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Urbanization In Bangladesh: Historical Development and Contemporary Crisis

Author(s): Robert V. Kemper

Source: Urban Anthropology and Studies of Cultural Systems and World Economic Development,
Vol. 18, No. 3/4, Anthropological Research in Bangladesh: Studies of Households, Land, and
Subsistence in the Countrysideand City (FALL-WINTER, 1989), pp. 365-392
Published by: Institute, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40553169
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Urbanization In Bangladesh:
Historical Development
and ContemporaryCrisis

Robert V. Kemper
Departmentof Anthropology
Southern MethodistUniversity

ABSTRACT: In thispaper we examine the historicaldevelopmentof the

urban system in Bangladesh, compare its contemporaryfeatures with
those of otherAsian nations,and consider regionaldifferentiation within
the Bangladeshi urban system.We give special attentionto problemsof
urban povertyand discuss the research agenda of local and foreign
social scientistsinterestedin issues of urban and societal integrationin
Bangladesh. We conclude thatthe demographic,social, and economic
profileof contemporaryBangladesh has no parallel in Asia or in the
world beyond. In sum, Bangladesh, as a product of several hundred
years of participationin a global system beyond its control,demon-
strates a distinctiveformof the contemporaryurban crisis in South


Duringthe 1980s analyses of urbanizationhave been increasingly

focused on the linkages between local structuresand internationalpoliti-
cal-economic processes. Whetherunderthe guise of historical-structural-
ism (Kemper and Royce 1979), worldsystems theory(Rollwagen 1979),
or a comprehensive understandingof formsof urban integration(Leeds
1979), anthropologistshave called fora more sophisticatedappreciation
of the diversityof urban experiences in the contemporaryworld. Most of
the research carriedout to date has, perhaps understandably,given pri-
maryattentionto those countriesand cities which have shown dramatic
growthand development.Thus, we know much more about nations like
Mexico,Brazil,Egypt,and Nigeria- and majorcities likeMexico City,Sao
ISSN 0894-6019,© 1989 The Institute,

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366 URBANANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

Paulo, Cairo, and Lagos - thanwe do about the poorest, least urbanized
regions of the world.In the presentpaper we address this imbalance by
consideringurbanizationin Bangladesh.
In thispaper we discuss the historicaldevelopmentof the urban sys-
tem in Bangladesh and then compare its contemporarycircumstances
withthose of otherAsian nations.In addition,we consider regionaldiffer-
entiationwithinthe Bangladeshi urban system in the lightof its specific
formsof specialization - includingpatternsof nucleation of localities,
components of technologyand labor, and centralizationof institutions
(Leeds 1979:229). We conclude by consideringthe implicationsof the
research agenda of local and foreignsocial scientists concerned with
problemsof urbanand societal integration in Bangladesh.

Historical Background

The urban system in the region now called Bangladesh emerged

froma long process of settlementof diverse peoples in the vast delta
area dominated by the Jamuna-Brahmaputra,Padma (Ganges), and
Meghna rivers.The earlyAryantravelerswho settledon thistranquilplain,
as evidenced by archaeological sites like Pundranagar(Mahasthangarh)
in the districtof Bogra or Lakhanawati (Gaur) in the districtof Rajshahi,
were followed by Mongolians who came to the region after passing
throughTibet and Burma. Subsequently, Arabs, Persians, Turks, and
Afghanspassed throughthe delta regionon routes of conquest through
south Asia.

The Mughal Period

The arrivalofthe armiesand bureaucratsof Islam markeda new era in

the development of the urban system. The Muslim leader Mohammed
Khiljicaptured Bengal in 1199 and the delta regioncame undercontrolof
the Sultanate of Delhi. Bengali effortsto become regionallyindependent
withinthe Mughal Empire were eventually successful; in 1339 their
leader, Mohammed llyas Shah, took the titleof Shah-e-Bangladesh.
Subsequently, the area came under the influence of such powerful
Mughal leaders as Babur the Tiger (who had defeated the Sultanate of
Delhi in 1526) and his grandson,Akbar(r. 1556-1605).
Duringthe reignof Akbar'sson, Jahangir(r. 1605-1627), the Imperial
Viceroysof Bengal foundedthe cityof Dhaka (formerly writtenDacca) as
the seat of governmentforthe regionin 1608. Duringthis period a sub-
stantial number of town dwellers were Muslims. The religious leaders

