, including a good quantity of medicated flea shampoo and deworming medicine.

Currency, Banking and Weights and Measures

Bangladesh currency is in denominations of takas and paishas (one-hundredth of a taka). The exchange rate fluctuates frequently but not by a great amount. The current exchange rate is approximately US$1 = Taka 57 (July 2001). Currency notes are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 takas.

The metric system is used in Bangladesh. Occasionally the old system of weights and measures of seers, mounds, tolas, and bighas is used. The old system is rarely seen in Dhaka.


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country.

Ahmad, Nafis. A New Economic Geography of Bangladesh. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1976.

Ahmed, Moudud. Bangladesh: Constitutional Quest for Autonomy. Dhaka: University Press Ltd., 1979.

Ahmed, Rafiuddin. The Bengal Muslims 1871-1906: A Quest for Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Baxter, Craig. Bangladesh: A New Nation in an Old Setting. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984.

Begum, Najmir Nur. Pay or Purdah: Women and Income Earning in Rural Bangladesh. Dhaka: Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, 1988.

Blancher, Therese. Women, Pollution, and Marginality: Meaning and Rituals of Birth in Rural Bangladesh. Dhaka: University Press, 1984.

Faaland, Just. Aid and Influence: The Case of Bangladesh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981.

Franda, Marcus. Bangladesh: The First Decade. Hanover: Universities Field Service International, 1982.

Glasse, Cyril. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991.

Haque, Enamul. Islamic Art History of Bangladesh. Dhaka: Bangladesh National Museum, 1983.

Hartmann, Betsy, and James K. Boyse. A Quiet Violence: View from a Bangladeshi Village. Dhaka: University Press Ltd., 1983.

Hossain, Anwar. A Journey Through Bangladesh. Dhaka: Classic Books International, 1988.

Islam, Nazrul. Selected Poems.

James, Brother. Bengali for Foreigners. Dhaka: University Press Ltd., 1978.

McKinley, Jim. Death to Life: Bangladesh as Experienced by a Missionary Family. Louisville, KY: Highview Baptist Church, 1978.

Mascarenhas, Anthony. Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood. London: Hodder and Stroughton, 1986.

Novak, James J. Bangladesh: Reflections on the Water. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

O'Donnell, Charles. Bangladesh: Biography of a Muslim Nation. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984.

Olsen, Biggo B., M.D. Daktar/Diplomat in Bangladesh. Chicago, The Moody Press, 1975.

Santiago, Jose Roleo. Bangladesh: A Travel Survival Kit. Berkeley, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 1985.

Shobhan, Rehman. From Aid Dependence to Self Reliance. Dhaka: Mohiddin Ahmed, The University Press, 1990.

Tagore, Rabindranath. Selected Poems. Translated by William Radice. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.

. Glimpses of Bengal. London:Macmillan.

Webbergren, Boyd and Charles Antholt. Agricultural Development in Bangladesh: Prospects for the Future. Boulder: Westview Press, 1984.

Yeo, Don. BangladeshA Traveler's Guide. Brendford, Middlesex, England: Roger Lascelles, Cartographic and Travel Publisher, 1983.

Ziring, Lawrence. Bangladesh: From Mujib to Ershad. Dhaka: University Press, 1992.

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: People's Republic of Bangladesh
Region (Map name): East & South Asia
Population: 131,269,860
Language(s): Bangla (official known as Bengali), English
Literacy rate: 56.0%
Area: 144,000 sq km
GDP: 47,106 (US$ millions)
Circulation per 1,000: 254
Number of Television Stations: 15
Number of Television Sets: 770,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 5.9
Number of Radio Stations: 26
Number of Radio Receivers: 6,150,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 46.9
Number of Individuals with Computers: 200,000
Computers per 1,000: 1.5
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 100,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 0.8

Background & General Characteristics

Bangladesh has the dubious distinction of being the most densely populated country in the world and one of the poorest. Roughly 85 percent of its population lives in villages, where there is a frequent possibility of natural disasters such as floods, severe storms or tidal waves. Around two-thirds of the people live on agriculture and there is little industry. Illiteracy is at an unacceptable high; only 38.1 percent of the population, age 15 or older, can read and write. Of these, the ratio of males to females is 2:1. The per capita income is $380, which may not take account of lots of economic transactions in the countryside because they are barter transactions or do not enter the government statistics.

On the plus side, despite the apparent economic misery, the people always seem tremendously interested in public affairs and eager to know what appears in the press or over the radio and television, even though only a small segment can afford a television set. The people are ethnically homogeneous, 98 percent of them speaking Bengali, which is the national language, mandatory in all government offices; English is understood by the elite and serves also as an official language. Most of the press as well as radio and television broadcasting is consequently in Bengali although the small English-language press newspapers and weeklies has an influence far out of proportion to its circulation numbers.

The predominant religion is Islam (88.3 percent), with Hindus (10.5 percent) as the principal minority, adherents of Buddhism, Christianity and others account for 1.2 percent. Officially, the Republic of Bangladesh is a secular democracy with everyone above the age of 18, regardless of race, religion or gender having the right to vote. An amendment to the constitution adopted in 1988 established Islam as the state religion. Also in practice, Islam is supported by the government, which disallows any criticism of it in the media. However, despite the religious affinity with the Islamic world, culturally Bangladeshis feel closer to the speakers of the Bengali language in the Indian part of Bengal, sharing with them the rich cultural traditions manifested in literature, music and the arts. The press and media reflect such a love among the citizens of Bangladesh and regularly publish special articles and features on Bengali culture.

History and Recent Politics

From August 1947 when the British carved out the two dominions of India and Pakistan until Dec. 16, 1971, the present area of Bangladesh comprised the Eastern wing of Pakistan, designated as East Pakistan. In the absence of genuine social, cultural and economic integration between the two wings of Pakistan, East Pakistan remained neglected and disgruntled as its cultural ethnic identity overwhelmed the common Islamic tie with West Pakistan, whose bureaucracy and military gave a disproportionately low representation to East Pakistanis, who numbered 55 percent to West Pakistan's 45 percent.

The diverse differences came to the fore in December 1970 when in the elections to Pakistan's Constituent Assembly and provincial assemblies, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, of the Awami League (AL), campaigning on a "Six-Point Programme" which included greater autonomy for East Pakistan, won 167 out of 169 seats there. The victory gave AL an overwhelming majority in Pakistan's Constituent Assembly and made Mujibur Rahman a legitimate contender for the position of Prime Minister of Pakistan. The total reluctance of President Yahya Khan and of Zulfikar Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to implement the electoral results led to Mujibar Rahman's declaration of a political strike (hartal) and the AL's assumption of power in East Pakistan. In March, 1971, Yahya Khan cracked down on Dhaka, East Pakistan's capital, massacring thousands and arresting Mujibur Rahman and detaining him in West Pakistan on charges of treason. The AL was declared illegal, an action which drove its leaders into India where in April 1971, they formed the Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh in Exile. They also formed the Mukti Bahini, a force composed of Bengalis in Pakistan's army and volunteers, as "freedom fighters" setting the stage for a civil war between the two wings of Pakistan. A million East Pakistanis crossed the border into India as refugees.

Partly to resolve the problem of the refugee burden and partly to help the Mukti Bahini in its political goals, the Indian Army joined in the war against Pakistan's military forces beginning Dec. 16, 1971. Two weeks later, with the surrender of the Pakistani troops, the nation of Bangladesh was born. On Jan. 12, 1972, Mujibur Rahman, released from Pakistani jail, returned to Dhaka a hero to become the first Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

The Constituent Assembly of Bangladesh, consisting of those elected in 1970, adopted a constitution effective December 1972, providing for a parliamentary democracy based on four principles: democracy, socialism, secularism and nationalism. A series of natural disasters, economic problems and domestic disorder led to the proclamation of a National Emergency in December 1974 and the adoption of the fourth amendment to the Constitution enabling Mujibur Rahman to become the President, dissolve the Parliament and replace the AL with a new party, the Bangladesh Peasants and Workers League (BAKSAL). He banned all other parties. It was the worst year for fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. The government imposed restrictions on the press and the media which remained in place for the large part until the mid-1990s.

The reaction to the emergency was swift. On August 15, 1975, some elements in the army assassinated Mujibur Rahman, some of his family and close supporters, and prevailed on Khondakar Mostaque Ahmed, a former minister of commerce, to become the President. He dissolved the BAKSAL, declared martial law but restored the parliament. He was soon replaced by an army general. The political position remained fluid moving from one point of instability to another until in l978, under the revised constitution, General Ziaur Rahman (Zia) became President and leader of a new party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and abolished the martial law. His assassination in 1981 led to instability again until in March, 1982, Lieutenant-General Ershad assumed authority. He established the Jatiya party (JP) and by the end of the year became President, remaining in that position until 1990, when he was deposed, subsequently tried and convicted of a number of offenses and sent to prison.

In February 1991, following elections, Begum Khaleda Zia, the widow of former president Zia, became the Prime Minister leading the majority of the BNP members in the parliament. In September, the constitution was revised. The country returned to a parliamentary system of government, ending 16 years of executive presidential rule. In early 1996, the press played a key role in persuading the BNP government, whose term of office had just ended, to hand over authority to a caretaker government in April and thereby set the stage for national elections in June. The media succeeded; the general election of June 1996 held by the caretaker government put a coalition government under the AL's Sheikh Hasina.

The victory of the press in enabling a transition of government through the mechanism of a "caretaker government " led to the adoption of a constitutional amendment at the end of 1996. The "Caretaker Government Amendment" made it obligatory that, in future, all general elections in Bangladesh would be held by a neutral, non-partisan caretaker administration headed by the President. Accordingly, on July 13, 2001, Hasina stepped down as Prime Minister handing over the charge to a caretaker administration. The general elections of October 2001 held by the caretaker administration brought in a new government, this time under the BNP's Khaleda Zia as Prime Minister.

History of the Press

The early history of the press in Bangladesh is inextricably linked to the Bengal presidency, which covered the present Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and parts of Orissa and Assam under the East India Company (until 1858) and thereafter under the direct British rule. Calcutta, being the capital of all the British Indian possessions, became a major center for newspapers and magazines.

Looking narrowly at the history of the press in the area covered by the present Bangladesh, one readily sees the importance of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka (formerly Dacca) as the second major center (after Calcutta) for the concentration of newspapers and magazines. Two of the earliest magazines in Bengali Kabita Kushumabati and Dhaka Prakash were published around 1860 in Dhaka. Over the following two decades, Dhaka published several newspapers in Bengali: Mahapap, Bangabandhu and Balyabibah. Lesser centers like Banshal publishedGram Dut, BalaranjikaHitasandhani and Barishal Barta; Rajshahi published Hindu Ranjika. Also of note is the fact that a newspaper of great distinction on the Indian sub-continent, Amrit Bazar Patrika, was first published in Jessore in 1868.

With the partition of the Indian sub-continent and the emergence of Pakistan in two wings West and East in 1947, East Pakistan began publication of two dailies: Purba Pakistan and the Paigam and a weekly, Zindagi. In the following year, the daily Azad and the morning News, which were published in Calcutta since 1936 and 1942 respectively shifted to Dhaka. Two more Bengali dailies, which grew into being the most important newspapers in Bangladesh the Sangbad and the Ittefaq began publication in 1950 and 1955 respectively while another daily, the Pakistan Observer in English started in 1948.

The period around the birth of Bangladesh witnessed the birth of many new papers and magazines. Such include: Banglar Bani (1971), GanakanthaSamaj (1972), Janapada (1973), Bangabarta (1973) all in Dacca; Andolan (1973), People's View (1970), Dainik Michiil (1972), Dainik Swadhinata (1972) all in Chittagong and Daily Janabarta, Dainik Prabha and Tribune in Khulna.

Modern Press

Statistics of number of newspapers and their circulation vary with different sources. According to the Editor and Publisher International Year Book 1999, there were 40 daily newspapers in Bangladesh, and the number of cities with competing newspapers is substantial. Dhaka, for example, is the home of 21 newspapers, four of which boast a circulation of more than 100,000. Five of Dhaka's newspapers are printed in English, and 16 in Bengali.

The city of Chittagong prints seven newspapers five in Bengali and two in English - one with a circulation of more than 20,000; four with a 10,000; and two with 5,000. Khulna has six newapapers, one of which is printed in English. Four have a circulation of greater than 5,000. Jessore has three papers, all printed in Bengali; Rajshahi has two Bengali newspapers; and Dinajpur has one Bengali newspaper.

Of these, the largest two dailies in Bengali the Ittefaq and Dainik Inquilab are published from Dhaka with a circulation of 215,900 and 180,140 respectively in 1999.

The total circulation of the eight English language dailies was a little over 145,000; those published in Dhaka had a circulation of nearly 117,000. Although only about 10 percent of the total circulation of all newspapers, the English press is very influential because it is read by intellectuals, academics, sophisticated politicians and foreign diplomats. Many of its columnists enjoy an international reputation for their superior abilities in reporting and analysis.

