Bangladesh, officially the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a country in South Asia. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Burma (Myanmar) to the far southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south. Together with the Indian state of West Bengal, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. The name Bangladesh means “Country of Bengal” in the official Bengali language.
The borders of present-day Bangladesh were established with the partition of Bengal and India in 1947, when the region became East Pakistan, part of the newly formed nation of Pakistan. However, it was separated from the western wing by 1,600 km (994 mi) of Indian territory. Political and linguistic discrimination as well as economic neglect led to popular agitations against West Pakistan, which led to the war for independence in 1971 and the establishment of Bangladesh. After independence, the new state endured famines, natural disasters and widespread poverty, as well as political turmoil and military coups. The restoration of democracy in 1991 has been followed by relative calm and economic progress. Today, Bangladesh is a democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic. The country briefly entertained the notion of a ban on religiously-affiliated political parties, but the government rejected the Supreme Court mandate.
Bangladesh is the seventh most populous country and is among the most densely populated countries in the world with a high poverty rate. However, per-capita (inflation-adjusted) GDP has more than doubled since 1975, and the poverty rate has fallen by 20% since the early 1990s. The country is listed among the “Next Eleven” economies. Dhaka, the capital, and other urban centers have been the driving force behind this growth.
Geographically, the country straddles the fertile Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta and is subject to annual monsoon floods and cyclones. It has the longest unbroken sea beach in the world in the Cox’s Bazaar. Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with an elected parliament called the Jatiyo Sangshad. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the OIC, SAARC, BIMSTEC, and the D-8. As the World Bank notes in its July 2005 Country Brief, the country has made significant progress in human development in the areas of literacy, gender parity in schooling and reduction of population growth. However, Bangladesh continues to face a number of major challenges, including widespread political and bureaucratic corruption, economic competition relative to the world, serious overpopulation, widespread poverty, and an increasing danger of hydrologic shocks brought on by ecological vulnerability to climate change.
Reflecting the long history of the region, Bangladesh has a culture that encompasses elements both old and new. The Bengali language boasts a rich literary heritage, which Bangladesh shares with the Indian state of West Bengal. The earliest literary text in Bengali is the 8th century Charyapada. Medieval Bengali literature was often either religious (e.g. Chandidas), or adapted from other languages (e.g. Alaol). Bengali literature reached its full expression in the nineteenth century, with its greatest icons being poets Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. Bangladesh also has a long tradition in folk literature, for example Maimansingha Gitika, Thakurmar Jhuli and stories related to Gopal Bhar.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest nations, with overpopulation adding to its economic woes, and it is heavily reliant on foreign aid. The country’s economy is based on agriculture. Rice, jute, tea, wheat, sugarcane, and tobacco are the chief crops. Bangladesh is the world’s largest producer of jute. Fishing is also an important economic activity, and beef, dairy products, and poultry are also produced. Except for natural gas (found along its eastern border), limited quantities of oil (in the Bay of Bengal), coal, and some uranium, Bangladesh possesses few minerals.
Dhaka and Chittagong (the country’s chief port) are the principal industrial centers; clothing and cotton textiles, jute products, newsprint, and chemical fertilizers are manufactured, and tea is processed. In addition to clothing, jute, and jute products, exports include tea, leather, fish, and shrimp. Remittances from several million Bangladeshis working abroad are the second largest source of foreign income. Capital goods, chemicals, iron and steel, textiles, food, and petroleum products are the major imports. Western Europe, the United States, India, and China are the main trading partners.