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knownas the "ulema" operated mosques and schools fromtowns such

as Dhaka, but their influencewas limitedin a countrysidepopulated
mainly by Hindu and Buddhist peasants. Occupational and religious
groups enjoyed considerable autonomyin Bengali towns.
By the earlysixteenthcentury,the Portuguese had established ports
oftrade on the west coast of India and also triedto establish settlements
in Bengal. Bengali oppositionto foreigneconomic intervention was suf-
ficientso thatthe Portuguese were ousted fromtheirfootholdin the re-
gion in 1633. The early attemptsby the British(throughthe East India
Company) to settle in the delta regionwere also rebuffedin the 1680s.
Subsequently, the Britishwere able to establish a trading'factory1at
Calcutta,fromwhichbase RobertClive (1725-1774) led the conquest of
Bengal, commonlymarked by the Britishsuccess against French and
Mughaltroops at the Battleof Plassey on 23 June 1757.

The BritishColonial Period: 1757 - 1947

The BritishcontrolledBengal and the rest of the Indian subcontinent

firstthroughthe facilitiesof the BritishEast India Company and subse-
quentlythroughdirectcolonial rule. By the early nineteenthcentury,the
Britishhad discovered thatthe local opium crop could be used to forge
highlyprofitabletrade links with China. Her Majesty's representative,
Governor Warren Hastings, took full advantage of the situation and
greatlyenhanced the Britishtreasuryin the process. The opium trade
also led to a series of wars with China which resulted in substantial
European penetrationintothe formerlyrestrictedChinese market- in-
cludingthe establishmentof a major Britishcolony at Hong Kong and
significantexpansion of the tea trade.
Duringthe 190 years of Britishadministration, Dhaka lost importance
as a regional urban center in favorof Calcutta, whichwas located along
the Hooghli rivernear the Indian Ocean, about 200 miles to the south-
west of Dhaka. OtherBengali regionalcenters of trade and commerce -
such as Chittagong, Khulna, Narayanganj, Rajshahi, Rangpur, and
Jessore - also became more dependent on Calcutta for the flow of
goods to and fromthe outside world.Accordingto Chaudhury(1980:4-
5), "The relativelylow urbanizationduringthe BritishPeriod may be at-
tributedto deliberate policy of the colonial government to destroy
indigenous industriesand to build up massive industrial-commercial ag-
glomerationaround Calcutta (India), which virtually turnedthe whole of
Bangladesh intoits hinterland."
In general,the area was subsumed intothe British-controlled colonial
hierarchy withthe expectation thattax revenues previously collected on

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368 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

behalf of the Mughal Viceroys would be redirected to Calcutta and

thence to London.
Furthermore, as Harris (in this volume) has argued, "The Permanent
Settlement of 1793 ... affected the traditional agrarian structure of the
region by legislating land rights into a class of 'owners' and a class of
'workers.'... [This] led to the transformationfroma tributaryto a semi-capi-
talist mode of production."
The regional system of localities continued to be focused on subsis-
tence needs and export crops (e.g., opium, jute, rice) throughout the
period of Britishcolonial rule untilafterWorld War II. As a result of the de-
cline in Britain's abilityto sustain a global empire and the emergence of
movements for Indian independence, the subcontinent was formallypar-
titioned in 1947. India became the centerpiece nation, with West
Pakistan and East Pakistan emerging as a second, geographically divided

From Partitionto the War of Liberation: 1947 - 1971

The Partition divided the region of Bengal along religious lines so

that the Muslim areas would fall mainly into East Pakistan, to be adminis-
tered through Dhaka, while the mostly Hindu areas would fall into West
Bengal, administered through Calcutta. Afterpartition,the people of East
Pakistan found themselves stilldependent on external powers - now lo-
cated in West Pakistan instead of England - fortheir economic and politi-
cal affairs.The migrationof large numbers of Muslim and Hindu families in
opposite directions across the new border with India also disrupted the
social lifein communities large and small throughoutthe region.
As Yeo (1984:20) has remarked, "Both parts of the new state were
predominantly Muslim - but they had littleelse in common. It was rather
like unitingEire and Austria on the grounds that both are Roman Catholic.
The people of Western Pakistan spoke Pushtu, Punjabi, Sindhi, and
Urdu; the people of Eastern Pakistan spoke only Bengali. The
Westerners ate meat and wheat, the Easterners ate rice and fish....
Eastern Pakistan had the bulk of the population and produced most of
the cash crops, but the country was run from Western Pakistan which
tended to monopolize aid money and other revenues. When the
Pakistani Government tried to make Urdu the national language in 1952,
there were riotsin Dhaka.... Democracy gave way to martiallaw and military
The failure of the Pakistani government to provide its eastern wing
with adequate political representation, combined with a mixtureof popu-
lation growth and economic stagnation, proved fatal to the alliance. A pe-

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and civilwar brokeout on 25 March 1971 and culmi-

riodof brutalfighting
nated in the surrenderof the forces of West Pakistan to a joint Bengali-
Indianforceon 16 December ofthe same year.