The newspapers suffered a major blow when most of them came under fire under the Emergency Regulations in 1974. In 1972, the Mujibur Rahman government took over the ownership and management of four daily newspapers and one periodical: Morning News, Azad,Observer, Dainik Bangla and Purbodesh. The government imposed severe controls over those which survived the onslaught. By 1997, following the return of the Awami League Party to power, the controls were relaxed though four publications still remained under the government-controlled trust. These were: Dainik Bangla, Bangladesh Times, weekly Bichitra and fortnightly Ananda Bichitra. Except for these, most of the newspapers in Bangladesh at present are entirely owned privately, mostly by limited liability companies.

Economic Framework

For years after its independence, Bangladesh needed massive economic assistance because of a series of natural disasters, governmental mismanagement and rampant corruption all of which hampered development. In the last decade or more, economic conditions have improved. The economy is market-based, but the Government owns all utilities, most transport companies, and many large manufacturing and distribution firms. A small, wealthy elite controls much of the private economy, but a middle class is emerging.

Bangladesh needs industrial development and massive foreign direct investment, which is currently very low, concentrated in the gas sector and in electrical power generation facilities. Remittances from workers overseas in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Malaysia and Singapore enable the government to bridge the gap between exports ($5.1 billion) and imports $8.01 billion), for example, in 1998. The exports are principally in garments, jute and jute goods, frozen fish and seafood, with the United States being the best destination (33 percent), Germany (10 percent) and the United Kingdom (9 percent). Imports have been largely of machinery and equipment, chemicals, iron and steel, raw cotton, food, crude oil and petroleum. The principal trading partners in imports are India (12 percent), China (9 percent), Japan (7 percent), South Korea and Hong Kong each 6 percent. Foreign aid ($1.475 billion in fiscal 1996-1997) remains an important source of the much-needed foreign exchange; the external debt was an estimated $16.5 billion in 1998.

Financial Condition of Newspapers

Newspaper ownership and content are not subject to direct government restriction. However, if the Government chooses, it can influence journalists through financial means. Government-sponsored advertising and allocations of newsprint from the state-owned newsprint mills in Khulna are central to many newspapers' financial viability. At times, the government creates an "artificial scarcity" of newsprint and denies allocation or delays allocation of newsprint to certain newspapers, which are even mildly critical of the government. The Newsprint Control Order of 1974 entrusted the Ministry of Commerce and Foreign Trade as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting with control over the production, consumption and distribution of newsprint.

Government-sponsored advertising is the largest source of revenue, taking 50 percent of the space of the newspapers. In allocating advertising through the Department of Films and Publications, the Government states that it considers circulation of newspapers, implementation of wage board recommendations, objectivity in reporting and coverage of development activities. In the past, commercial organizations often were reluctant to advertise in newspapers critical of the Government due to fear of government or bureaucratic retaliation, however, this appears no longer to be the case.

Under the State of Emergency regulations of 1974, most newspapers were closed down or regulated. At that point, the government itself took over some newspapers and prominent political weeklies. By 1997, most such restrictive regulations were removed except that four publications continue to be financed and managed by the government-appointed trust: Dainik Bangla. Bangladesh Times, weekly Bichitra and fortnightly Ananda Bichitra.

Among the well-funded publication groups in the private sector are the Ittefaq Group and the Inquilab Group. The Ittefaq, which commands the largest circulation. was founded by the late legendary Tofazzal Hossain; it is now run by his son, who claims it is non-partisan and meant for all classes. Its non-partisan claims are sometimes questioned particularly because its editor/owner has been a minister in two governments. The financial independence of the other popular daily, Sangbad, is also well assured partly because of the support of the industrialist, Ahmadul Kabir.

Press Laws

Article 39(1) of the Constitution provides for freedom of speech, expression and the press but Article 39(2) makes the enjoyment of these rights subject to "reasonable restrictions" in the interests of "the security. of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.". Numerous Acts inhibit these freedoms, most notorious in this respect being the Special Powers Act (SPA) of 1974, whose rigor was marginally lessened in 1991 by allowing bail for journalists and others arrested under that Act. The SPA made it an offense, punishable by five years' imprisonment and/or fine "to print, publish or distribute prejudicial reports." Journalists were required to identify all sources of information and authorities were given draconian powers to seize documents and newspapers, to ban publications and to search premises. Section 99A of the Code of Criminal Procedure made any printed matter, defamatory of the country's President or the Prime Minister, an offense punishable by imprisonment from two to seven years.

The worst years for legislation limiting the freedom of the press were 1973 to 1975, following the brief honeymoon with Prime Minister Mujibur Rahman, who had emerged as the nation's hero after the birth of Bangladesh. Besides the SPA, a State of Emergency declared in 1974 empowered the government to ban any foreign periodical. By June 1975, 20 dailies and all political weeklies were banned except those taken over by the government: Dainik Bangla, Bangladesh Times, weekly Bichitra and fortnightly Ananda Bichitra.

The Press Council Act of 1974 ostensibly entrusted the Press Council (PC) with preserving the freedom of the press. Its responsibilities included responsibility for devising a code of conduct for maintaining high professional standards. In practice, the PC would help the press to avoid a conflict with the government through self-censorship. The PC Act held the PC responsible for protecting the fundamental rights of the citizens against any "unscrupulous or irresponsible" newspaper or journalist. The Act did provide the right of the journalists to confidentiality of a news source. The PC has no powers to take action against the government for transgressing the freedom of the press, nor does the government consult the PC before taking action against a newspaper or a journalist.

The Government's human rights record has remained poor in many significant areas. It has continued to commit serious abuses, although it respected citizens' rights in some areas. The Police committed a number of extra-judicial killings, and some persons died in police custody under suspicious circumstances in the 1990s. Police routinely use torture, beatings and other forms of abuse while interrogating suspects. Police frequently beat demonstrators. The government rarely punishes persons responsible for torture or unlawful deaths. It continues to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily under the Special Powers Act (SPA) and Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

A silver lining of the situation is that the higher levels of the judiciary display a significant degree of independence and often rule against the Government; however, lower judicial officers tend to toe the line of the executive, and are reluctant to challenge government decisions.

Despite such restrictions, self-censorship and governmental abuse of power, the press, numbering hundreds of daily and weekly publications, provides a lively forum for a wide range of views. The free spirit of the Bengalis prevails. While most publications support the overall policies of the government, several newspapers report critically on government policies and activities, including those of the Prime Minister.


All publications are subject to Press and Publication Act of 1973, which requires four copies of each issue to be sent to a "designated government agency." While the government categorically denies the existence of censorship, in practice, papers are "guided" by the advice and briefings of the Principal Information Officer of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting as well as by the External Publicity Division of the Ministry of External Affairs. The President's Council of Advisors controls the newspaper editors informally. In general, criticism of economic policies is more likely to be tolerated than sensitive political issues.

Foreign publications are subject to review and censorship. Censorship most often is used in cases of immodest or obscene photographs, perceived misrepresentation or defamation of Islam, and objectionable comments about national leaders. In October 2001, the BNP Government banned the popular Calcutta-based, Bangla-language magazine Desh. The Government alleged that the magazine was offensive to the country and its citizens.

A government Film Censor Board reviews local and foreign films, and may censor or ban them on grounds of state security, law and order, religious sentiment, obscenity, foreign relations, defamation or plagiarism. In general, the Film Censor Board looks kindly at the Bangladesh-made films, occasionally suggesting some cuts. However, the Board has habitually banned the screenings of several imported English-language movies for their pornographic content. Video rental libraries provide a wide variety of films to their borrowers, and government efforts to enforce censorship on these rental films are sporadic and ineffectual. The Government does not limit citizens' access to the Internet.

State-Press Relations

Journalists and others are potentially subject to incarceration when criminal libel proceedings are filed by private parties. Members of Parliament from the ruling party have, in the past, filed separate criminal libel suits against several newspapers after articles were published that the politicians viewed as false and defamatory. The journalists in all cases received anticipatory bail from the courts, and none of the cases moved to trial. Sedition charges remained pending, and those persons accused remained on bail.

In November 2000, a new sedition charge (there was another sedition charge already pending against him) was filed against an editor, Bahaudin, for publishing a parody of the national anthem mocking the Prime Minister. When the police arrived at Bahauddin's residence to arrest him, he was not there, so they arrested his brother, Mainuddin, instead under the PSA and, therefore, not eligible for bail. Mainuddin was not charged; after 16 days he was released. Charges against editor Bahauddin remain pending in both sedition cases.

Virtually all print journalists practice self-censorship to some degree, and commonly are reluctant to criticize politically influential personalities in both the Government and the opposition; however, some journalists do make such criticism. Many journalists cite fear of possible harassment, retaliation, or physical harm as a reason to avoid sensitive stories. Violent attacks on journalists and newspapers, and efforts to intimidate them by government leaders, political party activists, and others frequently occur. Violence against journalists has increased since 2001. Political parties and persons acting on their behalf conducted attacks both on media offices; individual journalists were targeted for their unfavorable news reporting. These crimes largely remained unresolved and the perpetrators, often identified by name or party affiliation in press reports, have not been held accountable. Attacks by political activists on journalists also are common during times of political street violence, and some journalists were injured in police actions.

Broadcast Media

To start with, East Pakistan, as Bangladesh was then known, had very poor telecommunications. Between 1959 and 1963, the first 100 KW medium wave and short wave transmitters were installed in Dhaka in order to improve communication between the two wings of Pakistan separated from each other by over 1,200 miles. There were relaying stations in Chittagong, Sylhet, Rangpur, Rajshahi and Khulna.

The 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh destroyed most of the facilities particularly in Khulna. Immediately after liberation, the government established the Bangla Betar Radio (BBR) with eight regional stations. In June 1975, Bangladesh opened its first earth satellite radio station at Betbunia, 140 miles south-west of Dhaka with $8 million from the Canadian International Development agency.

Television began in 1964, thanks to Nippon Electric Company as part owner of the pilot TV project. By the end of the 1960s, there was a satellite station operating from Chittagong along with two relay stations in Khulna and Rajshahi. By 1970, there were 35 hours of weekly telecasts, mostly in Bengali. Following the liberation of Bangladesh, Mujibur Rahman nationalized TV Bangladesh (BTV) Corporation with the government as the controlling stockholder and Nippon Electric as a major stockholder. The BTV has expanded considerably since then with its headquarters in the Rampura sector of Dhaka.

The Betar Radio (BR) has eight radio stations in Dhaka, including one for overseas service. There are FM facilities in Dhaka, Sylhet, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Rang-pur and Khulna. As for television, there were 15 broadcast stations in 1999 with an estimated 1.5 million sets in 2001. Programs are aired nationwide and to the other countries of South Asia, South and Southeast Asia, Middle East, Europe and the US. The BTV covers 95 percent of the population with relay stations in Dhaka, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Noakhali, Satkhira, Sylhet, Khulna, Natore, Rangamal, Chittagong, Cox's Bazar, Jenaidah, Thajurgaon, Brahmanpura and Patunkhali.

Together, the BR and BTV have a workforce of nearly 4,000 and are responsible to the Parliamentary Committee for their functioning. In practice, they are virtually controlled by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

In the early 1990s, Cable TV was introduced. It became quickly popular and was availed of in more than one million homes with about 2,000 cable operators having an average of 200-250 subscribers, mostly in Dhaka and Chittagong. In 2002, they charge an average $3 or about 175 takas per connection. All operators need a license from the BTV, costing them an annual 25,000 Takas in the four main cities and 10,000 Takas in other urban centers.

In 1991 and 1996 elections, both the principal political parties the AL and the BNP called for a free, national and democratic broadcasting system under an independent authority. On Sept. 9, 1996, the AL government appointed a 16-member committee to recommend measures and authorize private TV and radio. In 1997, the committee submitted its report. The US Department of State's Report on Human Rights, 2001 observes that the Bangladesh Ministry of Information and Broadcasting thought the recommendations for privatization were "unrealistic." The first measure toward privatization was, however, taken in March 1999, authorizing privately owned Ekushey TV to go on air by the end of 1999. It has agreed to follow the existing censorship guidelines.

The government owns and controls virtually all radio and television stations with the exception of a few independent stations, such as Ekushey Television (ETV) and Radio Metrowave. The activities of the Prime Minister occupy the bulk of prime time news bulletins on both television and radio, followed by the activities of members of the Cabinet. Opposition party news gets little coverage. As a condition of operation, both private stations are required to broadcast for free some government news programs and speeches by the Prime Minister and President. In 1996, a government committee recommended measures for authorizing autonomy for radio and television broadcasts. On July 12, 2001, Parliament approved two bills granting autonomy to state-run Bangladesh Television (BTV) and Bangladesh Betar (Bangladesh Radio). Even with passage of these laws, the public still believes that there is no real autonomy for BTV and Bangladesh Radio. Government intrusion into the selection of news remains a pervasive problem. Many journalists at these stations exercise self-censorship out of regard for what they feel were the government's wishes.

Significant Dates

  • 1996: Free and Fair elections; press plays a major role in the proposal for a pre-election care-taker government.
  • 1997: The Government disbands the state-controlled trust which was in charge of publishing four important newspapers since 1974.
  • 1999: Private television ownership permitted.


