History & Georgraphy
What is now called Bangladesh is part of the historic region of Bengal, the northeast portion of the Indian subcontinent. Bangladesh consists primarily of East Bengal (West Bengal is part of India and its people are primarily Hindu) plus the Sylhet district of the Indian state of Assam.
The earliest reference to the region was to a kingdom called Vanga, or Banga (c. 1000 B.C. ). Buddhists ruled for centuries, but by the 10th century Bengal was primarily Hindu. In 1576, Bengal became part of the Mogul Empire, and the majority of East Bengalis converted to Islam. Bengal was ruled by British India from 1757 until Britain withdrew in 1947, and Pakistan was founded out of the two predominantly Muslim regions of the Indian subcontinent. For almost 25 years after independence from Britain, its history was part of Pakistan.
Bangladesh came to today's shape through a long history of political evolution. Bengal was probably the wealthiest part of the subcontinent up till the 16th century. The area's early history featured a succession of Indian empires, internal squabbling, and a tussle between Hinduism and Buddhism for dominance. All of this was just a prelude to the unstoppable tide of Islam which washed over northern India at the end of the 12th century. Mohammed Bakhtiar Khalzhi from Turkistan captured Bengal in 1199 with only 20 men.
Under the Mughal viceroys, art and literature flourished, overland trade expanded and Bengal was opened to world maritime trade - the latter marking the death knell of Mughal power as Europeans began to establish themselves in the region. The Portuguese arrived as early as the 15th century but were ousted in 1633 by local opposition. The British East India Company negotiated terms to establish a fortified trading post in Calcutta in 1690.
The decline of Mughal power led to greater provincial autonomy, heralding the rise of the independent dynasty of the Nawabs of Bengal. Humble East India Company clerk Robert Clive ended up effectively ruling Bengal when one of the impetuous Nawabs attacked the thriving British enclave in Calcutta and stuffed those unlucky enough not to escape in an underground cellar. Clive retook Calcutta a year later and the British Government replaced the East India Company following the Indian Mutiny in 1857.
The Britons established an organizational and social structure unparalleled in Bengal, and Calcutta became one of the most important centers for commerce, education and culture in the subcontinent. However, many Bangladeshi historians blame the British dictatorial agricultural policies and promotion of the semi-feudal zamindar system for draining the region of its wealth and damaging its social fabric. The British presence was a relief to the minority Hindus but a catastrophe for the Muslims. The Hindus cooperated with the Brits, entering British educational institutions and studying the English language, but the Muslims refused to cooperate, and rioted whenever crops failed or another local product was rendered unprofitable by government policy.
At the closure of World War II it was clear that European colonialism had run its course and Indian independence was inevitable. Independence was attained in 1947 but the struggle was bitter and divisive, especially in Bengal where the fight for self-government was complicated by internal religious conflict. The British, realizing any agreement between the Muslims and Hindus was impossible, decided to partition the subcontinent. That Bengal and Punjab, the two overwhelmingly Muslim regions, lay on opposite sides of India was only one stumbling block. The situation was complicated in Bengal where the major cash crop, jute, was produced in the Muslim-dominated east, but processed and shipped from the Hindu-dominated city of Calcutta in the west.
Inequalities between the two regions i.e. East and West Pakistan soon stirred up a sense of Bengali nationalism that had not been reckoned with during the push for Muslim independence. When the Pakistan government declared that `Urdu and only Urdu' would be the national language, the Bangla-speaking Bengalis decided it was time to assert their cultural identity. The drive to reinstate the Bangla language metamorphosed into a push for self-government and when the Awami League, a nationalistic party, won a majority in the 1970 national elections, the President of Pakistan, faced with this unacceptable result, postponed opening the National Assembly. Riots and strikes broke out in East Pakistan, the independent state of Bangladesh was unilaterally announced, and Pakistan sent troops to quell the rebellion.
The ensuing war was one of the shortest and bloodiest of modern times, with the Pakistan army occupying all major towns, using napalm against villages, and slaughtering and raping villagers, thereby carrying out a total genocide. As a result Bangladesh lost 3 million of its population in 9 month time. Border clashes between Pakistan and India increased as Indian-trained Bangladeshi guerrillas crossed the border. In the beginning of December, 1971 when the Pakistani air force made a pre-emptive attack on Indian forces, open warfare ensued. Indian troops crossed the border and the Pakistani army found itself being attacked from the east by the Indian army, the north and east by guerrillas and from all quarters by the civilian population. In 11 days it was all over and Bangladesh, the world's 139th country, officially came into existence. Bangladesh achieved her independence with the active support of friendly countries like India and former Soviet Union (which included Central Asian countries).
Although the War of Liberation begun in the wake of 25th March army crackdown, Bangabandhu had been a prisoner in the hands of Pakistan during the whole period. However, he was made, in absentia, the President of the provisional Government of Bangladesh, called the Mujibnagar Government, formed on 10th April, 1971 by the people's representatives to head the Liberation War. At the same time he was also made the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Throughout the period of the War of Liberation, Sheikh Mujib's charisma worked as the source of national unity and strength. After the liberation of Bangladesh on 16 December, 1971 from Pakistani occupation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was released from Pakistan jail and via London he arrived in Dhaka on 10 January, 1972.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman headed the first government of the post-liberation Bangladesh for a period of three years and a half. Starting from scratch his Government had to deal with the countless of a war ravaged country. Restoring law and order, rehabilating the mukhtijodhas, restoring the ruptured communication system, and, most importantly, feeding the hungry millions and many other problems bedeviled his administration. Because of his charismatic leadership Bangladesh gained recognition for the international community including the United Nations.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated by a group of disgruntled army officials on August 15, 1975 along with most of his family members excepting for two daughters who had been staying abroad at that time. Bangabandhu's eldest daughter, Sheikh Hasina, is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
The ruined and decimated new country experienced famine in 1973-74, followed by martial law, successive military coups and political assassinations that began in 1975. In 1982 the power of the country was taken over by dictator General Ershad who ruled until 1990. That year the military dictator was forced to resign by an unprecedented popular movement.
