Bengal was absorbed into the Mughul Empire in the 16th century, and Dhaka, the seat of a nawab (the representative of the emperor), gained some importance as a provincial center. But it remained remote and difficult to govern — especially the section east of the Brahmaputra River — outside the mainstream of Mughul politics.
In 1859, the British Crown replaced the East India Company, extending British dominion from Bengal, which became a region of India, in the east to the Indus River in the west.
When British India was partitioned and the independent dominions of India and Pakistan were created in 1947, the region of Bengal was divided along religious lines. The predominantly Muslim eastern half was designated East Pakistan — and made part of the newly independent Pakistan — while the predominantly Hindu western part became the Indian state of West Bengal.
In 1971, East and West Pakistan fought a civil war. Indian sympathies lay with East Pakistan, and in November, India intervened on the side of the Bangladeshis. On Dec. 16, 1971, Pakistani forces surrendered and Bangladesh — meaning "Bengal nation" — was born. The new country became a parliamentary democracy under a 1972 constitution.
The provisional government of the new nation of Bangladesh was formed in Dhaka with Justice Abu Sayeed Choudhury as president and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ("Mujib") — who was released from Pakistani prison in early 1972 — as prime minister.
Several new leaders assumed power — Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, 1972-75; Ziaur Rahman, 1975-81; Hussain Mohammed Ershad, 1982-90; Khaleda Zia, 1991-96 — but governmental instability prevailed.
Begum Khaleda Zia was sworn in on Oct. 10, 2001, as the Prime Minister of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh for the third time (first in 1991, second after the Feb. 15, 1996, elections, and third after the 2001 elections). Despite her pledge and all election monitoring groups declaring the election free and fair, Sheikh Hasina condemned the election and disputed its results. Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League continued to call for new elections and boycott parliament, alleging the Khaleda Zia government was using the police and security forces to persecute members of the opposition. Sheikh Hasina, however, led her party legislators to parliament in 2002 and participated in the proceedings of the house. The Awami League deputies walked out of the house in June 2003 to protest what Awami League leaders said were derogatory remarks about Hasina by a State Minister of the government and the partisan role of the Speaker. They announced a boycott of the house until the government and the Speaker met a set of their demands. In June 2004, however, the Awami League legislators returned to parliament without having any of their demands met.
Iajuddin Ahmed is the current president of Bangladesh. President Ahmed, a former university professor, became leader of his country in 2002 after he ran unopposed in the presidential elections.
Source: U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2004, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2004/35514.htm.
Bangladesh lacks sufficient numbers of schools and cultural institutions, even though facilities were increased substantially in the 1970s. Primary school education is free but at least one-third of all children are not enrolled in school. Of children enrolled in school, 70 percent reach the fifth grade.
Education is highly respected in Bangladesh. The first question people ask is, "What year of education did you obtain?" Almost all office jobs require a university degree. People who lack education have a hard time finding employment. Most people without a primary education are day laborers or rickshaw pullers. Parents will work very hard to get their children the best education they can afford. Tutoring is necessary at all levels in Bangladesh to pass tests due to overcrowding of classrooms and poor teacher standards. However, tutoring is expensive and poor people cannot afford it.
Bangladesh is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world. Islam is the state religion but provides for the right to practice the religion of one's choice. While the government generally respects this provision in practice, religion exerts a powerful influence on politics and the government is sensitive to the Muslim consciousness of its political allies and the majority of its citizens.
Religion is taught in government schools and parents can have their children taught in their own religion; however, some claim that many government-employed religious teachers of minority religions are neither members of the religion they teach nor qualified to teach it.
Although transportation may not always be available for children to attend religion classes away from school, schools with few religious minority students often work out arrangements with local churches or temples, which then direct religious studies outside of school hours.
Source: U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Nov. 8, 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51616.htm.
Bangladesh has a folk heritage influenced by animist, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim traditions. Art includes woven goods, pottery and terra cotta sculpture. Folk theater is common in villages and usually occurs during harvest time or at village fairs.
The rich tradition of music of Bangladesh can be divided into three distinct categories: classical, folk and modern.
Folk music, nurtured through the ages by village bards, is the most popular and timeless form of music in Bangladesh. Folk music is rich in devotional mysticism and lovelores. Modern Bengali music originated from two distinct schools. The first is a blend of East and West. The second, experimented with the synthesis of classical, folk and Middle Eastern musical strains, was spearheaded by the rebel poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam.
Besides the national holidays of New Year's Day, Independence Day and Christmas, Bangladesh is filled with Muslim and Hindu holidays and festivals. The Muslim festival of Shab-e-Barat is celebrated by giving alms and sweets to the poor. Hindu festivals include Durga Puja, when Hindus worship the god, Durga Puja.
Visit the Compassion blog and read about Easter in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshis enjoy playing cricket, soccer and badminton.
A typical Bangladeshi meal is spicy and consists of beef and sometimes mutton, chicken, fish or egg. Vegetables are served with lentils and plain rice.
- 2 lbs. boneless chicken
- 4 medium sized onions
- 2 inches of ginger root
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch of coriander (cilantro) leaves
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- white pepper to taste (1 tsp.)
- 1 tsp. garam masala*
- 2 eggs
- salt to taste
- onions and lemon for garnish
Mince the chicken. Grind all the ingredients together, except the eggs and salt. Mix in the eggs and salt. Shape into sausages, put on skewers and cook over a charcoal fire or in a rotisserie until tender. Garnish with onions and lemon.
* Garam masala is a blend of up to 12 spices, which may include black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, dried chilies, fennel, mace and nutmeg. This spice can be purchased at your local health food store or an Indian market.
AmAr nAM (My name is .),
Kemon Achho? (How are you?)
DhonnobAd (Thank you)
Compassion's work in Bangladesh began in 2003. Registered children are ready for sponsorship; more than 27,300 children are registered in 135 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Bangladeshi children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.