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Bangladesh wear shirts and pants. City dwellers may wear shoes or sandals. Hindus will traditionally wear the dhoti for religious purposes.

Bangala (also called Bengali) is the official language. Some English is also spoken. There are a total of 46 different languages.

more than one wife. The men in a Muslim family have far more authority and freedom than the women have. Many Muslim women avoid social contact with men who do not belong to their family, and they participate in few activities outside the home. In addition, they cover their heads with veils in the presence of strangers. The Hindus are divided into various social classes, called castes. Each caste observes its own customs and rules of behavior. Cast regulations limit the extent to which members of one caste may associate with members of another caste. Hindu parents also arrange their children’s marriages. Intermarriage between castes is rare. Hindu women have more social freedom than Muslim women do, though Hindu women have few legal rights.




Few Bangladeshis have much variety in their meals. Rice and fish are the two most important foods. They are usually served together in a spicy curry sauce. Tea sweetened with sugar is a popular beverage, though some people drink only water most of the time.


The literacy rate is low at 41 percent. A free, compulsory education is available for primary school grades 1 through 5, but only 55 percent enrolled in first grade will finish their primary education. Despite the important effort that Bangladesh has made in the past to improve their educational system, it is still one of the countries with the highest dropout rates. The most common reasons some children do not start school when they reach school age, or leave school before they finish primary school, is the prioritization of economic activities, family obligations, child marriages, or just the physical impossibility of accessing a school.


Religion affects much in the lives of most Bangladeshis, including food, marriage customs, and family relationships. A secular state from 1971 to 1987, Islam became the state religion in 1988. Officially there is religious freedom, but this is being steadily eroded by Islamist pressure and a legal system lacking safeguards for ethnic or religious minorities. About 89 percent of the population is Muslim, with 9 percent Hindu, .66 percent Christian, and .60 percent Buddhist, along with various other religions. The laws of Islam, the Muslim religion, forbid the eating of pork. Most Muslim parents arrange marriages for their children. A Muslim man may have up to four wives at a time. However, most Muslim men in Bangladesh are too poor to have

Among the world’s poorest nations, Bangladesh suffers from gross over-population and periodic natural disasters, with enormous loss of life and property. Major sources of income are agriculture, textiles, clothing, jute, and funds sent home from Bangladeshis working abroad. Nearly half the population lives on less than a $1/day. In addition, landless peasants have a continuous challenge to find alternative sources of employment. Poverty is endemic and seems impossible to overcome, but some progress is being made. The economy has grown 5 to 6 percent per year since 1996, despite political instability, poor infrastructure, corruption, insufficient power supplies, and slow implementation of economic reforms. Bangladesh remains a poor and overpopulated nation. Information obtained from the CIA website and Operation World

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The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a sovereign state located in South Asia. It is bordered by India and Burma and by the Bay of Bengal to the south.

Size and Population

Bangladesh has the eighth largest population in the world at approximately 164 million. The size of its land area is 55, 813 square miles, which is slightly smaller than the state of Iowa.

Geographical Features

Almost all of Bangladesh consists of a flat, low-lying alluvial plain (land formed from soil deposited by rivers). Most of the country lies less than 50 feet above sea level. The far northeast and southeast corners of Bangladesh have many hills. Three major rivers—the Brahmaputra, the Ganges, and the Meghna—flow through the flat plains that cover most of Bangladesh. These rivers and their branches overflow during the rainy season and deposit fertile soil along their banks. The soil deposits that have built up at the mouths of the rivers form the broad Ganges Delta. Deep inlets mark the jagged coastline of the country, and small islands dot the off-shore delta area. Bamboo and trees such as mango, palm, and tamarind grow throughout most of Bangladesh. But the most valuable forest resources are in the Chittagong Hills in southeastern Bangladesh, and in the Sundarbans in the southwest. Teak is an important product of the Chittagong Hills forests. The Sundarbans is a swampy region covered by mangrove trees and other tropical plants. Bengal tigers live in this area. Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, Bangladesh has a tropical monsoon climate and the temperature varies little from one part of the country to another. Temperatures average about 82 degrees F. in April, the hottest month in most parts of the country. January, the coldest month, has an average temperature of 64 degrees F. Natural disasters, such as floods, tornadoes, and tidal bores affect the country yearly. About a third of this extremely poor country floods annually during the monsoon rainy season, hampering economic development. Bangladesh also is affected by major cyclones, on average 16 times a decade.