The NationalPeriod: Two Decades of ExternalDependence

The War of Liberationled to the creation of the independent and

sovereign nation of Bangladesh, which emerged fromthe struggle as
nations in the
one ofthe poorest, most populous, and least self-sufficient
world.The war leftthe country'seconomy ruins,communicationstotally
disrupted,and the educated classes decimated by the genocidal attacks
of the Pakistaniforces. More than 3,000,000 civilianswere killedin less
than a year's fighting,some 30,000,000 were leftmore impoverished
than ever, and another 10,000,000 fled the countryas refugees (Yeo
1984:22). Internationalaid programscame to the rescue of the people of
Bangladesh inthose earlyyears -- highlighted by the famous "Concertfor
Bangladesh" led by the Beatles.
The new nationof Bangladesh soon became a member of the non-
aligned group withinthe United Nations, even serving on the Security
Council. Italso has become a memberofthe Commonwealthof Nations,a
memberofthe Organizationof IslamicCountries,and a foundingmember
of the seven-nationSouth Asian Association forRegional Co-operation,
formally launched in December 1985 at a conferenceheld in Dhaka.
In sum, the historyof the delta region now identifiedas the The
People's Republic of Bangladesh has long been tied to externalpolitical
and economic forces. WhetherHindu, Muslim,or European, these for-
eign powers have been dominant intermediariesin the process of its
economic exploitationand politicaldevelopment.The distinctivecharac-
ter of the contemporaryurban system in Bangladesh is derived from
these centuries of dependency and the struggles against external

Bangladesh in Comparative Perspective

Bangladesh is unique among the world's nations forits combination

of high population (est. 112,823,000 in 1989), high population density
(1,978 persons per square mile),and low level of Gross National Product
per capita ($161 U.S.). On the firstof these importantindicatorsit ranks
9th,followingChina, India,USSR, USA, Indonesia, Brazil,and Nigeria;on
the second indicator,it ranks 7th, trailingonly the "island" nations of
Macau, Monaco, Hong Kong,Singapore, Malta,and Bermuda; on the last

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370 URBANANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

indicator,it is tied for 5th fromthe bottomwith Nepal, ahead of only

Ethiopia, Bhutan, Guinea-Bissau, and Zaire (PC Globe, version 3.0,
On a regionalbasis, Bangladesh can be compared withotherAsian
countriesin orderto assess itsdemographic,economic, and social char-
acteristics.Table 1 provides comparativedata on fivepopulationindica-
torsforBangladesh and 21 otherAsian nations.These countriesrange in
populationfor1989 froma low of just 344,000 (Brunei)to 1,101,662,000
(China). Currently, Bangladesh holds the 5th positionin total population
among these Asian countries,but is projectedto pass Japan by the year
2000 to move into4th place. Its annual average populationgrowthrate
(2.60%/yr.)is among the highestin Asia, trailingonly Brunei,Mongolia,
Pakistan, and the Philippines.Furthermore, ithas a veryhighpopulation
density, even by Asian standards, with only "island" nations showing
higher values.

TABLE 1 . Comparisonof Selected PopulationData forBangladesh and OtherAsian Countries

Country Population Population Population Annual Population

1975 1989 2000 Population Density
(1,000s) (1,000s) (1,000s) Growth (/sq.mile)

BANGLADESH 78^961 112,823 149,629 Z6Õ 1^978

Brunei 162 344 855 8.62 142
Burma 30,170 40,444 50,560 2.05 152
Cambodia 8,110 6,836 8,732 225 96
China 895,339 1,101,662 1,261,601 1.24 294
Hong Kong 4,396 5,710 6,405 1.05 14,073
India 600,763 833,246 ,037,154 2.01 644
Indonesia 135,230 187,623 232,281 1.96 248
Japan 111,573 123,190 129,569 0.46 853
Laos 3,303 3,935 5,005 221 42
Malaysia 11,900 16,723 20,748 1.98 129
Mongolia 1,444 2,125 2,867 2.76 3
Nepal 12,587 18,694 24,318 2.42 336
NorthKorea 15,852 22,516 29,290 2.42 472
Pakistan 70,260 110,369 147,952 2.70 346
Philippines 42,071 64,886 86,703 2.67 546
Singapore 2,250 2,674 3,013 1.09 11,811
South Korea 35,281 43,343 50,121 1.33 1,125
Sri Lanka 13,514 16,868 19,591 1.37 657
Taiwan 17,263 20,232 22,919 1.14 1,440
Thailand 41,869 55,517 66,828 1.70 275
Vietnam 46,546 66,802 87,461 2.48 512

Source: PopulationReferenceBureau statistics.

