Useful Notes / Bangladesh

The country that inspired the Concert For Bangla Desh. The reasons for this concert were less cool than the concert, though.

Bangladesh (Bengali: বাংলাদেশ), officially known as the People's Republic of Bangladesh (Bengali: গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী বাংলাদেশ Gônôprôjātôntrī Bāṅlādeś), (Harrison wrote it separately since that was how it was spelt at the time, but itís only one word) can be considered the Crapsack World of South Asia and rightly so, having endured some of the worst stuff nature and humanity has to throw to us.

Bangladesh's history is a complex weaving of ethnicity and religion. The Bengali people have lived in Bengal, in the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, in the fertile valley and delta of the Ganges River, since the 7th century CE, and have shared a common (if changing) language and culture ever since. Starting in the twelfth century, Islam spread among the Bengali people (first spread by Sufi missionaries, and later encouraged by various Muslim dynasties), predominantly in the eastern region; the western region remained predominantly Hindu, but a common Bengali identity was still recognized by Muslim and Hindu Bengalis alike. Indeed, when, in 1905, the British authorities decided it would be a good idea to split Bengal, previously a single unit, into predominantly-Muslim East Bengal and predominantly-Hindu West Bengal (the idea being to distract the Bengalis from the Indian independence movement, in which they were quite active, by stoking religious division), the Bengalis in both regions and of both religions protested vehemently and forced the reunification of Bengal within six years. (From this episode, Bangladesh got its national anthem, "Amar Sonar Bangla", written by the Hindu Bengali poet—and eventual first non-white Nobel laureate—Rabindranath Tagore to protest the division; Tagore incidentally also wrote "Jana Gana Mana", which ended up the national anthem of independent India, and yes, it's in Bengali).

However, upon the end of British rule, the political decision was that predominantly Muslim regions of the now-former British India would be assigned to a new majority-Muslim country, and predominantly Hindu ones to the newly-independent India. Bengal was therefore partitioned—again—into predominantly-Hindu West Bengal (which was assigned to India), and predominantly-Muslim East Bengal, which along with the northwestern provinces of British India became the new country of Pakistan. Bangladesh became East Pakistan, separated geographically from West Pakistan by... all of India. This awkward federation was off to a bad start from the beginning when the West imposed Urdu as the official language of Pakistan, which irked the Bengali-speaking population of the East, which was also the more populous of the two Pakistans. Not only that, but all political, martial and economic power was located in the West, leaving the East powerless and relatively expendable, as was made clear in 1965 when Pakistan's then-dictator, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, declared that "the best defense of East Pakistan laid in West Pakistan".

Obviously that didnít do too well with the Bengalis, and they began demanding autonomy by requesting that Pakistan become a loose confederation rather than the unitary republic that it was at the time. After a great deal of negotiation, this was agreed to and in 1970, the general elections put the pro-Bengali Awami League in power. The West did not accept the result, however, and soon Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Awami League, was arrested. And as if that's not enough, a typhoon hit the country around the same time. Angered by political betrayal as well as Islamabad's incompetent relief efforts, resulting in hundreds of thousands of flood deaths, a popular movement seeking complete autonomy from West Pakistan gained momentum. In retaliation, West Pakistan cracked down on East Pakistan in an infamous attack on the capital city, Dhaka and other centers of population. The Pakistani Army rolled into the city and began massacring people by the thousands, key target the army and police headquarters and the campus of the University of Dhaka, a focal point of political activity. East Pakistan declared independence in response and became Bangladesh, striking off the Liberation War of 1971. The Pakistani Army began a reign of terror and tried to paint the conflict as a religious one, targeting religious minorities. A mass exodus of refugees uprooted by Pakistani atrocities began, moving towards the neighboring Indian province of West Bengal.