Democracy was re-established and the economy ticked along at a 4.5% growth rate at the beginning and eventually rose above 6 % in late 90s. During the last 25 years Awami League and BNP formed Government several times by winning the parliamentary elections, which are held after every 5 years. At present, Sheikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is serving her third term as Prime Minister after her party Awami League had won the last general elections held on 5 January, 2014.
Most of the areas of Bangladesh lies within the broad delta formed by the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers. Lands are exceedingly flat, low-lying, and subject to annual flooding. Much fertile, alluvial soil is deposited by the floodwaters. The only significant area of hilly terrain, constituting less than one-tenth of the nation's territory, is the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the narrow southeastern panhandle of the country. There, on the border with Burma, is Mowdok Mual (1003 m/3292 ft), the country's highest peak. Small, scattered hills lie along or near the eastern and northern borders with India. The eroded remnants of two old alluvial terraces-the Madhupur Tract, in the north central part of the country, and The Barind, straddling the northwestern boundary with India- attain elevations of about 30 m (about 100 ft). The soil here is much less fertile than the annually replenished alluvium of the surrounding floodplain.
Total area: 144,000 square kilometers;
Land area: 133,910 square kilometers;
Land boundaries: 4,246 km total; 193 km with Myanmar, 4,053 km with India, Coastline: 580 km.
arable land 67%
forest and woodland 16%
permanent crops 2%
meadows and pastures 4%
Rivers and Lakes
Bangladesh is a land of rivers that crisscrossed throughout the mostly flat territories of the country. They include hundreds of brooks and a good number of big ones. The Ganges (Ganga) is known as the Padma below the point where it is joined by the Jamuna River, the name given to the lowermost portion of the main channel of the Brahmaputra. The combined stream is then called the Meghna below its confluence with a much smaller tributary of the same name. In the dry season the numerous deltaic distributaries that lace the terrain may be several kilometers wide as they near the Bay of Bengal, whereas at the height of the summer monsoon season they coalesce into an extremely broad expanse of silt-laden water. In much of the delta, therefore, homes must be constructed on earthen platforms or embankments high enough to remain above the level of all but the highest floods. In non-monsoon months the exposed ground is pocked with water-filled borrow pits, or tanks, from which the mud for the embankments was excavated. Throughout the country there are bils, haors and lakes that meet the need of drinking, bathing and irrigating water.
Traditionally Bangladeshis subdivide the year into six seasons: Grismo (summer), Barsha (rainy), Sharat (autumn), Hemanto (cool), Sheet (winter), and Bashonto (spring). For practical purposes, however, three seasons are distinguishable: summer , rainy, and winter.
Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon-type climate, with a hot and rainy summer and a dry winter. January is the coolest month with temperatures averaging near 26 deg C (78 d F) and April the warmest with temperatures from 33 to 36 deg C (91 to 96 deg F). The climate is one of the wettest in the world. Most places receive more than 1,525 mm of rain a year, and areas near the hills receive 5,080 mm ). Most rains occur during the monsoon (June-September) and little in winter (November-February).
Bangladesh is subject to devastating cyclones, originating over the Bay of Bengal, in the periods of April to May and September to November. Often accompanied by surging waves, these storms can cause great damage and loss of life. The cyclone of November 1970, in which about 500,000 lives were lost in Bangladesh, was one of the worst natural disasters of the country in the 20th century.
In Dhaka the average temperature in January is about 19° C (about 66° F), and in May about 29° C (about 84° F).
Flora and Fauna
Chittagong Hill Tracts, portions of the Madhupur Tract, and the Sundarbans (a great tidal mangrove forest in the southwestern corner of the country) are principal vegetation in Bangladesh. The wooded area amount to less than one-sixth of the total area. Broadleaf evergreen species characterize the hilly regions, and deciduous trees, such as acacia and banyan, are common in the drier plains areas. Commercially valuable trees in Bangladesh include sundari (hence the name Sundarbans), gewa, sal (mainly growing in the Madhupur Tract), and garan (in the Chittagong Hill Tracts). Village groves inslude fruit trees (mango and jackfruit, for instance) and date and areca (betel) palms. The country also has many varieties of bamboo.
Bangladesh is rich in fauna, including nearly 250 indigenous species of mammals, 750 types of birds, 150 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, and 200 varieties of marine and freshwater fish. The rhesus monkey is common, and gibbons and lemurs are also found.
The Sundarbans area is one of the principal remaining domains of the Royal Bengal tiger, and herds of elephants and many leopards inhabit the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Other animals living in Bangladesh include mongoose, jackal, Bengal fox, wild boar, parakeet, kingfisher, vulture, and swamp crocodile.
The principal energy resource of Bangladesh is natural gas, which is found in several fields in the northeastern part of the country. With the assistance of some foreign companies gas expedition has increased. The large deposits of natural gas were discovered in the 1990s through the exploration of a public energy company. Gas is primarily used by the industry. It led to the substantial development of the shipbuilding industry and also supported the garment industry, which makes up over 70% of country's export earnings. There is a Bituminus coalfield in the northwest and large Peat beds underlie most of the delta. Limestone and pottery clays are found in the northeastern Bangladesh.