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Additional comparative demographic data are presented in Table 2.

Bangladesh has the highest crude birthrate (43.3 per 1,000), is tied with
Nepal forthe second highest crude death rate (16.6 per 1 ,000), and has
the highest infant mortality (135.0 per 1,000). The life expectancy for
males (50 years) is among the lowest in Asia, trailing only Cambodia,
Laos, and Nepal, while the life expectancy forfemales (52 years) has an
identical rankingvis-a-vis these same countries.

TABLE 2. Comparison of Selected Demographic Data forBangladesh and other

Asian Countries

Country Crude Crude Infant Life Life

Birth Death Mortality Expectancy Expectancy
Rate Rate
(/1.000) (/1.000) (/1.000) (male) (female)

BANGLADESH 43.3 16.6 135.0 50 52

Brunei 30.6 3.2 11.0 74 74
Burma 34.2 13.4 103.0 57 61
Cambodia 39.8 17.2 134.0 42 45
China 21.0 7.0 44.3 68 68
Hong Kong 13.0 4.7 7.7 75 75
India 32.6 12.6 104.0 55 55
Indonesia 27.4 10.0 88.0 54 54
Japan 11.4 6.2 5.2 75 80
Laos 40.8 15.7 122.0 42 45
Malaysia 30.9 6.5 30.0 68 73
Mongolia 37.4 11.2 53.0 63 63
Nepal 41.6 16.6 112.0 47 46
NorthKorea 30.5 6.0 33.0 63 67
Pakistan 43.2 14.5 121.0 52 50
Philippines 34.8 6.9 51.0 61 65
Singapore 14.8 5.0 9.4 70 75
South Korea 19.4 6.1 30.0 64 71
Sri Lanka 24.3 6.2 30.5 68 72
Taiwan 15.9 4.9 6.9 70 75
Thailand 28.8 8.0 51.5 62 66
Vietnam 33.7 8.1 53.1 62 66

Source: PopulationReferenceBureau statistics.

Bangladesh also suffers in comparison with other Asian nations in

economic and educational terms. Despite its large population,
Bangladesh currently has a Gross National Product of only
$18,538,000,000, which places it only 14th among the twenty-twoAsian
nations included in Table 3. On a per capita basis, Bangladesh is tied with

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372 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

Nepal forthe lowest GNP at $161 per person, followedclosely by Laos

and Vietnam.Its annual GNP growthrate suggests thatthissituationmay
be slowlyimproving.At 4.5% per annum,it rests in 10th positionamong
the expanding economies of Asia, but itwilltake manydecades of dou-
ble-digiteconomic expansion to bringBangladesh even to an average
positionon these economic indicators.
The same situationapplies to the literacyrate,whichmay be used as
a simple measure of educational achievement.Atjust 29%, Bangladesh
onlybettersNepal among all Asian nations and itfalls farshortof these
nations in providingthe educational infrastructurethatwould improveits
low positionin the near future.

TABLE 3. Comparison of Selected Socio-economic Data forBangladesh and

otherAsian Countries

Country Urbani- Literacy GNP GNP GNP

zation Rate 1989 Growth per
(%) (%) (millions (%) capita
of US $) (in US $)

BANGLADESH 157 29 18,538 4J5 Ï6Ï

Brunei 63.6 45 3,837 3.0 11,754
Burma 23.9 78 8,361 3.7 203
Cambodia 10.8 48 2,000 0.0 299
China 41.4 75 342,277 5.1 299
Hong Kong 93.1 75 56,689 12.0 8,957
India 25.4 36 262,769 4.8 307
Indonesia 22.4 62 80,246 2.0 428
Japan 76.7 99 2,073,321 3.8 16,289
Laos 15.9 85 672 2.0 171
Malaysia 34.6 65 30,950 1.8 1,854
Mongolia 51.9 80 1,957 3.6 913
Nepal 7.4 20 3,058 4.2 161
NorthKorea 63.8 95 20,783 3.0 918
Pakistan 28.3 26 39,703 5.2 351
Philippines 40.5 88 38,060 5.1 573
Singapore 100.0 86 24,347 8.6 8,476
South Korea 65.4 90 137,281 10.1 2,915
Sri Lanka 21.5 87 7,232 5.0 414
Taiwan 67.0 94 89,440 8.0 4,140
Thailand 17.0 84 48,522 3.2 861
Vietnam 19.2 78 13,044 1.0 198

Source: PopulationReferenceBureau statistics.