Ahmed, Q.Z., Development News in the Newspapers of Bangladesh, (unpublished doctoral dissertation), Washington, D.C., Howard University, 1998.

Al-Mujahid, S. Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific: A Continental Survey of Radio and Television , Philadelphia, Temple Univ. Press, 1978

Anam, M. Walking the Tightrope: Press Freedom and Professional Standards in Asia , AMIC, 1998.

Anwar, M.T., "Bangladesh: Fewer 'Black Laws"' in Press Systems in SAARC. AMIC, 23-27. Singapore: 1994.

APT (Asia-Pacific Telecommunity), The APT Yearbook 2000. Bangkok and Surrey.

Billboard Publications. World Radio and TV Handbook 2001. Amsterdam: 2001.

Bhuiyan, S.I. and Gunaratne, S.A.. "Bangladesh" In Gunaratne, S.A..Ed. Handbook of the Media in Asia. Sage, 39-66. New Delhi: 2000.

Editor & Publisher. Editor & Publisher International Yearbook 2000. New York.

French, D. and Richards, M., Eds. Contemporary Television: Eastern Perspectives. Sage. New Delhi: 1996.

Gunaratne, S.A., Hasim, M.S.., and Kasenally, R. "Small is Beautiful, Information Potential of three Indian Ocean Rim Countries" Media Asia. 24, 188-205. 1997.

Lent, J.A. "Bangladesh" Newspapers in Asia: Contemporary Trends and Problems. Heinemann Asia, 428-441. Hong Kong: 1982.

"Media Monitors in Bangladesh," In Venkateswaran, K.S., (Comp)., Media Monitors in Asia. AMIC, 12-16. Singapore: 1996.

Montu, A.T., "CATC in Bangladesh," Satellite & Cable TV, 7,3. May1999. Available from

Moslem, S., "Bangladesh," In Asian Communication Handbook, A. Goonasekara and Holaday, D., Eds., 5-15. AMIC, Singapore: 1998.

Network Wizards, Internet Host Survey : Online.

Salam, S.A., Mass Media in Bangladesh: Newspapers, Radio and Television, Dhaka, South Asian News Agency, 1997.

Ullah, M., "Bangladesh," In Communication Development and Human Rights in Asia , Hamelink, C.E. and Mehra, A., Eds., AMIC. Singapore: 1990.

UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook. Paris: 2000.

U.S. Department of State. Bangladesh: Country Report on Human Rights Practices. 2001. Available from

World Association of Newspapers (WAN)., World Press Trends. World Association of Newspapers. Paris: 2000.

Damodar Sar, Desai

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: People's Republic of Bangladesh
Region: East & South Asia
Population: 129,194,224
Language(s): Bangla, English
Literacy Rate: 38.1%
Number of Primary Schools: 45,914
Compulsory Schooling: 5 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 2.2%
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 11,939,949
  Secondary: 3,592,995
  Higher: 434,309
Teachers: Primary: 189,508
  Secondary: 130,949
  Higher: 22,447
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 63:1

History & Background

Bangladesh, officially called the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a newly formed state that represents a very ancient culture. It was mentioned in Mahabharata, an ancient epic of India sometime during the ninth or tenth century B.C. During the two centuries of British rule in the Indian subcontinent, it was the first territory colonized by the empire.

When the British left India after a long struggle for political independence, the country was divided into two nations: a Hindu-majority, secular India; and a Moslem-majority, sectarian Pakistan. Pakistan, too, was divided into two parts, more than 1,500 miles distant from each other. Eastern Bengal became East Pakistan, but the capital and ruling government leaders stayed in West Pakistan. The people of East Pakistan became increasingly impatient when they realized that valuable resources were being transferred from their region to West Pakistan. They also became restless because of ill treatment by the militaristic-bureaucratic West Pakistan elite, which led to a demand for secession in 1970 and, subsequently, the formation of a separate, autonomous state in 1972.

Bangladesh, despite its natural resources, industrial potential, and agricultural growth, has been facing massive socio-economic problems, making it one of the least developed countries in the world. Sometimes referred to as "an international bread basket," it has been affected by great natural disasters such as rainstorms, floods, and famines.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with more than 128 million people living in an area of 147,000 square kilometers (868 people per square kilometer). It has been plagued by high population growth, very low levels of literacy (less than 20 percent in 1970), and widespread poverty (originally with the per capita income of $150, and estimated at $280 in 2001).

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

During the first 15 years of its statehood, the two significant legacies of the British rule, namely English-centered public education and parliamentary democracy, were not as beneficial in Bangladesh as they were to its immediate neighbor, India. The debates on official language and medium of instruction have been costly and difficult to resolve. In the former East Pakistan, the state language was Urdu, and not Bangla, their own mother tongue. Despite British influence, the majority of Bangladesh students (approximately 70 percent) use Bangla as their medium. The parallel institutions of religiously based education, called Madrashas use Urdu, which is vastly different from Bangla.

The legacy of parliamentary democracy, while accepted in principle from the start, has been often negated during the period of military rules, unstable governments, and other national crises. Results from 1998 through 2001 show that the educational system seems to be gradually improving in Bangladesh.

Educational SystemOverview

The census figures from 1981 and 1991 indicate that the low level of literacy was even lower among females than males in Bangladesh's basically patriarchal society. With a strong Moslem influence, women have been traditionally passive and largely excluded from the schools and colleges in Bangladesh. The gender gap in education was even wider in the villages in the vastly rural population; these gaps have been shrinking gradually due to the influx of urban-industrial areas and the impact of mass media (newspaper, radio, television, and, recently, computers).

Since the liberation war in 1971, Bangladesh, as an independent and secular state, has been allowing many forms of educational institutions, various modes of instruction, and different languages as mediums of instruction to co-exist. Students are free to choose from three types of schools: English medium, Bangla medium, and religious schools. English medium schools and universities tend to be privately governed, tend to serve the needs of the wealthy and political elite, and tend to have a shortage of textbooks and adequately trained teachers in these schools; their exams in English were sent to England or to the British Council in Dhaka. Bangla medium schools are government-sponsored and are free, or less expensive, than their English-medium counterparts and are divided into 4 levelsprimary from grades 1 to 5; secondary from grades 6 to 10; higher secondary for grades 11 to 12; and colleges, universities, and vocational institutes. Religious schools or Madrashas have millions of children, including many who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (including the homeless), who have been sheltered, fed, and taught the ways of Islam by the Moslem priests meeting inside the mosques and studying the religious text, the Koran, in Arabic script and the Urdu language. The Madrasha graduates have been assuming the role of future teachers in the mosque-affiliated schools. Since 1985 these schools, which are traditional hallmarks of Bangladesh, have been going through innovations and modernizations. Some have been introducing secular, non-religious subjects in scientific and technological fields, and some have been attracting female students. These institutions, financed by public donations and serving the needs of vast populations, are likely to thrive through non-sectarian and nonsexist reforms. During 1997-1998, a generous amount of 2 billion takas (50 takas equals US$1.00) was sanctioned by the government in order to educate more female students, to improve educational facilities, and to incorporate modern scientific curriculum within these traditionally defined schools.

Education Planning & Policies: During the last 20 years, education in Bangladesh has been gradually changing from its previous class-based system to the current mass-based system. Since 1971, the Ministry of Education and Culture has been responsible for planning, financing, and managing education at all levels. In 1972 a special Education Commission was appointed to investigate and report on all major aspects of education in Bangladesh. In 1987, another high-level Education Commission was instituted; it recommended a national policy for compulsory free education for all children, reforms in Madrashas, and the growth of scientific, medical, and technical education. The Commission's recommendations were incorporated in the fourth and fifth five-year plans covering the period up to the year 2002.

The 2001 female-headed government of Bangladesh has been emphasizing education for women who have traditionally kept away from schools. This objective is to be achieved by training additional female teachers, establishing women's colleges, and offering special scholarships. A recent government report in 1999 mentions that 7000 female teachers were being appointed. Between 1997 and 2002, 18 non-government women's colleges, as well as three polytechnic institutes, were established.

Bangladesh has been actively participating in various international organizations such as UNESCO and has declared a target of "Education for All." The government hopes to remove illiteracy from the country by the year 2005. The latest available figures indicate overall literacy went from 47 percent to 56 percent from 1997 to 2001. Various governmental and nongovernmental plans are being developed to spread formal, nonformal, general, and specialized education, with the help of international agencies and increases in the present budget plan.

Preprimary & Primary Education

The primary school age population in Bangladesh has been greatly handicapped by high dropout and low completion rates. Many reports mention that more than 50 percent of the students drop out during the primary level (ages 6 to 11) and only 4 percent complete the 12 years of general education. Other problems that affect the primary school attendance include lack of schools at accessible distances, lack of teaching aids and equipment, shortage of teachers, and poor community involvement.

Many needs have been identified to meet the objectives set forth for primary education. Additional classrooms will be provided depending on the increased enrollment, and the ultimate aim is to have minimum of five classrooms in each school. Additional teachers will also be recruited for the additional classes. Teacher training programs and the teaching of learning materials will be improved, and the training of teachers will be conducted and reviewed. Also, the Thana County Resource Centers will be established to conduct in-service and refresher training for teachers. To facilitate this teacher training, one primary school will be developed as a model school for teachers in localized school sub-clusters. The Primary and Mass Education Division will be strengthened, and the Directorate of Primary Education will be organized to facilitate the quality improvement of the management of the primary education system as well.

Secondary Education

In Bangladesh, school enrollment rates fall drastically from primary (grades 1 to 5) to secondary (grades 6 to 10). In 1998 about 78 percent of pupils completing grade 5 made a transition to the first year of secondary school. Gross enrollment in the secondary phase was only 7 million (38 percent of eligible children).

Due to special encouragement and financial assistance, the enrollment of girls at the secondary level has increased; it is now equal to that of boys in the secondary phases. However, at the next postsecondary level (grades 11 and 12), the girl/boy ratio changes to 34:66. Female students from rural areas and from lower economic strata have fewer chances of joining and completing secondary education.

The Bangladesh National Education Commission has laid down a number of aims and objectives to improve secondary education, especially in these areas:

  • utilizating existing physical infrastructure and adding new facilities
  • arranging double shifts in as many educational institutions as possible
  • reducing the gender gap by encouraging and rewarding female students and their families
  • reducing the rural-urban gap in a largely rural agricultural country
  • reforming curricula by introducing and improving scientific, technical, and medical education at the secondary level, since the British-inherited system emphasizes liberal arts.

Higher Education

Although the number of government and private universities and colleges has been steadily increasing since Bangladesh gained statehood in 1972, the enrollment completion rates are still very low. The major factors related to the problems of low enrollment and high dropout rates at the college and university levels in Bangladesh seem to be a combination of factors, including poverty. In a country where the per capita income is still less than US$1.00 per day, higher education may cost as much as US$400 per year. Another factor is large-scale unemployment. This is a major source of frustration among the graduates, particularly among those majoring in the liberal arts. In addition, there are problems with English as a medium in higher education. It was recently noted that more than 70 percent of the university students in Bangladesh answer their examination questions in Bangla, although the texts are in English. A lack of resources and facilities also contributes to unhappiness. The colleges and universities are often understaffed and ill-equipped, leading to frequent cases of student unrest where politically misguided and academically unsuccessful students channel their frustrations into destructive activities.

Proposed Remedies: The problems hindering higher education appear to be emphasized in Bangladeshi media, and the present government seems to be well aware of them. Both the governmental and many nongovernmental agencies have been trying to address to these issues.

In the late 1990s, the government gave priority to human resource development and emphasized "Educational for All" as a target. Recent five year plans provide for a larger proportion of national budgets for opening additional colleges and universities, especially in the area of medicine, science, and information technology. The Bangladesh National University, to which many hundreds of colleges are affiliated, is being modernized and revamped.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

One of the best-known efforts to finance higher education is being made through rural banking and rural welfare agencies in Bangladesh. Grameen rural Bank programs have proposed a much-praised Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) to help needy and promising college students through an annual loan; this program has been inspired by a successful effort of granting micro credit to the rural poor in Bangladesh. Also developing is a parallel system to help loan recipients in finding and maintaining jobs after graduation. If these programs succeed, they can be emulated in other poverty-stricken, Third World countries where large scale educationrelated issues are common.

Nonformal Education

In order to reach the target of total literacy by the year 2005, Bangladesh is in the process of implementing many nonformal educational programs. Under the sponsorship of BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), thousands of nonformal schools have recently been established. Literacy centers are utilizing courtyards, open spaces, and school premises at night. These programs are specifically aimed at out-of-school children (especially rural girls), illiterate adults, and neo-literates.

Since Bangladeshi women are greatly handicapped by their traditionally segregated status and unfavorable sex ratio, governmental, as well as nongovernmental, organizations have been offering special stipends and free transportation to them. The efforts to reduce the gender gap also included one condition for accepting the stipend, namely the student's commitment to remain unmarried at least until the legal age of 18, but preferably beyond it.