India, fearing a mass influx of Bengalis into West Bengal, but also for humanitarian and strategic reasons, originally provided shelter for many refugees and training camps for Bengali guerrilla troops, the Mukti Bahini (literally, Freedom Fighters). Towards the end of 1971, India entered the war in force, with Indian forces joining in with the Bangladeshi troops. Often the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 (which had a front on the western borders of India and Pakistan) and the Bangladesh Liberation War are conflated, some believing that India fought the war for Bangladesh. As it stands, India supported the Bangladeshi efforts with equipment and a safe location for the majority of the war, only committing their military forces when the international situation demanded it, some seven months after the War had started.

On the 16th of December, Bangladesh won the War, with the surrender of the Pakistani troops to General Osmani and Aurora, of the Bangladesh and Indian Armies respectively.

In the newly independent state, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was its founder as well as first President. He ruled for the first few years but was soon deposed in a military coup that led to his death. Two counter-coups later, General Ziaur Rahman (no relation to Mujib) became the military ruler of Bangladesh, a position he held from 1976 to 1981 before he too was assassinated. The military continued its control over the state until the 1990s, when the widow of General Rahman and the daughter of Mujib became the leaders of the two largest parties in the country, setting up a rivalry that continues to the present.

Despite the official name, the country is not a People's Republic of Tyranny. It is widely recognized as a functional democratic republic, though a flawed one, with a history of coups in the past and some elections having had walkovers because major parties boycotted them.

Bangladesh is rather poor (but not so poor now, the UN says that it is a lower-middle class state, unlike its rival Pakistan which is still down there with the lower-class countries) and fairly corrupt. It also has a ridiculously high population for its size - 164 million and counting, making it the world's most densely peopled region and the 7th most populous country! (that's more people than Russia.) However, it has been making strides as of late and now seems to be better off in many respects from Pakistan. For one thing, it has become a favored country for cheap manufacturing especially by western clothing companies, but because of extremely low wages considering any union organizing is viciously attacked. Furthermore, work and safety standards are dangerously lax with no meaningful enforcement that contributed to tragedies like the 2013 factory collapse that forced some Western consumers to ponder the true price at the cheap goods made there.

It lies at the intersection of two of the world's great rivers, the Ganga and Brahmaputra, which create a lush, very fertile delta. This rich farmland supports said huge population, but at the same time it is also very flat and has a low elevation, making it highly vulnerable to cyclones and floods. The only region that escapes these situations is the Chittagong Hill Tracts, located to the southeast, which is higher and rugged than the rest and thus more sparsely populated. Their indigenous populations are very different from the Bengalis and have more in common with peoples of Southeast Asia; they even adopted as their faith Theravada Buddhism, which is mostly extinct in the Indian subcontinent. There are several conflicts and insurgencies regarding their rights and displacement due to Bengali immigration, though by the turn of the millenium these have largely disappeared.

Bangladesh also boasts a history as one of India's artistic and cultural hotspots, though it shares that honor with neighboring West Bengal (the two were one region, Bengal, before Partition). As noted above, Jana Gana Mana was originally written in Bengali. Bengalis as a whole are very protective of their culture and language, transcending religion; while most Muslims of the Indian subcontinent have mostly switched to using Arabic script to write Indian languages, Muslim Bengalis continue to write with the native Bengali script. In fact, part of the reason for the 1971 Liberation War was to safeguard the indigenous heritage of Bengal, up to and including the removal of the Arabic-descended Urdu script. This dedicated struggle was the reason UNESCO established International Mother Language Day every February 21, starting in 2000.

As an interesting fact the border region with West Bengal is somewhat... confusing. In an arrangement dating back to the Princely states there are sections of Bangladesh surrounded entirely in West Bengal and parts of West Bengal entirely in Bangladesh. To make matters more confusing these enclaves can have enclaves within them. It gets so bad there are parts of Bangladesh, inside part of India, inside part of Bangladesh, inside India. Given that this causes problems for people living in these areas the two governments (as of late 2011) have decided to abolish these areas completely and allow those living there to either change citizenship or be given funds to relocate. The treaty putting most of this into effect was ratified in June 2015.

The Bangladeshi flag
The green field stands for the lush greenery of Bangladesh, while the solar disc, slightly placed towards the hoist side so it would appear centered when flying, is stained red with the blood of its freedom fighters.