Finally,turningto comparative rates of urbanization,we see that

Bangladesh is among the least "urbanized"countries in Asia. Defining

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"urbanization"forthese purposes simplyas the percentage of persons

livingin places defined as "urban"by the respective governmentalcen-
suses, we discover that at 15.7% Bangladesh is ahead of only Nepal
(7.4%) and Cambodia (10.8%) as the least urbanizedAsian nation.Given
the well-known relationship between urbanization and these demo-
graphic,economic, and educational indicators,there is no question that
Bangladesh has a difficultroad to travelinthe comingdecades.

Regional Variations In the Bangladesh Urban System

Before one can evaluate available data on urbanization in

Bangladesh, itis necessary to consider the somewhat unusual definition
of an "urban area" employed by the Census Commission. Accordingto
the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (1986:149), the term normallyin-
cludes places having a Municipality(Pourashava), a Town Committee
(Shahar Committee)or a CantonmentBoard. In general an urban area will
be a concentrationof populationof at least 5,000 persons in continuous
collectionof houses where the communitysense is well developed and
the community maintainspublicutilities, wa-
such as roads, streetlighting,
ter supply,sanitaryarrangements, etc. These places are generally non-
have a non-agricultural
agricultural, labor concentration,and a high liter-
acy rate. An area which had urban characteristicsbut less than 5,000
populationmay inspecial cases be treatedas an urbanarea.

UrbanizationPatternsby Region: 1891 - 1981

Tables 4 and 5 providestatisticaldata fromten census enumerations

forBangladesh. The long-termtrendsince 1891 shows that fourmajor
regions (Eastern, Central,Southern,and Northern)have had somewhat
differenturban profilesaccordingto theirinvolvementin internaland ex-
ternaleconomic enterprises.
The Northernregion has long been the least economically devel-
oped and also the least urbanized. As recentlyas 1974, the percentage
of populationin the Northernregionwhich lived in urban areas was just
5.31%. This figuredalmost doubled (to 10.08%) by 1981, but the region
stillcontained only 16% of all the urban dwellers in Bangladesh. The re-
gion also lags behind the otherthree regions on such indicatorsas per-
centage of non-agricultural labor force,participationin major industries,
available generated electricityin kilowatt-hours, and the percentage of
the populationwhich has completed post-secondaryschooling.

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374 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

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376 URBANANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

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The Southernand Eastern regionsassume intermediary positionson

the scales of urban and economic development.The Eastern regionhas
about 26% of all the nation'surban residents,but stillhas onlyabout 15%
of its regional population livingin urban areas. Chittagong,in southern
sector of the Eastern region,has grownrapidlyin recentdecades to be-
come the second largestcityand largest seaport. Further,Chittagongis
the site of a freetrade zone designated forforeign-ownedassembly op-
erations,similarto the maquiladoras foundalong the U.S.-Mexico border.
On the northernextremeof the Eastern region,Sylhet is a tea-growing

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area well-knownforsending many of its people as emigrantsto foreign

lands. Their remittanceshave helped to sustain the regional economy
The Southern regioncontains less than 19% of Bangladesh's urban
residents. In the Southern region, Khulna has grown to assume third
place in the urban hierarchy.This region's economic and urban develop-
ment has also been enhanced by the increased importanceof the port
townof Chaîna (the second biggest portof the country).
Of course, the Centralregion- dominatedby Dhaka - is the most ur-
banized in Bangladesh. Almost twentypercent of the people in the
Centralregionlive in its urban places and almost 40% of the nation's ur-
ban populationwere to be found in this region at the time of the 1981
census. The Central region has the highest level of industrializationof
any regionin Bangladesh, has almosttwiceas muchelectricity available to
its residentsas any otherregion, and has by far the highest level of post-
secondary education among its inhabitants.Most important all, the
Centralregioncontainsthe Dhaka standard metropolitan area, whichrep-
resents the single largesturban concentration the nation and also rep-
resents a principal point of articulation with the world outside of