The country is facing another problem of education that is common among highly populated countries lacking adequate space and financial resources. Seven countries in the South Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) are affiliated with an organization called SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). Many of these countries have been searching for the systems of distance education that can attract millions of students to their less expensive and tailor-made curricula and can enable adults can earn their academic credentials without abandoning their full-time jobs or domestic obligations.

Bangladesh, with its very high population density and problems of poverty, is an ideal candidate for such a nonformal alternative to regular campus-based educational programs. It has already established an open university and, through Bangladesh Institute for Distance Education (BIDE), has been providing in-service training of teachers. Around 1990, as many as 7,000 students, selected from a pool of 20,000 applicants, were granted the degree of Bachelor of Education (BED) through BIDE. Such programs are likely to be very popular among future teachers as well as others interested in vocational and tertiary education. More formal degree and certificate programs and short-term courses are likely to be established under the open universities.


With its huge population in search of socioeconomic betterment and a rightful place in the global community, Bangladesh is likely to face many challenges and remains grateful for many success stories in the field of education. While its governmental and nongovernmental agencies are busily refining the methods for educating huge masses, outside help is also being increasingly available for these tasks. The issues of spreading literacy in the remote, rural areas and providing the newly demanded skills of information technology are at the forefront. If the cooperative links between the governmental agencies and nongovernmental efforts, especially the rural cooperatives, remain strong, most, if not all, educational goals may be successfully met in a gradual manner.


Bornstein, David. The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Book. Dhaka: University Press, 1996.

UNESCO. Education Indications in Asia and the Pacific and Basic Education in Asia the Pacific. Bangkok: UNESCO, 1998.

Ashakant Nimbark

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Bangladesh (bäng-lädĕsh´, băng–) [Bengali,=Bengal nation], officially People's Republic of Bangladesh, republic (2005 est. pop. 144,320,000), 55,126 sq mi (142,776 sq km), S Asia. Bangladesh borders on the Bay of Bengal in the south; on the Indian states of West Bengal in the west and north, Assam and Meghalaya in the northeast, and Tripura and Mizoram in the east; and on Myanmar in the southeast. Dhaka is the capital and largest city; the nation's other major city is Chittagong.

Land and People

A humid, low-lying, alluvial region, Bangladesh is composed mainly of the great combined delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers. Except for the Chittagong Hills along the Myanmar border, most of the country is no more than 300 ft (90 m) above sea level. Bangladesh is laced with numerous streams, distributaries, and tidal creeks, forming an intricate network of waterways that constitutes the country's chief transportation system. Along the southwestern coast is the Sundarbans, a mangrove swamp area with numerous low islands.

Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate with a distinct dry season in the winter. It receives an average annual rainfall of 80 in. (203 cm), with most falling during the summer monsoon period; the Sylhet district in the northeast is the wettest part of the country, having an annual average rainfall of 140 in. (356 cm). The low-lying delta region is subject to severe flooding from monsoon rains, cyclones (hurricanes), and storm surges that bring major crop damage and high loss of life. The cyclones of 1970 and 1991 and the monsoon floods of 1988, 1998, and 2004 were particularly devastating.

Bangladesh is one of the world's ten most populated countries and has one of the highest population densities (about 2,100 people per sq mi/810 people per sq km). The great majority of Bangladesh's population is Bengali, although Biharis and several tribal groups constitute significant minority communities. About 83% of the population is Sunni Muslim and 16% is Hindu. Bangla (Bengali) is the nation's official language, and English is used in urban centers. Bangladesh has a predominantly rural population, with over 65% of the workforce engaged in agriculture. There are several universities, including ones at Chittagong, Dhaka, Mymensingh, and Rajshahi.


Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest nations, with overpopulation adding to its economic woes, and it is heavily reliant on foreign aid. The country's economy is based on agriculture. Rice, jute, tea, wheat, sugarcane, and tobacco are the chief crops. Bangladesh is the world's largest producer of jute. Fishing is also an important economic activity, and beef, dairy products, and poultry are also produced. Except for natural gas (found along its eastern border), limited quantities of oil (in the Bay of Bengal), coal, and some uranium, Bangladesh possesses few minerals.

Dhaka and Chittagong (the country's chief port) are the principal industrial centers; clothing and cotton textiles, jute products, newsprint, and chemical fertilizers are manufactured, and tea is processed. In addition to clothing, jute, and jute products, exports include tea, leather, fish, and shrimp. Remittances from several million Bangladeshis working abroad are the second largest source of foreign income. Capital goods, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, food, and petroleum products are the major imports. Western Europe, the United States, India, and China are the main trading partners.


Bangladesh is governed by the constitution of 1972 as amended. The head of state is the president, a largely ceremonial position, and the head of government is the prime minister. There is a 300-seat unicameral National Parliament, whose members are popularly elected from constiuencies for five-year terms. The major political parties are the Bangladesh Nationalist party and the Awami League. Administratively, the nation is divided into 6 divisions, which are subdivided into 64 districts.


Before Independence

The history of Bangladesh is related to that of the larger area of Bengal, which became independent of Delhi by 1341. After a succession of Muslim rulers, it was conquered by Akbar, the great Mughal emperor in 1576. By the beginning of the 18th cent., the governor of the province was virtually independent, but he lost control to the British East India Company, which after 1775 was the effective ruler of the vast area, which also included the Indian states of West Bengal, Odisha (Orissa), Jharkhand, and Bihar.

Bengal was divided by the British in 1905 into West Bengal and East Bengal, with East Bengal being more or less coterminous with modern Bangladesh. Since the new province had a majority Muslim population, the partition was welcomed by Muslims, but it was fiercely resented by Indian nationalist leaders who saw it as an attempt to drive a wedge between Muslims and Hindus. The partition was withdrawn in 1911, but it had pointed the way to the events of 1947, when British India was partitioned into the states of India and Pakistan.

Pakistan consisted of two "wings," one to the west of India, and the other to the east. The eastern section was constituted from the eastern portion of Bengal and the former Sylhet district of Assam and was known until 1955 as East Bengal and then as East Pakistan. Pakistan's two provinces, which differed considerably in natural setting, economy, and historical background, were separated from each other by more than 1,000 mi (1,610 km) of India. The East Pakistanis, who comprised 56% of the total population of Pakistan, were discontented under a government centered in West Pakistan; the disparity in government investments and development funds given to each province also added to the resentment. Efforts over the years to secure increased economic benefits and political reforms proved unsuccessful, and serious riots broke out in 1968 and 1969. In Nov., 1970, an extremely deadly cyclone devastated Chittagong and many coastal villages and killed some 300,000 people.

Independence to the Present

The movement for greater autonomy gained momentum when, in the Dec., 1970, general elections, the Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (generally known as Sheikh Mujib) won practically all of East Pakistan's seats and thus achieved a majority in the Pakistan National Assembly. President Muhammad Agha Yahya Khan, hoping to avert a political confrontation between East and West Pakistan, twice postponed the opening session of the national assembly.

The government's attempts to forestall the autonomy bid led to general strikes and nonpayment of taxes in East Pakistan and finally to civil war on Mar. 25, 1971. On the following day the Awami League's leaders proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh. During the months of conflict an estimated one million Bengalis were killed in East Pakistan and another 10 million fled into exile in India. Fighting raged in Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla, Sylhet, Jessore, Barisal, Rangpur, and Khulna. Finally India allied itself with Bangladesh, which it had recognized on Dec. 6, and during a two-week war (Dec. 3–16) defeated the Pakistani forces in the east. Sheikh Mujib, who had been chosen president while in prison in West Pakistan, was released, and in Jan., 1972, he set up a government and assumed the premiership; Abu Sayeed Choudhury became president.

Rejecting Pakistan's call for a reunited country, Sheikh Mujib began to rehabilitate an economy devastated by the war. Relations with Pakistan were hostile; Pakistan withheld recognition from Bangladesh, and Bangladesh and India refused to repatriate more than 90,000 Pakistani prisoners of war who had surrendered at the end of the conflict. Armed Bengali "freedom fighters" fought Bihari civilians in Bangladesh, particularly after Indian troops withdrew from Bangladesh in Mar., 1972.

Tensions were eased in July, 1972, when President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan (who assumed power after the fall of the Yahya Khan government) and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India agreed to peacefully settle the differences between their countries. Pakistan officially recognized Bangladesh in Feb., 1974. Subsequently, India and Pakistan reached consensus on the release of Pakistani prisoners of war and the exchange of hostage populations.

Bangladesh was gradually recognized by most of the world's nations. It joined the Commonwealth of Nations in 1972 and was admitted to the United Nations in 1974. In 1972 the country's major industries, banks, and shipping and insurance firms were nationalized. Despite Mujib's popularity as the founder of independent Bangladesh, high rates of inflation and a severe famine (1974) resulted in a governmental crisis. In 1975, after becoming president under a new constitutional system, he was assassinated in a military coup; after two additional coups later in the year, Maj. Gen. Zia ur-Rahman emerged as ruler, beginning a period of military control that lasted into the 1990s.

In 1981, Zia was himself assassinated in a failed coup attempt; his successor was replaced (1982) in a bloodless coup by Lt. Gen. Hussain Mohammad Ershad, who assumed the presidency. In an effort to gain legitimacy, Ershad later resigned his military office and won a disputed presidential election. He was forced to resign in Dec., 1990, amid charges of corruption, for which he was jailed (1990–96, 2000–2001); he was convicted on additional charges in 2006 but sentenced to time already served.

Elections held in Feb., 1991, brought the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) to power, and Khaleda Zia ur-Rahman, the widow of Zia ur-Rahman, became prime minister. An extremely strong cyclone in April, 1991, killed more than 138,000 and devastated coastal areas, especially in the southeast. In 1994, nearly all opposition members of parliament denounced Zia's government as corrupt and resigned their seats. After a series of general strikes called by the opposition, parliament was dissolved in Nov., 1995; major opposition parties also boycotted the ensuing Feb., 1996, elections. Zia was returned to power, but the opposition mounted protests; she resigned and an interim government headed by Habibur Rahman was installed.

New elections held in June, 1996, resulted in a victory for the opposition Awami League, led by Hasina Wazed, daughter of Bangladesh's first prime minister. As she struggled with the country's ongoing economic problems, a series of opposition-led strikes, beginning in 1998, once again paralyzed the country. In July, 2001, a caretaker government headed by Latifur Rahman was appointed in advance of parliamentary elections in October. Zia and the BNP won a landslide victory in the voting, and she again became prime minister. In 2003 the Awami League began a series of rallies and occasional strikes to mobilize opposition to the government. Deadly attacks on rallies in Aug., 2004, and Jan., 2005, provoked a series of nationwide and local strikes and protests by the League, which accused the government of trying to assassinate Hasina Wazed.

Some 200 minor bomb attacks occurred in 60 cities and towns on Aug. 17, 2005. The attacks appeared to be the work of militants who favor the establishment of Islamic rule in Bangladesh; two militant groups had been banned in Feb., 2005. In the months following the attacks the government moved to arrest members of the groups, and Islamic extremist mounted additional attacks, including ones involving suicide bombers. Awami League efforts to undermine the government in 2006 included a "blockade" of Dhaka in June that resulted in clashes with the police, and led to a 36-hour general strike. Meanwhile, in May and June, there were protests and rioting by garment workers over working conditions; a number of factories were burned, and hundreds were vandalized.

Zia's government resigned in October in preparation for the Jan., 2007, elections. The issue of who should head the caretaker government in the intervening months became a contentious one in the weeks proceeding the resignation, and the BNP, Awami League, and other parties failed to reach an agreement, leading to violent clashes between the parties' supporters. In the end, President Iajuddin Ahmed appointed himself chief adviser to the interim administration. Continuing disagreements over the handling of the elections led to sometimes violent demonstrations and transportation blockades by the Awami League and its allies, and in Jan., 2007, that 14-party alliance announced that it would boycott the elections.

After the United Nations and European Union withdrew their support for the election, the president declared a state of emergency, resigned as chief adviser and appointed Fakhruddin Ahmed, an economist and former central bank governor, to the post, and postponed the elections. The Awami League and its allies halted their protests as Fakhruddin Ahmed formed a cabinet. The new government, which was backed by the military, subsequently moved to clean up the electoral rolls and attack political corruption. A number of prominent political and business figures were arrested on corruption charges, and Hasina Wazed and other political leaders were charged with murder in connection with political violence. The government moved in April, 2007, to exile Wazed and Khaleda Zia, but then reversed itself. Wazed and then Zia were subsequently charged with corruption.

The president's term ended in Sept., 2007, but Ahmed remained in office in the absence of a functioning parliament. During July–Sept., 2007, Bangladesh experienced two spells of extensive and devastating flooding due to monsoon rains, and in November a cyclone caused extensive damage in the southwest, killing more than 3,000. There was a brief maritime standoff in the Bay of Bengal between Bangladesh and Myanmar in November when Bangladeshi naval vessels confronted Myanmarese oil-and-gas exploration ships in disputed waters.