The capital city of Bangladesh is Dhaka, with a population of approximately 14.6 million.

Historical Influences

Ancient Hindu epics suggest that thousands of years ago, tribal people inhabited a kingdom called Vanga in the region that is now Bangladesh. This area has a rich historical and cultural past, due to the repeated influx of varied peoples, bringing with them the Dravidian, Indo-Aryan, Mongol-Mughul, Arab, Persian, Turkic, and European cultures. Buddhist culture spread throughout the region during the mid-700s, followed by Hindu and Mongol rulers. Portuguese traders and missionaries reached Bengal in the latter part of the 15th century, and Europeans began to set up trading posts in the area of Bangladesh in the 16th century. They were followed by representatives of the Dutch, the French, and the British East India companies. In 1859, the British Crown replaced the East India Company, extending British dominion from Bengal in the east to the Indus River in the West. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Muslim and Hindu leaders sought a greater degree of independence, leading to two decades of bitter inter-communal conflict. After World War II the British Crown granted independence to India and Pakistan, Bangladesh becoming part of the bifurcated Muslim nation of Pakistan. War between India and Pakistan in 1971 led to the formation of Bangladesh as an independent country with a constitution created in 1972.

what are now Myanmar, Tibet, and northern India. The term Bangladeshis refers to all the 399 ethnic groups/cultures/castes of Bangladesh. Muslims and Hindus have distinct cultures and dialects. Bangladesh’s population consists of approximately 94 percent Bengalis, (a short, dark-skinned people); 2 percent Urdu Muslims; 2.6 percent from some other South Asian nationalities, and 1.1 percent from numerous groups (Tibetan/Himalayan peoples, other Asians, Westerners). At present approximately 32 percent of the population is less than 15 years of age. The urban population grows at a rate of 3.1 percent annually, and presently accounts for 28 percent of the population. Most families in the cities and towns must live crowded together in small wooden houses. Some wealthy city families have large brick or concrete homes. In urban slums, the houses are built of cardboard, scraps of wood, or sticks. Most Hindus and members of other minority groups live together in distinct neighborhoods. Many of the people do not have enough food to eat. Although food production has increased since the mid-1970s, the nation neither raises nor imports enough to feed its large population. Those in the country farm the land with simple tools and ancient methods, much as their ancestors did many years ago.



Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy which includes a president, a cabinet, and a parliament. The president holds a largely ceremonial post; the real power is held by the prime minister, who is head of government. The president is elected by the National Parliament for a five-year term. The parliament of 345 members makes the country’s laws. Bangladesh’s political parties are the Awami League (AL); Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB); Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP); Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh (BDB); Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ); Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JIB); Jatiya Party (JP); and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Everyone over the age of 18 may vote.

People and Society

Most of the people are descendants of peoples who migrated to the area thousands of years ago from

Food shortages and unsanitary living conditions in Bangladesh contribute to high risk for infectious diseases--cholera, tuberculosis, typhoid, and other diseases. Mosquitoes that spread malaria thrive in the nation’s swampy regions. Malaria kills thousands of Bangladeshis annually. Bangladesh has a serious shortage of doctors, nurses, hospitals, and medical supplies.


People throughout Bangladesh wear loose, lightweight clothing because of the warm, humid climate. Bangladeshi women usually wear saris, a long piece of plain or printed cloth wrapped around the waist and draped over one shoulder. Women will traditionally wear their hair in a twisted bun, which is called the “Beni style”. The dhoti, worn by Hindu men, is a piece of cloth wrapped around the waist and between the legs. These days most men of


Short brochure about the history, people and religion of Bangladesh