UrbanGrowthby District:1891 -1981

The overall proportionof populationresidingin "urban"areas as de-

finedby the Census has increased significantly in the last 90 years (see
TABLE 4 and Tables 4 and 5). In 1891, the overall urban percentage for
the nation was just 2.18%, in 1901 just 2.39%, and in 1911 it had
dropped back to 2.20%. Since then, the urban population has grown
steadily from2.31% in 1921 to 3.06% in 1931 and then to 3.38% in
1941. By 1951, the urban percentage was 4.34; in 1961 this percentage
had jumped to 5.19 and thento 8.78 by 1974. The last complete census
(for1981) set the urbanareas at 15.18% ofthe totalpopulation.Itseems
unlikelythat Bangladesh willcontinueto double and redouble its urban
populationwell intothe 21st century,as ithas in the past three decennial
Consideringurbangrowthon a regionalbasis, we findthatthe twenty
districtsof Bangladesh have shown quite different rates of growthin the
period from 1891 to 1981. In the late 19thcentury, most "urban"was
Dhaka districtwith4.08% urban population(99,000 of 2,421,000), a fig-
ure not quite double the nationalaverage of 2.18% urban population. In
1901, Dhaka lost its firstplace to Kushtia district,which reached 5.69%
urban population while Dhaka had grown only to 4.34%. Also,

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378 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

Mymensinghjoined Dhaka as the only districtwithmore than 100,000

persons classifiedas livingin urbanareas. Inthe 191 1 census, Dhaka and
Mymensinghremained as the 100,000+ urban districtsand Dhaka re-
gained its usual place as the highestpercentage of urban populationat
4.66%. By 1921, the numberswere higher,but the same relativeposi-
tions persisted,withDhaka firstat 150,000 populationand 5.30% urban.
As the countrysufferedthroughthe world-wide Depression, the
1931 census enumerationrevealed that Dhaka had doubled its urban
populationin a decade (to 310,000), while Mymensinghhad grownonly
to 140,000. Kushtia also passed over the 100,00 urban populationmark
and gained second positionin percentage termsat 6.86% urban popula-
tion. For the firsttime,the area showed signs of conforming to the rank-
size rule. Dhaka was about twicethe size ofthe second city,about three
times the size of the thirdcity,and about fourtimesthe size of the fourth
cityin the hierarchy.
As the regionenteredWorldWar II as partof Commonwealthforces,
the 1941 census showed thatDhaka districthad experienced a decline in
urban population (to 276,000 and 6.58%), while Mymensinghhad ex-
panded to 200,000 (3.32% urban). The districtsof Comilla (125,000) and
Barisal (104,000) also crossed the 100,000 mark.
The effectsof Partitionare visible in the 1951 census enumeration.
Dhaka districtjumped to 411,000 urban population (10.09% urban),
Chittagong added nearly 200,00 residents to reach 296,000 (11.78%
urban), whereas Mymensinghdropped to 160,000. Other significantur-
ban populations included Rangpur (128,000), Comilla (117,000), and
Barisal (122,000).
These patternscontinuedintothe 1961 census year. Dhaka grew to
754,000 (14.70% urban), Chittagonggrew to 373,000 (12.50%), and
Mymensinghreached 216,000 (3.91%). Other 100,000+ urban districts
included: Khulna (173,000), Rangpur (159,000), Comilla (139,000),
Rajshahi (120,000), Barisal (107,000), and Pabna (100,000). As in all ear-
liercensuses, no single districthad an urban concentrationgreaterthan
threetimes the overall nationalaverage. On the otherhand, Dhaka was
growingso rapidlyin comparison withotherdistrictsthat the rank-size
classificationwas beginningto break down.
The normal1971 census was not carried out until1974 because of
the problemsof the War of Liberation.Despite the loss of lifein the war,
the overall urban populationgrowthhad been dramaticsince 1961. The
population of Dhaka shot up to 2,250,000 (29.56% urban). The
Chittagongurban populationalso tripledto 905,000 (20.97%), as did that
of Khulna (520,000 and 14.62% urban). By 1974, 15 of the 20 districtsof
Bangladesh had 100,000 or more persons livingin urban areas. Dhaka
continuedto show signs of emergingas a "primatecity,"but the more

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remarkablepatternis thaturbanizationwas spreading widelyamong the

secondary cities.
The most recent government census (1981) shows that urban
growthis continuingat a steady pace throughout as
the country,primarily
the resultof internalmigration.Dhaka districtreached an urban popula-
tionof 3,857,000 (38.52% urban) by 1981, and Chittagongalso passed
the 1,000,000 markwithits urban populationof 1,710,000 (31.14% ur-
ban). All of the otherdistrictshad surpassed the 100,000 urban popula-
tion plateau. The currentpatternsuggests that the effectsof urban pri-
macy were reduced somewhat duringthe decade of the 1970s, although
Dhaka and Chittagongboth have more than theirshare of total urban
populationaccordingto the rank-sizerule (cf. Choguill 1984:117, on the
"distortions" inthe existingurban hierarchyin Bangladesh).

