The population of Bangladesh is close to 160 million, making it the most densely populated country in the world, with the exception of several city-states. On a per sq km basis, it is three times more populated than Indian and seven times more populated than China. Nevertheless, what is not well known is that there are several other sizable areas in the world which are just crowded- Java (Indonesia’s principal island), for example, has a population density equal to Bangladesh’s.
Despite the density of population, rural Bangladesh is only beginning to feel crowded. There aren’t endless sprawls of depressing slums and industrial wastelands, mainly because land is too precious to sprawl over and industrial development is still fairly low. The countryside is green and lovely and the air is clean. Anyone flying from Kathmandu or Delhi will see a market visual difference in the air quality.
The country’s family planning program has been remarkably successful. Fertility rates have declined dramatically, from 6.3 births per women in 1975 to 3.4% by 1993. The average desired family size is now under three children. The average population growth rate was down to 2.3% in 1995 and was well below the economic growth rate. The use of contraceptives grew from 19% in 1981 to 45% in 1995, significantly higher than in India. Despite this successful decline in population growth, the country’s population is expected to double in another 35 to 40 years, eventually leveling off between 230 and 280 million people.
Perhaps because of their country’s bloody birth, the proud nationalism of Bangladeshis extends to their concept of themselves as a people. It seems a bit forced, but some academics here argue that Bangladeshis have always been a separate cultural and even racial unit on the subcontinent. This is some what fancifully stretched to include the tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and is used as a justification for their forced integration into the mainstream culture.
|People in Bangladesh|
It took the Aryan invaders 1000 years to tame the jungles of the Genetic plain and reach Bengal, and on the way the meat-eating warriors evolved into contemplative Hindus. It is claimed that the jungles of the delta but were not initially conquered. Here, their culture developed and, as one author put it, ‘unlike many other Dravidian tribes the bangs…were intelligent, imaginative and nomadic’. The late arrival of the by now less aggressive Brahmin culture resulted in integration with the locals, rather than conquest and outcast status as happened to other aboriginal tribes on the subcontinent.
The Bangladeshi pride in ancestry is balanced by the Islamic slant of intellectual life which tends to deny the achievements of the preceding Buddhist and Hindu cultures. The antipathy to Hinduism isn’t just religious it was the Hindu zaminders’ lifestyle of ‘wine and women’ isn’t approved of (nor is song in some fundamentalist circles), and the Tantric overtones of Buddhism are regarded as depraved.
Bangladesh has been a melting pot of peoples and culture for a very long time. Peoples from Myanmar and the Himalaya, Dravidians (the original inhabitants of the subcontinent), and the invading Aryans made up the first blend of people here. With the arrival of the Mughals, people from all over the Islamic world settled here.
The Dravidians, with their racial origins in the Deccan Plateau, are mainly Hindus and constitute about 12% of the population. The Muslims, who make up 87%, are of Dravido-Aryan origin. The original tribal people still exist, mainly in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, though they now number less than 1% of the total population. Many of the tribes have been converted to Christianity, although animism still strongly influences their beliefs and practices. The Tibet-Burmese inhabitants are mainly Buddhists and less than 1% of the population is Christian.
The Muslims and Hindus have a cultural affinity with West Bengal and speak Bangla, while the Buddhists have their own distinct culture and dialects related mainly to that of Burma and tribal culture of eastern India. Apart from the tribal people, the Christian people here mostly have Portuguese names and are usually English-speakers.
The family sticks together, even in the more westernized middle classes, and most people have a ‘home village” to which they return on weekends or holidays. This so pervasive that an unquestionable excuse for, say, your laundry not being returned on time is ‘the room boy has gone to his home village’.
The tribal population of Bangladesh numbers almost one million. They live generally in the hilly regions north of Mymensingh, the Sylhet area, and more than half a million are concentrated in the woodwd Chittagong hill Tracts. Others live in urban areas such as Chittagong and cox’sBazar.
The tribes living in the Hill Tracts of Chittagong include the Chakmas, Moghs, Mrus, Murungs, Lushais, Kukis, Bams, Tripuras, Saks, Tangchangyas, shandus, Banjugis and the Panhars. The Chakmas constitute the major tribe here, and next to them are the Moghs, who are also found in Cox’s Bazar and the Khepupara region near Patuakhali. These tribes are sometimes collectively known as Jhumias, from jhum, their method of slash-and-burn agriculture. Because vast areas of their territory now lie under the waters of Kaptai Lake, and because of land appropriation by plains settlers, their sustainable 10 year rotation of cultivation has been cut to there, which doesn’t give the forest time to regenerate properly.
The tribes in the Sylhet Hills-the Khasis, pangous and the Mnipuris – usually have their settlement on the hilly frontier area at the foot of the Khasi-Jaintia Hills. Some of them have become businesspeople and jewelers in Sylhet.
The Garos, Hanjongis, Hadis, Dahuis, Palais and the Bunas live in the hilly regions north of Mymensingh in Haluaghat, Sreebardi, Kalmaknda and the Garo Hills, and some live west of Mymensingh around the Madhupur forests.
Other tribal groups, such as the Santals, Oraons, Hus, Mundus and Rajbansis, are scattered in urban settlements in Rangpur, Dinajpur, Bogra, Rajshahi, Noakhali, Comilla and Bakerganj.
The tribes in the Mymensingh Hills were originally nomads from the eastern states of India and thise in the Chittagong Hill Tracts originate from Myanmar. The tribal groups have their own distinct culture, art, religion beliefs, superstitions, farming methods and attire. Many of the tribes are Buddhist, though some still retain their animist religion which, to some extent, has been influenced by Hinduism. Centuries ago, the offering of human sacrifices was part of the ritual of some tribes who believed that slaying another man endowed the slayer with the victim’s attributes.
Rice and wine are staple food of these hill people, but include in the tribal menu are snakes, beetles, crabs, fish, snails, pigs, dogs, buffaloes, deer, ants, and chickens. Many of the tribes influenced by Hinduism, along with the Chakmas, Moghs and Marmas who are Buddhist, cremate their dead. Others, such as the Khasis, bury their dead and place headstones on their graves.
The dwellings of the hill people are susally bamboo huts, either on stilts or flat on the ground, and their farming methods are ancient. Some still retain curious traditional customs such as the stone-lifting ceremony of the Khasis, which may have originated from Tibet or even the northern mountain areas of Pakistan.
Many of the tribes still have very little contact with the outside world, but as modern civilization begins to encroach on their territories, more and more of the younger villagers are moving to the urbanareas for employment. The Chakmas, for instance, now make saris and tribal jewellery and have established or joined weaving industries. They have begun to accept western education and clothing, and even use western medicine in lieu of herbs and mantras.
Within the broad racial group of the plains people who make up the vast majority of Bangladesh are subgroups who, although apparently integrated into the culture, continue to live strikingly different lives. The Baurs, for example, are wandering beggars whose sexual freedom is abhorred by the mainstream, but they are good musicians and are welcomed at wedding and parties.