In Dec., 2008, the government finally ended the state of emergency two weeks before new parliamentary elections; both former prime ministers subsequently campaigned. The Awami League won the vote in a landslide, and in Jan., 2009, Sheikh Hasina Wazed became prime minister, ending interim rule. Zia and the BNP asserted the election was rigged, but foreign observers called the contest credible. Paramilitary border guards mutinied in Feb., 2009; the uprising was centered at the Bangladesh Rifles headquarters in Dhaka. More than 70 persons were killed, most of them regular army officers assigned to the forces who were murdered by mutineers; some 6,800 were ultimately convicted of involvement in the mutiny, and more than 150 sentenced to death.

In June, 2010, the BNP mounted a protest strike against the government, and there also were protests by textile workers over low wages. Wage protests recurred in late July, marked then by riots; in August a number of labor leaders were arrested on charges of inciting violence. A new series of opposition-sponsored protests and strikes were mounted in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, 2014, and 2015 several members of the opposition, mainly from Jamaat e-Islami, an Islamist party aligned with the BNP that had opposed Bangladesh's independence, were convicted of committing war crimes during the war for independence. (Jamaamt e-Islami was also declared illegal.) The opposition claimed the trials were politically motivated, and the series of verdicts, most of them involving death sentences, led to strikes and rioting by Islamists.

In Apr., 2013, the collapse of a building housing garment factories in Savar killed more than 1,100 people. Along with other incidents in 2012–13, including one in which more than 100 were killed in a fire, the worst industrial disaster since the Bhopal gas leak (1984) focused international attention on poor working conditions, limited worker rights, and low pay in the garment industry, Bangladesh's most important export industry. There were a number of protests and worker unrest in response to the collapse, and the government promised improvements in working conditions and worker rights.

In Nov., 2013, the government resigned prior to the establishment of an all-party government and the setting of the Jan., 2014, election date, but the opposition demanded the appointment of a caretaker government. The opposition ultimately boycotted the elections, and the campaign and vote was marred by violence. Amid a low voter turnout, the Awami League and its allies won undisputed control of parliament. The BNP subsequently called for a nationwide strike and rejection of the government, but the situation remained relatively quiet until Jan., 2015, when the BNP mounted a transportation blockade against the government.


For bibliography of preindependent Bangladesh see under Pakistan; for independent Bangladesh see M. Ayoob and K. Subrahmanyam, The Liberation War (1972); S. R. Chowdhury, The Genesis of Bangladesh (1972); C. Baxter, Bangladesh (1984); C. P. O'Donnell, Bangladesh (1984); S. R. Chakravarty and N. V. Narain, Bangladesh (3 vol., 1986–89); H. Glassie, Art and Life in Bangladesh (1998); W. van Schendel, A History of Bangladesh (2009).

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Official name : People's Republic of Bangladesh

Area: 143,998 square kilometers (55,598 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Reng Mountain (Keokradong) (1230 meters / 4,034 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 6 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 767 kilometers (477 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest; 429 kilometers (267 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest

Land boundaries: 4,246 kilometers (2,638 miles) total boundary length; India, 4,053 kilometers (2,518 miles); Myanmar, 193 kilometers (120 miles)

Coastline: 574 kilometers (357 miles) on the Bay of Bengal of the Indian Ocean

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Bangladesh is located in southern Asia between Myanmar and India, along the Bay of Bengal. With a total area of 143,998 square kilometers (55,598 square miles), the country is slightly smaller than the state of Wisconsin.


Bangladesh has no territories or dependencies.


The climate of Bangladesh is generally tropical with three seasons. The humidity ranges from 90 percent to almost 100 percent during the monsoon season. Bangladesh receives a heavy average annual rainfall of approximately 119 to 145 centimeters (47 to 57 inches). About 80 percent of Bangladesh's rain falls during the monsoon season. Parts of Bangladesh are also subject to severe seasonal flooding, cyclones, tidal bores, tornadoes, hailstorms, and moderate earthquakes.

Season Months Average temperature: °Celsius (°Fahrenheit)
Summer March to May 29 to 37°C (84 to 99°F)
Monsoon June to October 31°C (88°F)
Winter October to March 5°C to 22°C (41°F to 72°F)


Most of Bangladesh is situated on river deltas. The Chittagong coastal region to the southeast has a narrow attachment to the bulk of the country. Small hill regions in the northeast and southeast are the only variations of the land's flat alluvial plains (flatlands containing deposits of clay, silt, sand, or gravel deposited by running water, such as a stream or river). Since 90 percent of Bangladesh is only about 10 meters (33 feet) above sea level, there is concern that permanent flooding will occur if the Indian Ocean rises as predicted due to global warming.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Bangladesh coastline lies at the apex (top) of the Bay of Bengal, an inlet of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka and India border the bay on the west, Bangladesh forms its north shore, and Myanmar and Thailand surround it on the east. The bay covers an area that is about 2,090 kilometers (1,300 miles) long and 1,610 kilometers (1,000 miles) wide. The ocean often threatens catastrophe for Bangladesh in the form of cyclones and tidal bores.

Islands and Archipelagos

Several flat islands lie just offshore in the Bay of Bengal; many are inhabited by fishing communities. The largest of the permanent islands are Shāhbāzpur, North Hātia, South Hātia, and Sandwīp. Along the Chittagong coast in the south lie Kutubdia and Maiskhāl islands. In the Padma-Meghna estuary triangle there are a number of permanent islands, including many that surface only at low tide. There are also temporary "chars," land forms built up by silting that may either become permanent or erode.

Coastal Features

Rivers and streams fragment Bangladesh's coastline in the delta region (an area, usually triangular in shape, where rivers deposit soil). In contrast, in the southeast Chittagong region, the coastline includes an uninterrupted stretch of sand at Cox's Bāzār that is about 120 kilometers (75 miles) long.

The section of the Kulna delta that covers the coastline area from the western border to the Padma-Meghna estuary is called the Sundarbans. This is a forested, tidal-flushed, salt marsh region; so much of it is shifting, low, and swampy that humans cannot live there.


Atidal bore is a unique wave that sweeps up a shallow river or estuary (place where a river joins a larger body of water) on the incoming tide but against the river's current. Conditions are right for tidal bores to occur only in a few places in the worldand one of these is Bangladesh.


The largest lake, Kaptai Lake, is artificial. (Kaptai Lake is also known as the Karnaphuli Reservoir.) It covers an area of 253 square miles (655 square kilometers) in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Much smaller lakes, called "mils" or "haors," are formed within the network of rivers that wind across Bangladesh's plains. The large number of these lakes in the Meghna and Surma river plains causes frequent flooding in this area.


The longest river in Bangladesh is the Brahmaputra River, also commonly known as the Jamuna River once it enters Bangladesh. It starts in the Himalaya Mountains and flows through Tibet in China and India before reaching the northern border of Bangladesh. It has a total length of 2,900 kilometers (1,700 miles). The section that runs through Bangladesh, however, is only 337 kilometers (209 miles) long. The Ganges River, called the Padma River in Bangladesh, enters from the northwest border with India. Branches of the Barak Riverthe Surma and the Kusiyaraenter the country from the northeast border. They meet to form the Kalni River, which soon widens into the Meghna River. The Brahmaputra-Jamuna, the Ganges-Padma, and the Meghna all intersect with one another before heading toward the Bay of Bengal.

The rivers deposit rich soil through the country and provide fish and transportation for the people of Bangladesh. The rivers also cause hardship due to seasonal flooding and erosion.

The rivers often silt up (become filled with soil) to form marshlands (soft, wet areas). Two-thirds of the Kulna Division in the west is marsh and mangrove forest (a tidal wetland with low-growing trees and a salt bog).

The Rajshahi Division, a triangle of land between the Padma and Jamuna Rivers, is a wetland region, also called the "paradelta" by geographers. It is cut by many old river courses as well as by newer, active rivers. Similar to the rest of the country, this area is subject to disastrous flooding.


There are no deserts in Bangladesh.


Only 5 percent of the land in Bangladesh is considered to be permanent pasture. Seventy-three percent of the land is arable (land that is naturally suitable for cultivation by plowing and is used for growing crops).

Clearing land for agricultural uses, logging, and firewood has caused large-scale deforestation. Less than 8 percent of Bangladesh is forested. Small pockets of rainforest still exist in the eastern regions, however.

Bangladesh's significant hill regions are the Chittagong and Bandarban Hill Tracts, which are a series of ridges along the Myanmar frontier. The countryside north and east of the town of Sylhet features sedimentary hills, some of which exceed 90 meters (300 feet) in elevation. Also in the Sylhet District are six hill ranges connecting to the Tripura Hills of India. In these ranges, the maximum elevation is about 335 meters (1,100 feet).


Most people travel from place to place in Bangladesh by river boat. Ferries are available for tourists and others who wish to travel longer distances. One of the best-known ferries is a paddlewheel steamboat, called the "Rocket," that runs between the capital, Dhaka, and Kulna in the west.


The country's highest peak is Reng Mountain, also known as Keokradong. It has an elevation of 1,230 meters (4,034 feet) and is located near the intersection of Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh.


There are no significant canyons or caves in Bangladesh.


There are no significant plateaus or monoliths in Bangladesh.


The Karnaphuli Reservoir, also known as Kapti Lake, is located in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. A dam built along the Karnaphuli River in 1963 to generate hydroelectric power formed this man-made lake.



Heitzman, James, ed. Bangladesh: A Country Study. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1988.

Lauré, J. Bangladesh. Chicago: Children's Press, 1992.

Novak, James. Bangladesh: Reflections on the Water. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.


Cobb, Charles E. Jr. "Bangladesh: When the Water

Comes." National Geographic, June 1993, 118-34.

Web Sites

USAID Bangladesh. USAID Bangladesh, Making a Difference. (accessed February 22, 2003).

Virtual Bangladesh. Welcome to Bangladesh. (accessed February 22, 2003).

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144,000sq km (55,598sq mi)



capital (population):

Dhaka (Dacca, 5,378,034)


Multiparty republic

ethnic groups:

Bengali 98%, tribal groups


Bengali (official)


Islam (Sunni Muslim) 87%, Hinduism 12%, Buddhism, Christianity


Taka = 100 paisa

Republic in s Asia. Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world (834 people per square kilometre). Most of the country is flat, covered by fertile alluvium spread by the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna. The capital, Dhaka, is situated on the Ganges delta. The rivers overflow when swollen by the annual monsoon. Floods also occur with the cyclones that periodically strike along its coast. In 1991 the delta cyclone killed c.132,000 people, and left more than five million homeless. In 1998 the monsoon floods killed c.1500 people and left 23 million homeless.

Climate and Vegetation

Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate. In winter, dry winds blow from the n. In spring, moist winds from the s bring heavy rain. The coldest month is January. It remains hot throughout the monsoon season (June–August). Although most of Bangladesh is low and cultivated, forests cover c.16% of the land. The mangrove swamps of the Sundarbans region are the last sanctuary of the Bengal tiger. On the jungle border with Burma there are large areas of mahogany forests and rubber plantations.

History and Politics

The early history of Bangladesh is synonymous with that of Bengal. Islam was introduced in the 13th century. In 1576, Bengal became part of the vast Mogul empire under Akbar I ( the Great).

In the late-18th century, Bengal fell under the control of the British East India Company. In 1905, the British divided Bengal into East and West portions. East Bengal (roughly equivalent to modern Bangladesh) was mainly Muslim. In 1947, British India was partitioned between the mainly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Pakistan consisted of two provinces, one to the w of India, and the other to the e, known initially as East Bengal then East Pakistan. The two provinces were separated by c.1500km (1000mi) of India. The majority population of East Pakistan demonstrated against ethnic and economic discrimination by West Pakistan.

In 1970 elections, the Awami League, led by Mujibur Rahman, won a landslide victory. In March 1971, the League unilaterally declared independence and civil war ensued. During nine months of fighting, more than one million East Bengalis were killed and millions more forced into exile, mainly to India. With Indian military assistance, East Bengal defeated Pakistan and gained independence as Bangladesh. Sheikh Rahman became prime minister. The new state was beset by famine and economic crises. In 1975, Sheikh Rahman assumed the presidency. In 1976 he was assassinated in a military coup and martial law declared. Several coups followed and the military remained in power for the next 15 years. In 1991, Bangladesh held its first free elections since independence. The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) gained a majority. In 1996 elections, the Awami League, led by Mujibur's daughter Hasina Wazed, returned to power. Hasina completed the first full five-year term of government in the nation's history. In 2001 elections. Khaleda Zia, wife of Sheikh Rahman, succeeded Hasina as prime minister.


Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries (2000 GDP per capita, US$1570); agriculture employs more than 50% of the workforce. Rice is the chief crop. Jute processing is the largest manufacturing industry and export. Some 60% of internal trade is by boat, although this is becoming more difficult as the Ganges delta silts up, due to deforestation in Nepal.