Cities in Bangladesh: 1989 Estimates

Bangladesh is unusual among ThirdWorld nations since its largest

city(Dhaka) does not have a disproportionateshare of the total national
urban population. The estimated 1989 population of Dhaka's standard
metropolitan area (3,200,000) is onlyslightlymorethantwicethe number
(1,400,000) found in Chittagong,the nation's second largest city and
chief seaport. The thirdlargest city is Khulna at 650,000, followed by
Narayanganj (located in Dhaka district)at 300,000, and Rajshahi at
200,000. These urban areas are followedby Comilla at 190,000, Barisal
at 175,000, Sylhetat 170,000, Rangpurat 155,000, Jessore at 150,000,
and Saidpur (located in Rangpurdistrict)at 130,000.

The Infrastructure of Transport and Communication

A recurring image of Bangladesh is the steady flowof humanityalong

the streets, roads, and paths of its thousands of towns and villages.
Everywherepeople are walkingalong the side of the road or ridingin (or
on top of) overcrowdedbuses and trains. People queue up, sometimes
forhoursor even days, at the many"ghat"(ferry crossing) locations along
the major rivers.The observer is amazed thatthe transportsystem man-
ages to survivethe crush of people who want to travelfromvillage to vil-
lage, townto town,or cityto city.And, of course, the monsoon season
makes mosttransportation ifnotimpossible.
by road difficult
As to its transportationinfrastructure,Bangladesh has about 1,800
miles of railroads, about 6,537 miles of paved road, and about 5,271
miles of perennialand seasonal waterways(BBS 1986:6). Riversare the

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380 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

life-lineof the nation because the cost of water transportis generally

much less than that of travel by road, train,or air. Periodic seasonal
floodingmay rendercars, buses, trucks,and trainsuseless, while small
boats, barges, and cargo and passenger steamers findtheirpaths even
more extensive than in the dryseason. Touriststo Bangladesh oftenre-
markon the constructionof roads on levees highabove the surrounding
rice fields and bridges which seem to be arched so steeply above the
levels of dry-season streams. Those who returnin the wet-season dis-
cover that highwayand traintravelin ruralBangladesh is an adventure
equivalentto travelingfromisland to island across the Pacific.The roads
and trackwaysappear as causeways connectingisolated villages builtup
on mounds.
The combinationofthe annual risingofthe waters and the limitedex-
tentofthe internaltransportationsystemis such thatitmay be easier fora
governmentbureaucratto travelfromDhaka to Bangkok,Hong Kong, or
even London than to reach towns located just a hundred miles away in
the Bangladesh hinterlands.When disasters or celebrations in distant
villages requirethe interventionof President Ershad and his media rep-
resentatives,theyboard helicoptersto make the brieftripfromhis head-
quartersin the capitol and back again. Itmustseem miraculousto those
few Bangladeshis (according to the 1981 census, about 6.85% in urban
areas and about 0.20% in ruralareas) withaccess to televisionsets to see
on the evening news programthe President's daily travels throughout
the nation.

Migration In Bangladesh

Analysisof available census data and the resultsof several fieldsur-

veys provides evidence that"netinternalmigrationis the most important
factorcontributing to the recent rapid increase of urban population in
Bangladesh" (Chaudhury1980:32). It appears that about one-halfof all
urban residentsin Bangladesh were in-migrants fromruralareas during
the 1970s. On a regionalbasis, ithas been observed thatthe Centralre-
gion is not only the most urbanized and most economically developed,
butthatitalso is the destinationforthe most migrants.In the opposite sit-
uation is the Northernregion,whichis least developed and has the high-
est out-migration ratios.
The main characteristicsof migrantsin Bangladesh have been aptly
summarized by Chaudhury(1980:33-34): (1) theyare disproportionately
selected in adult ages (20-30); (2) the migrantsare more educated than
the non-migrants in ruralareas; (3) the male migrantsare disproportion-
ately single and they mostlyoriginatefromfamilies having large family

