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Peoples of Bangladesh

 

Voice of Bengali nationalism and independence

A vast majority (98 percent) of the people of Bangladesh are Bengalis and they speak the Bengali language. Minorities include Biharis numbering 250,000 and other tribes numbering about a million, with the Chakma being most numerous in number. About 83 percent of Bangladeshis are profess Islam as their religion. The next major religion is Hinduism (16 percent). Other major religions include Buddhism and Christianity.

A member of the Indo-European family of languages, Bangla (sometimes called Bengali) is the official language of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis closely identify themselves with their national language. Bangla has a rich cultural heritage in literature, music, and poetry, and at least two Bengali poets are well known in the West:
Rabindranath Tagore, a Hindu and a Nobel laureate; and Kazi Nazrul Islam, a Muslim known as the “voice of Bengali nationalism and independence.” Bangla has been enriched by several regional dialects. The dialects of Sylhet, Chittagong, and Noakhali have been strongly marked by Arab-Persian influences. English, whose cultural influence seemed to have crested by the late 1980s, remained nonetheless an important language in Bangladesh.

Biharis, a group that included Urdu-speaking non-Bengali Muslim refugees from Bihar and other parts of northern India, numbered about 1 million in 1971 but had decreased to around 600,000 by the late 1980s. They once dominated the upper levels of Bengali society. Many also held jobs on the railroads and in heavy industry. As such they stood to lose from Bangladesh independence and sided with Pakistan during the 1971 war. Hundreds of thousands of Biharis were repatriated to Pakistan after the war.

Bangladesh’s tribal population consists of about 1 million people, just fewer than 1 percent of the total population. They live primarily in the Chittagong Hills and in the regions of Mymensingh, Sylhet, and Rajshahi. The majority of the tribal population (778,425) live in rural settings, where many practice shifting cultivation. Most tribal people are of SinoTibetan descent and have distinctive Mongoloid features. They differ in their social organization, marriage customs, birth and death rites, food, and other social customs from the people of the rest of the country. They speak Tibeto-Burman languages. In the mid-1980s, the percentage distribution of tribal population by religion was Hindu 24, Buddhist 44, Christian 13, and others 19.

The four largest tribes are the Chakmas, Marmas (or Maghs), Tipperas (or Tipras), and Mros (or Moorangs). The tribes tend to intermingle and could be distinguished from one another more by differences in their dialect, dress, and customs than by tribal cohesion. Only the Chakmas and Marmas display formal tribal organization, although all groups containe distinct clans. By far the largest tribe, the Chakmas are of mixed origin but reflect more Bengali influence than any other tribe. Unlike the other tribes, the Chakmas and Marmas generally live in the highland valleys. Most Chakmas are Buddhists, but some practiced Hinduism or animism.

The country’s population is almost evenly distributed throughout its 64 districts except for the three Hill Tracts districts, which are rather sparsely inhabited. Regionally, the eastern districts have a slightly higher density than the western ones. On average, a district has a population of about 1.8 million, a thana 230,000, a union 25,000 and a village 2,000. There are 490 thanas, 4,451 unions and 59,990 villages. The number of households is about 20 million. On average, a household consists of 5.6 persons. The tribal people, who lead a simple life, are generally self-reliant, producing their own food and drinks and weaving their own clothes.
There are 4 metropolitan cities and 119 municipalities in the country. The level of urbanization is low at 20%. This leaves 80% of the country’s total population of about 120 million to live in the rural areas, which primarily depend on a poorly developed agriculture for livelihood. The capital city of Dhaka has an estimated population of 8.58 million. The annual growth rate of the population has come down to 1.75% with the acceptance of family planning practices rising to 48.7%. The crude birth rate per 1000 is 25.6 and the death rate is 8.1. Life expectancy at birth is 59.5 years. The rate of child mortality per 1000 has come down to 76.8 and that of maternal mortality to 4.5. About 96.3% families in the country have now access to safe drinking water. The sex ratio is 106 males for every 100 females. The density of population per square kilometer is 800.

Some 44.3% of the people are literate with about 5 million having passed secondary school level and another 1.27 million being graduates. The primary school enrollment rate has risen to 86% and the rate for secondary school enrollment to 33%. To intensify promotion of compulsory primary education, the food-for education programme has been extended to over 16,000 schools. More and more primary schools will be brought under this programme.

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