Political map

Physical map


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Bangladesh proclaimed itself an independent and sovereign state on 25 March 1971 although it was not until 15 December that Pakistan conceded this status. Previously, the country had been known as East Pakistan, united with West Pakistan in the state created at the time of India's partition in 1947. Prior to this, the region consisted of the most eastern districts of the British Indian presidency of Bengal. These were marked by a Muslim-majority population in contrast to the Hindu majority of West Bengal. Religious tensions, reinforced by class cleavages, began to rise towards the end of the 19th cent. and reached fever-pitch in the 1940s. The proposal for the 1947 partition won the support of the majority of both Muslims and Hindus in the Bengal Legislative Assembly. However, East Bengal's place in the new Pakistan was never comfortable. Power was narrowly concentrated in the landed-military élites of the West. The East felt itself to be an exploited and alien colony. In the 1960s, a movement developed around the Awami League demanding, at the very least, provincial autonomy. It was repressed but reasserted itself strongly in 1970 when President Yahya was obliged by US pressure to hold Pakistan's first general elections. The Awami League won 160 of the 162 East Pakistan constituencies. West Pakistan's military and political leaders struck back, arresting the president of the Awami League and unleashing tanks on Dakha. A Mukti Bahini guerrilla movement responded. Brutalizing violence drove 10 million refugees into neighbouring India, whose army then intervened. On 15 December 1971, West Pakistan forces surrendered and the ‘liberation’ of Bangladesh was confirmed.

David Anthony Washbrook

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BANGLADESH. A country of South Asia and member of the COMMONWEALTH. Languages: Bengali (official), English for higher education, indigenous languages. Local links with English date from the 17c; from the 18c till 1947, Bengal was part of British India. In 1947, East Bengal became East Pakistan. In 1971, the territory seceded from Pakistan during a short war and became independent. During the Pakistani period, Urdu was the national language, and English was the official second language (used for administration, higher education, and as a link language between educated speakers of Bengali and Urdu). Bengali came third. Resentment of Urdu led to a prolonged and violent language movement. When in 1987 the Bangla Procolon Ain/Bengali Implementation Act was passed, Bengali became the main language of education and English ceased to be the official second language. It continues, however, to be used as the language of the higher law courts and of South Asian communication, and has a place in radio and television. A number of newspapers and magazines are published in English. In 1989, English was made a compulsory language for primary and secondary education: a pass in Bengali and English is mandatory for the Secondary Certificate. At university level, English is a popular optional subject. English as used in Bangladesh is similar to that in West Bengal in India. See SOUTH ASIAN ENGLISH.

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Culture Name


Alternative Names



Identification. "Bangladesh" is a combination of the Bengali words, Bangla and Desh, meaning the country or land where the Bangla language is spoken. The country formerly was known as East Pakistan.

Location and Geography. Bangladesh straddles the Bay of Bengal in south Asia. To the west and north it is bounded by India; to the southeast, it borders Myanmar. The topography is predominantly a low-lying floodplain. About half the total area is actively deltaic and is prone to flooding in the monsoon season from May through September. The Ganges/Padma River flows into the country from the northwest, while the Brahmaputra/ Jamuna enters from the north. The capital city, Dhaka, is near the point where those river systems meet. The land is suitable for rice cultivation.

In the north and the southeast the land is more hilly and dry, and tea is grown. The Chittagong Hill Tracts have extensive hardwood forests. The vast river delta area is home to the dominant plains culture. The hilly areas of the northeast and southeast are occupied by much smaller tribal groups, many of which have strongly resisted domination by the national government and the population pressure from Bangladeshis who move into and attempt to settle in their traditional areas. In 1998 an accord was reached between the armed tribal group Shanti Bahini and the government.

Demography. Bangladesh is the most densely populated nonisland nation in the world. With approximately 125 million inhabitants living in an area of 55,813 square miles, there are about 2,240 persons per square mile. The majority of the population (98 percent) is Bengali, with 2 percent belonging to tribal or other non-Bengali groups. Approximately 83 percent of the population is Muslim, 16 percent is Hindu, and 1 percent is Buddhist, Christian, or other. Annual population growth rate is at about 2 percent.

Infant mortality is approximately seventy-five per one thousand live births. Life expectancy for both men and women is fifty-eight years, yet the sex ratios for cohorts above sixty years of age are skewed toward males. Girls between one and four years of age are almost twice as likely as boys to die.

In the early 1980s the annual rate of population increase was above 2.5 percent, but in the late 1990s it decreased to 1.9 percent. The success of population control may be due to the demographic transition (decreasing birth and death rates), decreasing farm sizes, increasing urbanization, and national campaigns to control fertility (funded largely by other nations).

Linguistic Affiliation. The primary language is Bangla, called Bengali by most nonnatives, an Indo-European language spoken not just by Bangladeshis, but also by people who are culturally Bengali. This includes about 300 million people from Bangladesh, West Bengal, and Bihar, as well as Bengali speakers in other Indian states. The language dates from well before the birth of Christ. Bangla varies by region, and people may not understand the language of a person from another district. However, differences in dialect consist primarily of slight differences in accent or pronunciation and minor grammatical usages.

Language differences mirror social and religious divisions. Bangla is divided into two fairly distinct forms: sadhu basha, learned or formal language, and cholit basha, common language. Sadhu basha is the language of the literate tradition, formal essays and poetry, and the well educated. Cholit basha is the spoken vernacular, the language of the great majority of Bengalis. Cholit basha is the medium by which the great majority of people communicate in a country in which 50 percent of men and 26 percent of women are literate. There are also small usage variations between Muslims and Hindus, along with minor vocabulary differences.

Symbolism. The most important symbol of national identity is the Bangla language. The flag is a dark green rectangle with a red circle just left of center. Green symbolizes the trees and fields of the countryside; red represents the rising sun and the blood spilled in the 1971 war for liberation. The national anthem was taken from a poem by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and links a love of the natural realm and land with the national identity.

Since independence in 1971, the national identity has evolved. Islamic religious identity has become an increasingly important element in the national dialogue. Many Islamic holy days are nationally celebrated, and Islam pervades public space and the media.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The creation of the independent nation represents the triumph of ethnic and cultural politics. The region that is now Bangladesh has been part of a number of important political entities, including Indian empires, Buddhist kingdoms, the Moghul empire, the British empire and the Pakistani nation.

Until 1947 Bangladesh was known as East Bengal province and had been part of Great Britain's India holding since the 1700s. In 1947, Britain, in conjunction with India's leading indigenous political organizations, partitioned the Indian colony into India and Pakistan. The province of East Bengal was made part of Pakistan and was referred to as East Pakistan. West Pakistan was carved from the northwest provinces of the British Indian empire. This division of territory represented an attempt to create a Muslim nation on Hindu India's peripheries. However, the west and east wings of Pakistan were separated by more than 1,000 miles of India, creating cultural discontinuity between the two wings. The ethnic groups of Pakistan and the Indian Muslims who left India after partition were greatly different in language and way of life from the former East Bengalis: West Pakistan was more oriented toward the Middle East and Arab Islamic influence than was East Pakistan, which contained Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and British cultural influences.

From the beginning of Pakistan's creation, the Bengali population in the east was more numerous than the Pakistani population in the western wing, yet West Pakistan became the seat of government and controlled nearly all national resources. West Pakistanis generally viewed Bengalis as inferior, weak, and less Islamic. From 1947 to 1970, West Pakistan reluctantly gave in to Bengali calls for power within the government, armed forces, and civil service, but increasing social unrest in the east led to a perception among government officials that the people of Bengal were unruly and untrust worthy "Hinduized" citizens. Successive Pakistani regimes, increasingly concerned with consolidating their power over the entire country, often criticized the Hindu minority in Bengal. This was evident in Prime Minister Nazimuddin's attempt in 1952 to make Urdu, the predominant language of West Pakistan, the state language. The effect in the east was to energize opposition movements, radicalize students at Dhaka University, and give new meaning to a Bengali identity that stressed the cultural unity of the east instead of a pan-Islamic brotherhood.

Through the 1960s, the Bengali public welcomed a message that stressed the uniqueness of Bengali culture, and this formed the basis for calls for self-determination or autonomy. In the late 1960s, the Pakistani government attempted to fore-stall scheduled elections. The elections were held on 7 December 1970, and Pakistanis voted directly for members of the National Assembly.

The Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was largely a Bengali party which called for autonomy for the east. Sheikh Mujib wanted to reconfigure Pakistan as a confederation of two equal partners. His party won one of 162 seats in the East Pakistan provincial assembly and 160 of the three hundred seats in the National Assembly. The Awami League would control national politics and have the ability to name the prime minister. President Yahya, however, postponed the convening of the National Assembly to prevent a Bengali power grab. In response, Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League led civil disobedience in East Pakistan. West Pakistan began to move more troops into the east, and on 25 March 1971, the Pakistani army carried out a systematic execution of several hundred people, arrested Mujib, and transported him to the west. On 26 March the Awami League declared East Pakistan an independent nation, and by April the Bengalis were in open conflict with the Pakistani military.

In a 10-month war of liberation, Bangladeshi units called Mukhti Bahini (freedom fighters), largely trained and armed by Indian forces, battled Pakistani troops throughout the country in guerrilla skirmishes. The Pakistanis systematically sought out political opponents and executed Hindu men on sight. Close to 10 million people fled Bangladesh for West Bengal, in India. In early December 1971, the Indian army entered Bangladesh, engaged Pakistani military forces with the help of the Mukhti Bahini, and in a ten-day period subdued the Pakistani forces. On 16 December the Pakistani military surrendered. In January 1972, Mujib was released from confinement and became the prime minister of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh was founded as a "democratic, secular, socialist state," but the new state represented the triumph of a Bangladeshi Muslim culture and language. The administration degenerated into corruption, and Mujib attempted to create a one-party state. On 15 August 1975 he was assassinated, along with much of his family, by army officers. Since that time, Bangladesh has been both less socialistic and less secular.

General Ziaur Rahman became martial law administrator in December 1976 and president in 1977. On 30 May 1981, Zia was assassinated by army officers. His rule had been violent and repressive, but he had improved national economy. After a short-lived civilian government, a bloodless coup placed Army chief of staff General Mohammed Ershad in office as martial law administrator; he later became president. Civilian opposition increased, and the Awami League, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), and the religious fundamentalist party Jamaat-i-Islami united in a seven-year series of crippling strikes. In December 1990, Ershad was forced to resign.

A caretaker government held national elections early in 1991. The BNP, headed by Khaleda Zia, widow of former President Zia, formed a government in an alliance with the Jamaat-i-Islami. Political factionalism intensified over the next five years, and on 23 June 1996, the Awami League took control of Parliament. At its head was Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the daughter of Sheikh Mujib.

National Identity. Bangladeshi national identity is rooted in a Bengali culture that transcends international borders and includes the area of Bangladesh itself and West Bengal, India. Symbolically, Bangladeshi identity is centered on the 1971 struggle for independence from Pakistan. During that struggle, the key elements of Bangladeshi identity coalesced around the importance of the Bengali mother tongue and the distinctiveness of a culture or way of life connected to the floodplains of the region. Since that time, national identity has become increasingly linked to Islamic symbols as opposed to the Hindu Bengali, a fact that serves to reinforce the difference between Hindu West Bengal and Islamic Bangladesh. Being Bangladeshi in some sense means feeling connected to the natural landwater systems of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and other rivers that drain into the Bay of Bengal. There is an envisioning of nature and the annual cycle as intensely beautiful, as deep green paddy turns golden, dark clouds heavy with monsoon rains gradually clear, and flooded fields dry. Even urban families retain a sense of connectedness to this rural system. The great poets of the region, Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nurul Islam have enshrined the Bengali sense of the beauty and power of the region's nature.

Ethnic Relations. The most significant social divide is between Muslims and Hindus. In 1947 millions of Hindus moved west into West Bengal, while millions of Muslims moved east into the newly created East Pakistan. Violence occurred as the columns of people moved past each other. Today, in most sections of the country, Hindus and Muslims live peacefully in adjacent areas and are connected by their economic roles and structures. Both groups view themselves as members of the same culture.

From 1976 to 1998 there was sustained cultural conflict over the control of the southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts. That area is home to a number of tribal groups that resisted the movement of Bangladeshi Muslims into their territory. In 1998, a peace accord granted those groups a degree of autonomy and self-governance. These tribal groups still do not identify themselves with the national culture.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Bangladesh is still primarily a rural culture, and the gram or village is an important spatial and cultural concept even for residents of the major cities. Most people identify with a natal or ancestral village in the countryside.

Houses in villages are commonly rectangular, and are dried mud, bamboo, or red brick structures with thatch roofs. Many are built on top of earthen or wooden platforms to keep them above the flood line. Houses have little interior decoration, and wall space is reserved for storage. Furniture is minimal, often consisting only of low stools. People sleep on thin bamboo mats. Houses have verandas in the front, and much of daily life takes place under their eaves rather than indoors. A separate smaller mud or bamboo structure serves as a kitchen (rana ghor ), but during the dry season many women construct hearths and cook in the household courtyard. Rural houses are simple and functional, but are not generally considered aesthetic showcases.

The village household is a patrilineal extended compound linked to a pond used for daily household needs, a nearby river that provides fish, trees that provide fruit (mango and jackfruit especially), and rice fields. The village and the household not only embody important natural motifs but serve as the locus of ancestral family identity. Urban dwellers try to make at least one trip per year to "their village."

