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History of Bangladesh

Although people have lived in what is today known as Bangladesh for thousands of years and there has been a fairly organized governmental system in the region since at least 700 BC. At that time the region seems to have been divided by the Vanga people, Pundra people, and the Suhma people, all of whom appear to be related to the modern day people in Bangladesh and India.

By about 550 BC the Vanga people had created a fairly complex culture as trade and transportation flourished under their rule. These people settled in various regions, including what is today Sri Lanka and Thailand. Like earlier empires though, this one too later fell and about 200 years later the Gangaridai Empire rose to fame and power, but again this kingdom only lasted for a few centuries as well.

Over the next few hundred years empires came and went. The Indian Gupta Empire ruled over much of the region in the 400s, then the local Shashanka Empire ruled in the 600s, then in the mid-700s came the Pala Empire. This Buddhist rule eventually took control over all of modern day Bangladesh and proved to be incredibly stable from this point until the early 1100s. Its borders also extended well beyond modern day Bangladesh as it reached as far as Afghanistan in the west at its peak.

In the later 1100s the Sena rulers came in; they brought with the caste system and re-introduced Hinduism, but this rule was short lived as in the same century the Sufi were also arriving, bringing with them the Islam religion. This push by the Muslims continued until they finally took the majority of the region over in the late 1200s. These Muslim rulers, the Mughals were successful in converting most of the population to Islam, but there were small regions that remained primarily Hindi as many people regularly rebelled.

Bangladesh's resistance movements were most pronounced in the late 1300s and 1400s when the people slowly gained control over lands that the Mughals held from Delhi (in India). However the shift from dynasty to dynasty continued as kingdom after kingdom rose and fell, many of which switched from Hindi to Islam. During much of this time the rulers were local people, however in 1538 this ended when the Pashtuns from Afghanistan arrived to take power. Like earlier rulers though, the Pashtuns only lasted about 50 years, before the Mughals again took over in 1576.

Under this stretch of Mughal rule the capital was moved to Dhaka and the people began a strong independent identity, as they fell a great distance from the capital, but for the most part didn't fight this rule and converted to Islam in larger numbers. This was a time of relative peace in Bangladesh as the people focused on their culture and language as defining factors of who they are.

Mughal lasted over a century, not ending until 1717 when local Nawabs took power. These new rulers were also Muslim, continuing in the Mughal tradition. Various related dynasties ruled in this manner until 1880. It was under these rulers that the British officially took control in Bangladesh in 1757.

Under British rule, Calcutta became a huge port that greatly benefited the economic situation in the region, including Bangladesh, as the Indian city sits on the Bengali-Indian border. Under this foreign rule, Bangladesh was just one of many provinces that were a part of British India. Bangladesh though was a very significant and powerful province, partially due to its location next to the British capital city of Calcutta.

Although Bangladesh prospered in many ways under British rule, the people sought independence as did many of their neighboring Indians. Throughout British India (which included present day Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan), independence movements arose during the late 1800s and continued into the 1900s.

Independence demands by the people of British India were divided. Some sought a single country once free, while others wanted a number of countries determined by religion, most notably the Muslims, who feared Hindu domination in a shared state. In 1947 the country was given independence in the form of India and Pakistan, with modern day Bangladesh making up a part of Pakistan, then called "East Pakistan."

From the time of independence few issues seemed to be resolved as disagreements were rampant among the people of Bangladesh as well as issues with the central Pakistan government, which was incredibly far away. Among these issues, the central Pakistan government wouldn't recognize Bengali as an official language (with the Pakistani language of Urdu being the only official language at the time). This, among numerous other cultural-political issues led to the Bengalis demanding independence from Pakistan.

In 1970, after gaining nearly full local support for independence, Pakistan still refused to grant Bangladesh independence, leading to the presence of more Pakistani troops in Bangladesh to prevent violence and war, while the Bengalis escalated their independence demands in the form of speeches, rallies, and acts of defiance. India stepped in in December of 1971 in order to assist the Bengalis, as they had strained relations with Pakistan's central government. With this assistance, Bangladesh gained independence in 1971.

Immediately after independence little progress took place in Bangladesh as the economy struggled and the government was riddled with coups or assassinations through the early 1980s, when the military took control of the government. After they nominally released this power politics settled, although corruption in these elections seemed to continue as many opposition parties claimed that the military still ruled the country.

Since this time numerous parties have regularly boycotted elections with the belief that they are unfair and rigged, but in 1996 international observers claimed the elections, for the first time in Bangladesh were free and fair. This led to greater political involvement, but protests and election boycotts by numerous parties has continued to the present.

Since about 2000 Islamic extremists have also made headway in Bangladesh, but with little support. This has only encouraged more political instability in the country, which still seems to undergo a coup or protest annually.

This page was last updated: March, 2013