Architectural styles in the cities show numerous historical influences, including Moghul and Islamic motifs with curved arches, windows, and minarets, and square British colonial wood and concrete construction. The National Parliament building (Shongshad Bhabon) in Dhaka, designed by the American architect Louis Kahn, reflects a synthesis of western modernity and curved Islamic-influenced spaces. The National Monument in Savar, a wide-based spire that becomes narrower as it rises, is the symbol of the country's liberation.

Because of the population density, space is at a premium. People of the same sex interact closely, and touching is common. On public transportation strangers often are pressed together for long periods. In public spaces, women are constrained in their movements and they rarely enter the public sphere unaccompanied. Men are much more free in their movement. The rules regarding the gender differential in the use of public space are less closely adhered to in urban areas than in rural areas.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Rice and fish are the foundation of the diet; a day without a meal with rice is nearly inconceivable. Fish, meats, poultry, and vegetables are cooked in spicy curry (torkari ) sauces that incorporate cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, and other spices. Muslims do not consume pork and Hindus do not consume beef. Increasingly common is the preparation of ruti, a whole wheat circular flatbread, in the morning, which is eaten with curries from the night before. Also important to the diet is dal, a thin soup based on ground lentils, chickpeas, or other legumes that is poured over rice. A sweet homemade yogurt commonly finishes a meal. A typical meal consists of a large bowl of rice to which is added small portions of fish and vegetable curries. Breakfast is the meal that varies the most, being rice- or bread-based. A favorite breakfast dish is panthabhat, leftover cold rice in water or milk mixed with gur (date palm sugar). Food is eaten with the right hand by mixing the curry into the rice and then gathering portions with the fingertips. In city restaurants that cater to foreigners, people may use silverware.

Three meals are consumed daily. Water is the most common beverage. Before the meal, the right hand is washed with water above the eating bowl. With the clean knuckles of the right hand the interior of the bowl is rubbed, the water is discarded, and the bowl is filled with food. After the meal, one washes the right hand again, holding it over the emptied bowl.

Snacks include fruits such as banana, mango, and jackfruit, as well as puffed rice and small fried food items. For many men, especially in urbanized regions and bazaars, no day is complete without a cup of sweet tea with milk at a small tea stall, sometimes accompanied by confections.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. At weddings and on important holidays, food plays an important role. At holiday or formal functions, guests are encouraged to eat to their capacity. At weddings, a common food is biryani, a rice dish with lamb or beef and a blend of spices, particularly saffron. On special occasions, the rice used is one of the finer, thinner-grained types. If biryani is not eaten, a complete multicourse meal is served: foods are brought out sequentially and added to one's rice bowl after the previous course is finished. A complete dinner may include chicken, fish, vegetable, goat, or beef curries and dal. The final bit of rice is finished with yogurt (doi ).

On other important occasions, such as the Eid holidays, a goat or cow is slaughtered on the premises and curries are prepared from the fresh meat. Some of the meat is given to relatives and to the poor.

Basic Economy. With a per capita gross national product (GNP) of $350 and an overall GNP of $44 billion, Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. The only significant natural resource is natural gas.

Approximately 75 percent of the workforce is involved in agriculture, and 15 percent and 10 percent are employed in the service and industrial sectors, respectively. Bangladesh has been characterized as a nation of small, subsistence-based farmers, and nearly all people in rural areas are involved in the production or processing of agricultural goods. The majority of the rural population engages in agricultural production, primarily of rice, jute, pulses, wheat, and some vegetables. Virtually all agricultural output is consumed within the country, and grain must be imported. The large population places heavy demands on the food-producing sectors of the economy. The majority of the labor involved in food production is human- and animal-based. Relatively little agricultural export takes place.

In the countryside, typically about ten villages are linked in a market system that centers on a bazaar occurring at least once per week. On bazaar days, villagers bring in agricultural produce or crafts such as water pots to sell to town and city agents. Farmers then visit kiosks to purchase spices, kerosene, soap, vegetables or fish, and salt.

Land Tenure and Property. With a population density of more than two thousand per square mile, land tenure and property rights are critical aspects of survival. The average farm owner has less than three acres of land divided into a number of small plots scattered in different directions from the household. Property is sold only in cases of family emergency, since agricultural land is the primary means of survival. Ordinarily, among Muslims land is inherited equally by a household head's sons, despite Islamic laws that specify shares for daughters and wives. Among Hindu farmers inheritance practices are similar. When agricultural land is partitioned, each plot is divided among a man's sons, ensuring that each one has a geographically dispersed holding. The only sections of rural areas that are not privately owned are rivers and paths.

Commercial Activities. In rural areas Hindus perform much of the traditional craft production of items for everyday life; caste groups include weavers, potters, iron and gold smiths, and carpenters. Some of these groups have been greatly reduced in number, particularly weavers, who have been replaced by ready-made clothing produced primarily in Dhaka.

Agriculture accounts for 25 percent of GDP. The major crops are rice, jute, wheat, tea, sugarcane, and vegetables.

Major Industries. In recent years industrial growth has occurred primarily in the garment and textile industries. Jute processing and jute product fabrication remain major industries. Overall, industry accounted for about 28 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998.

Trade. Exports totaled $4.4 billion in 1996, with the United States consuming one-third of those exports. Primary export markets are for jute (used in carpet backing, burlap, and rope), fish, garments, and textiles. Imports totaled $7.1 billion and largely consisted of capital goods, grains, petroleum, and chemicals. The country relies on an annual inflow of at least $1 billion from international sources, not including the humanitarian aid that is part of the national economic system. Agriculture accounted for about 25 percent of the GDP in 1998.

Division of Labor. The division of labor is based on age and education. Young children are economically productive in rural areas, hauling water, watching animals, and helping with postharvest processing. The primary agricultural tasks, however, are performed by men. Education allows an individual to seek employment outside the agricultural sector, although the opportunities for educated young men in rural areas are extremely limited. A service or industry job often goes to the individual who can offer the highest bribe to company officials.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The Muslim class system is similar to a caste structure. The ashraf is a small upperclass of old-money descendants of early Muslim officials and merchants whose roots are in Afghanistan, Turkey, and Iran. Some ashraf families trace their lineage to the Prophet Mohammed. The rest of the population is conceived of as the indigenous majority atraf. This distinction mirrors the Hindu separation between the Brahman and those in lower castes. While both Muslim and Hindu categories are recognized by educated people, the vast majority of citizens envision class in a more localized, rural context.

In rural areas, class is linked to the amount of land owned, occupation, and education. A landowner with more than five acres is at the top of the socioeconomic scale, and small subsistence farmers are in the middle. At the bottom of the scale are the landless rural households that account for about 30 percent of the rural population. Landowning status reflects socioeconomic class position in rural areas, although occupation and education also play a role. The most highly educated people hold positions requiring literacy and mathematical skills, such as in banks and government offices, and are generally accorded a higher status than are farmers. Small businessmen may earn as much as those who have jobs requiring an education but have a lower social status.

Hindu castes also play a role in the rural economy. Hindu groups are involved in the hereditary occupations that fill the economic niches that support a farming-based economy. Small numbers of higher caste groups have remained in the country, and some of those people are large landowners, businessmen, and service providers.

In urban areas the great majority of people are laborers. There is a middle class of small businessmen and midlevel office workers, and above this is an emerging entrepreneurial group and upper-level service workers.

Symbols of Social Stratification. One of the most obvious symbols of class status is dress. The traditional garment for men is the lungi, a cloth tube skirt that hangs to the ankles; for women, the sari is the norm. The lungi is worn by most men, except those who consider themselves to have high socioeconomic status, among whom pants and shirt are worn. Also indicative of high standing are loose white cotton pajama pants and a long white shirt. White dress among men symbolizes an occupation that does not require physical labor. A man with high standing will not be seen physically carrying anything; that task is left to an assistant or laborer. Saris also serve as class markers, with elaborate and finely worked cloth symbolizing high status. Poverty is marked by the cheap, rough green or indigo cotton cloth saris of poor women. Gold jewelry indicates a high social standing among women.

A concrete-faced house and a ceramic tile roof provide evidence of wealth. An automobile is well beyond the means of most people, and a motorcycle is a sign of status. Color televisions, telephones, and electricity are other symbols associated with wealth.

Political Life

Government. The People's Republic of Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy that includes a president, a prime minister, and a unicameral parliament (Jayitya Shongshod ). Three hundred members of parliament are elected to the 330-seat legislature in local elections held every five years. Thirty seats are reserved for women members of parliament. The prime minister, who is appointed by the president, must have the support of a majority of parliament members. The president is elected by the parliament every five years to that largely ceremonial post. The country is divided into four divisions, twenty districts, subdistricts, union parishads, and villages. In local politics, the most important political level is the union in rural areas; in urban regions, it is the municipality (pourashava ). Members are elected locally, and campaigning is extremely competitive.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are more than 50 political parties. Party adherence extends from the national level down to the village, where factions with links to the national parties vie for local control and help solve local disputes. Leaders at the local level are socioeconomically well-off individuals who gain respect within the party structure, are charismatic, and have strong kinship ties. Local leaders draw and maintain supporters, particularly at election time, by offering tangible, relatively small rewards.

The dominant political parties are the Awami League (AL), the BNP, the Jatiya Party (JP), and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). The Awami League is a secular-oriented, formerly socialist-leaning party. It is not stringently anti-India, is fairly liberal with regard to ethnic and religious groups, and supports a free-market economy. The BNP, headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, is less secular, more explicitly Islamic in orientation, and more anti-India. The JP is close to the BNP in overall orientation, but pushed through a bill in Parliament that made Islam the state religion in 1988. The JI emphasizes Islam, Koranic law, and connections to the Arab Middle East.

Social Problems and Control. Legal procedures are based on the English common-law system, and supreme court justices and lower-level judges are appointed by the president. District courts at the district capitals are the closest formal venues for legal proceedings arising from local disputes. There are police forces only in the cities and towns. When there is a severe conflict or crime in rural areas, it may take days for the police to arrive.

In rural areas, a great deal of social control takes place informally. When a criminal is caught, justice may be apportioned locally. In the case of minor theft, a thief may be beaten by a crowd. In serious disputes between families, heads of the involved kinship groups or local political leaders negotiate and the offending party is required to make restitution in money and/or land. Police may be paid to ensure that they do not investigate. Nonviolent disputes over property or rights may be decided through village councils (panchayat ) headed by the most respected heads of the strongest kinship groups. When mediation or negotiation fails, the police may be called in and formal legal proceedings may begin. People do not conceive of the informal procedures as taking the law into their own hands.

Military Activity. The military has played an active role in the development of the political structure and climate of the country since its inception and has been a source of structure during crises. It has been involved in two coups since 1971. The only real conflict the army has encountered was sporadic fighting with the Shakti Bahini in the Chittagong Hill Tracts from the mid-1970s until 1998, after which an accord between the government and those tribal groups was produced.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Bangladesh is awash in social change programs sponsored by international organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, Care, USAID, and other nations' development agencies. Those organizations support project areas such as population control, agricultural and economic development, urban poverty, environmental conservation, and women's economic development.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The Grameen Bank created the popular microcredit practice, which has given the poor, especially poor women, access to credit. This model is based on creating small circles of people who know and can influence each other to pay back loans. When one member has repaid a loan, another member of the group becomes eligible to receive credit. Other nongovernmental organizations include the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, Probashi, and Aat Din.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Women traditionally are in charge of household affairs and are not encouraged to move outside the immediate neighborhood unaccompanied. Thus, most women's economic and social lives revolve around the home, children, and family. Islamic practice reserves prayer inside the mosque for males only; women practice religion within the home. Bangladesh has had two female prime ministers since 1991, both elected with widespread popular support, but women are not generally publicly active in politics.

Men are expected to be the heads of their households and to work outside the home. Men often do the majority of the shopping, since that requires interaction in crowded markets. Men spend a lot of time socializing with other men outside the home.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. The society is patriarchal in nearly every area of life, although some women have achieved significant positions of political power at the national level. For ordinary women, movement is confined, education is stressed less than it is for men, and authority is reserved for a woman's father, older brother, and husband.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is almost always an arranged affair and takes place when the parents, particularly the father, decide that a child should be married. Men marry typically around age twenty-five or older, and women marry between ages fifteen and twenty; thus the husband is usually at least ten years older than the wife. Muslims allow polygynous marriage, but its occurrence is rare and is dependent on a man's ability to support multiple households.

A parent who decides that a child is ready to marry may contact agencies, go-betweens, relatives, and friends to find an appropriate mate. Of immediate concern are the status and characteristics of the potential in-law's family. Generally an equal match is sought in terms of family economic status, educational background, and piousness. A father may allow his child to choose among five or six potential mates, providing the child with the relevant data on each candidate. It is customary for the child to rule out clearly unacceptable candidates, leaving a slate of candidates from which the father can choose. An arrangement between two families may be sealed with an agreement on a dowry and the types of gifts to be made to the groom. Among the educated the dowry practice is no longer prevalent.

Divorce is a source of social stigma. A Muslim man may initiate a divorce by stating "I divorce you" three times, but very strong family pressure ordinarily ensures that divorces do not occur. A divorce can be most difficult for the woman, who must return to her parent's household.

Domestic Unit. The most common unit is the patrilineally-related extended family living in a household called a barhi. A barhi is composed of a husband and wife, their unmarried children, and their adult sons with their wives and children. Grandparents also may be present, as well as patrilineally-related brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews. The oldest man is the authority figure, although the oldest woman may exert considerable authority within the household. A barhi in rural areas is composed of three or four houses which face each other to form a square courtyard in which common tasks are done. Food supplies often are shared, and young couples must contribute their earnings to the household head. Cooking, however, often is done within the constituent nuclear family units.

Inheritance. Islamic inheritance rules specify that a daughter should receive one-half the share of a son. However, this practice is rarely followed, and upon a household head's death, property is divided equally among his sons. Daughters may receive produce and gifts from their brothers when they visit as "compensation" for their lack of an inheritance. A widow may receive a share of her husband's property, but this is rare. Sons, however, are custom-bound to care for their mothers, who retain significant power over the rest of the household.

Kin Groups. The patrilineal descent principle is important, and the lineage is very often localized within a geographic neighborhood in which it constitutes a majority. Lineage members can be called on in times of financial crisis, particularly when support is needed to settle local disputes. Lineages do not meet regularly or control group resources.


Infant Care. Most women give birth in their natal households, to which they return when childbirth is near. A husband is sent a message when the child is born. Five or seven days after the birth the husband and his close male relatives visit the newborn, and a feast and ritual haircutting take place. The newborn is given an amulet that is tied around the waist, its eye sockets may be blackened with soot or makeup, and a small soot mark is applied to the infant's forehead and the sole of the foot for protection against spirits. Newborns and infants are seldom left unattended. Most infants are in constant contact with their mothers, other women, or the daughters in the household. Since almost all women breastfeed, infant and mother sleep within close reach. Infants' needs are attended to constantly; a crying baby is given attention immediately.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are raised within the extended family and learn early that individual desires are secondary to the needs of the family group. Following orders is expected on the basis of age; an adult or older child's commands must be obeyed as a sign of respect. Child care falls primarily to household women and their daughters. Boys have more latitude for movement outside the household.

Between ages five and ten, boys undergo a circumcision (musulmani ), usually during the cool months. There is no comparable ritual for girls, and the menarche is not publicly marked.

Most children begin school at age five or six, and attendance tends to drop off as children become more productive within the household (female) and agricultural economy (male). About 75 percent of children attend primary school. The higher a family's socioeconomic status, the more likely it is for both boys and girls to finish their primary educations. Relatively few families can afford to send their children to college (about 17 percent), and even fewer children attend a university. Those who enter a university usually come from relatively well-off families. While school attendance drops off overall as the grades increase, females stop attending school earlier than do males.

Higher Education. Great value is placed on higher education, and those who have university degrees and professional qualifications are accorded high status. In rural areas the opportunities for individuals with such experience are limited; thus, most educated people are concentrated in urban areas.

Bangladesh has a number of excellent universities in its largest urban areas that offer both undergraduate through post-graduate degrees. The most prominent universities, most of which are state supported, include: Dhaka University, Rajshahi University, Chittagong University, Jahngirnagar University, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, and Bangladesh Agricultural University. Competition for university admission is intense (especially at Dhaka University) and admission is dependent on scores received on high school examinations held annually, as in the British system of education. University life in Bangladesh can be difficult. A four-year degree may actually require five to eight years to complete due to frequent university closings. The student bodies and faculties of universities are heavily politicized along national political party lines. Protests, strikes, and sporadic political party-based violence are common, as student groups play out national political agendas on their campuses and vie for members. Virtually every university student finds it easier to survive the system by becoming a member of the student wing of a political party.

While the universities are the scenes of political struggle, they are also centers of intellectual and cultural creativity. Students may obtain excellent training in all fields, including the arts, law, medicine, and engineering. Universities are also somewhat like islands where some of the ordinary rules of social interaction are relaxed. For example, male female interaction on campuses is more open and less monitored than in society as a whole. Dance and theater presentations are common, as are academic debates.


Personal interaction is initiated with the greeting Assalam Waleykum ("peace be with you"), to which the required response is, Waleykum Assalam ("and with you"). Among Hindus, the correct greeting is Nomoshkar, as the hands are brought together under the chin. Men may shake hands if they are of equal status but do not grasp hands firmly. Respect is expressed after a handshake by placing the right hand over the heart. Men and women do not shake hands with each other. In same-sex conversation, touching is common and individuals may stand or sit very close. The closer individuals are in terms of status, the closer their spatial interaction is. Leave-taking is sealed with the phrase Khoda Hafez.

Differences in age and status are marked through language conventions. Individuals with higher status are not addressed by personal name; instead, a title or kinship term is used.

Visitors are always asked to sit, and if no chairs are available, a low stool or a bamboo mat is provided. It is considered improper for a visitor to sit on the floor or ground. It is incumbent on the host to offer guests something to eat.

In crowded public places that provide services, such as train stations, the post office, or bazaars, queuing is not practiced and receiving service is dependent on pushing and maintaining one's place within the throng. Open staring is not considered impolite.


Religious Beliefs. The symbols and sounds of Islam, such as the call to prayer, punctuate daily life. Bangladeshis conceptualize themselves and others fundamentally through their religious heritage. For example, the nationality of foreigners is considered secondary to their religious identity.

Islam is a part of everyday life in all parts of the country, and nearly every village has at least a small mosque and an imam (cleric). Prayer is supposed to be performed five times daily, but only the committed uphold that standard. Friday afternoon prayer is often the only time that mosques become crowded.

Throughout the country there is a belief in spirits that inhabit natural spaces such as trees, hollows, and riverbanks. These beliefs are derided by Islamic religious authorities.

Hinduism encompasses an array of deities, including Krishna, Ram, Durga, Kali, and Ganesh. Bangladeshi Hindus pay particular attention to the female goddess Durga, and rituals devoted to her are among the most widely celebrated.

Religious Practitioners. The imam is associated with a mosque and is an important person in both rural and urban society, leading a group of followers. The imam's power is based on his knowledge of the Koran and memorization of phrases in Arabic. Relatively few imams understand Arabic in the spoken or written form. An imam's power is based on his ability to persuade groups of men to act in conjunction with Islamic rules. In many villages the imam is believed to have access to the supernatural, with the ability to write charms that protect individuals from evil spirits, imbue liquids with holy healing properties, or ward off or reverse of bad luck.

Brahman priests perform rituals for the Hindu community during the major festivals when offerings are made but also in daily acts of worship. They are respected, but Hinduism does not have the codified hierarchical structure of Islam. Thus, a Brahman priest may not have a position of leadership outside his religious duties.

Rituals and Holy Places. The primary Islamic holidays in Bangladesh include: Eid-ul-Azha (the tenth day of the Muslim month Zilhaj ), in which a goat or cow is sacrificed in honor of Allah; Shob-i-Barat (the fourteenth or fifteenth day of Shaban ), when Allah records an individual's future for the rest of the year; Ramadan (the month Ramzan ), a month-long period of fasting between dawn and dusk; Eid-ul-Fitr (the first day of the month Shawal, following the end of Ramzan ), characterized by alms giving to the poor; and Shob-i-Meraz (the twenty-seventh day of Rajab ), which commemorates the night when Mohammed ascended to heaven. Islamic holidays are publicly celebrated in afternoon prayers at mosques and outdoor open areas, where many men assemble and move through their prayers in unison.

Among the most important Hindu celebrations are Saraswati Puja (February), dedicated to the deity Saraswati, who takes the form of a swan. She is the patron of learning, and propitiating her is important for students. Durga Puja (October) pays homage to the female warrior goddess Durga, who has ten arms, carries a sword, and rides a lion. After a nine-day festival, images of Durga and her associates are placed in a procession and set into a river. Kali Puja (November) is also called the Festival of Lights and honors Kali, a female deity who has the power to give and take away life. Candles are lit in and around homes.

Other Hindu and Islamic rituals are celebrated in villages and neighborhoods and are dependent on important family or local traditions. Celebrations take place at many local shrines and temples.

Death and the Afterlife. Muslims believe that after death the soul is judged and moves to heaven or hell. Funerals require that the body be washed, the nostrils and ears be plugged with cotton or cloth, and the body be wrapped in a white shroud. The body is buried or entombed in a brick or concrete structure. In Hinduism, reincarnation is expected and one's actions throughout life determine one's future lives. As the family mourns and close relatives shave their heads, the body is transported to the funeral ghat (bank along a river), where prayers are recited. The body is to be placed on a pyre and cremated, and the ashes are thrown into the river.

Medicine and Health Care

The pluralistic health care system includes healers such as physicians, nonprofessionally trained doctors, Aryuvedic practitioners, homeopaths, fakirs, and naturopaths. In rural areas, for non-life-threatening acute conditions, the type of healer consulted depends largely on local reputation. In many places, the patient consults a homeopath or a nonprofessional doctor who is familiar with local remedies as well as modern medical practices. Professional physicians are consulted by the educated and by those who have not received relief from other sources. Commonly, people pursue alternative treatments simultaneously, visiting a fakir for an amulet, an imam for blessed oil, and a physician for medicine.

A nationally run system of public hospitals provides free service. However, prescriptions and some medical supplies are the responsibility of patients and their families.

Aryuvedic beliefs based on humoral theories are common among both Hindus and Muslims. These beliefs are commonly expressed through the categorization of the inherent hot or cold properties of foods. An imbalance in hot or cold food intake is believed to lead to sickness. Health is restored when this imbalance is counteracted through dietary means.

Secular Celebrations

Ekushee (21 February), also called Shaheed Dibash, is the National Day of Martyrs commemorating those who died defending the Bangla language in 1952. Political speeches are held, and a memorial service takes place at the Shaheed Minar (Martyr's Monument) in Dhaka. Shadheenata Dibash, or Independence Day (26 March), marks the day when Bangladesh declared itself separate from Pakistan. The event is marked with military parades and political speeches. Poila Boishakh, the Bengali New Year, is celebrated on the first day of the month of Boishakh (generally in April). Poetry readings and musical events take place. May Day (1 May) celebrates labor and workers with speeches and cultural events. Bijoy Dibosh, or Victory Day (16 December), commemorates the day in 1971 when Pakistani forces surrendered to a joint BangladeshiIndian force. Cultural and political events are held.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Artists are largely self-supporting. The Bangla Academy in Dhaka provides support for some artists, particularly writers and poets. Many artists sell aesthetic works that have utilitarian functions.

Literature. Most people, regardless of their degree of literacy, can recite more than one poem with dramatic inflection. Best known are the works of the two poetheroes of the region: Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nurul Islam. Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Although from West Bengal, he is respected as a Bengali who championed the preservation of Bangla language and culture. His poem "Golden Bengal" was adopted as the national anthem.

The most famous contemporary writer is Taslima Nasreen, whose novellas and essays question the Islamic justification for the customary treatment of women. Conservative religious authorities have tried to have her arrested and have called for her death for blasphemy. She lives in exile.

Graphic Arts. Most graphic arts fall within the domain of traditional production by Hindu caste groups. The most pervasive art form throughout the country is pottery, including water jugs and bowls of red clay, often with a red slip and incising. Some Hindu sculptors produce brightly painted works depicting Durga and other deities. Drawing and painting are most visible on the backs of rickshaws and the wooden sides of trucks.

Performance Arts. Bengali music encompasses a number of traditions and mirrors some of the country's poetry. The most common instruments are the harmonium, the tabla, and the sitar. Generally, classical musicians are adept at the rhythms and melodic properties associated with Hindu and Urdu devotional music. More popular today are the secular malefemale duets that accompany Bengali and Hindi films. These songs are rooted in the classical tradition but have a freer contemporary melodic structure. Traditional dance is characterized by a rural thematic element with particular hand, foot, and head movements. Dance is virtually a female-only enterprise. Plays are traditionally an important part of village life, and traveling shows stop throughout the countryside. Television dramas portray family relationships, love, and economic advantage and disadvantage. Plays in the cities, particularly in Dhaka, are attended by the educated young.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Dhaka University offers courses in most academic disciplines. Sciences such as physics and chemistry have very good programs, although there is a lack of up-to-date laboratories and equipment. In the social sciences, the field of economics is particularly strong, along with anthropology, sociology, and political science. Many top students in the physical and social sciences study abroad, especially in the United States and Europe. The top engineering program is at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. Electrical, ocean/naval, civil, and mechanical engineering have very good programs. Education in computer engineering is improving rapidly.


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Web Sites

Virtual Bangladesh.

Michael S. Harris, with the assistance of Elizabeth Lloyd

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The people of Bangladesh are called Bangladeshis. Some 98 percent of the people are Bengalis (or Banglas). The Chakmas are the largest of the tribes inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

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Bangladeshafresh, Andhra Pradesh, Bangladesh, crème fraîche, enmesh, flesh, fresh, intermesh, Kesh, Madhya Pradesh, Marrakesh, mesh, nesh, thresh, Uttar Pradesh •parfleche • horseflesh • gooseflesh •micromesh • Gilgamesh •synchromesh

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