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size; (4) the migrantsoriginatefrommainlytwo distincteconomic classes:

the economicallypoorest and the economicallyrichestfamiliesofthe rural
community;(5) the nature of migrationof poor and richmigrantsdiffer
widely.The migrantsoriginating fromthe richfamilieshave highereduca-
tionand theytend to move to urban areas, travela long distance, belong
to service occupation category,have the highestincome and remitmore
moneyto theirruralkin.Butthe migrantsoriginating fromthe poor families
are mostlyilliteratesand theytend to move to small urban areas, travel
shortdistance, engage in low-paidurbanjobs as day-laborers,have poor
earningsand remita small amountof moneyto theirruralkin;(6) the vil-
lages thatare characterizedby land scarcity,skewed distribution of land
and/ora highproportion of agricultural
laborers,are to
likely induce a high
One of the most comprehensive analyses of migrationavailable for
Bangladesh involved a data base of 137 variables forthe 68 political
subdivisions of the country.Choguill (1984:122) carried out a linear re-
gression analysis to "see ifa relationshipcould be established between
subdivisionswhich exhibitedgrowthcharacteristicsand the 'stock' vari-
ables." His major conclusion is that "the migrantto the urban areas of
Bangladesh is almost single-mindedin his motivation.The so-called Mure
of the brightlights'has littleeffectupon his decision to migrate.His real
concern is forjobs and the hope of economic improvement"(1984:122).
He goes on to conclude that "economic opportunityis the lure that at-
tractsBangladeshis to theircities. Despite the traditionof agriculturethat
persistsin the country,ruralagricultural developmentprogramsby them-
selves seem to have littleeffectin slowing down the migrationstream,
althoughtheymay be more likelyto succeed in areas where population
densities are relativelylow at present.Given futurepopulationprojections
and the inevitableincrease in densitythatis likelyto result,the likelihood
of achievingsuccess in stemmingmigrationfromruralto urban areas by
ruralprogramsalone seems remote.When coupled withthe knownnum-
ber of landless peasants thatstilllive in the ruralareas, it is evidentthat
migrationmightverywell increase in the future"(1984:122).

Problems of Urban Poverty

Because so many of the poor migrantsfromthe countrysideseek

refugein urbanareas fromnaturaldisasters such as floodand famine,itis
appropriateto considerthe problemsof urban povertyas a special quality
of urban areas in Bangladesh. In thisdiscussion, we shall relyheavilyon
the findingsof a research project on "The Urban Poor in Bangladesh,"
(Centre forUrban Studies 1979) whichwas carriedout in the late 1970s

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382 URBANANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

withfundingfromUNICEF. There is no reason to believe thatthe circum-

stances of the urban poor have improvedsignificantly in the past ten
years; on the it
contrary, is likelythat the pressures of migrationhave
made survivalin the urbanarea a moredifficult propositionthan in earlier
A principalfeatureof the lives of impoverishedpeople in urban areas
of Bangladesh is geographic mobility.Accordingto the resultsof a four-
city(Dhaka, Chittagong,Khulna, and Rajshahi) survey of some 1,230
households, nearly75% of the household heads have migratedto their
present cityof residence fromelsewhere, usually fromsmall villages in
adjacent districts.Nonetheless, these people have considerable urban
experience. The survey discovered that 93% of the household heads
have livedincitiesformorethanfiveyears and 74% have livedin citiesfor
morethan a decade (CUS 1979:12). This suggests thatthe urban poor of
Bangladesh are not primarilyrecent arrivalsfromvillages, but instead
long-termurban dwellerswhose childrenare likelyto remainin the cities
as well. The impactofthisnaturalgrowthwilleventuallylessen the impor-
tance ofcitywardmigration to urbangrowthin Bangladesh.
Most (68%) urban poor live in nuclearfamilyhouseholds whose aver-
age size is almost six persons per domestic unit.Nearlyall (94%) of the
household heads are males, most (87%) of whom fallintothe 15-45 age
group. Althoughabout two-thirdsof the urban poor renttheirdwellings
(as tenants, sub-tenants,or freeholders),the remainingone-thirdown
theirhouses. In the four-city survey,the percentage of owner-occupied
houses variedwidely,froma low ofjust 13% in Khulnato a highof 66% in
Rajshahi. Underthe circumstances,itis notsurprisingthatthe urbanpoor
- once settledin a city- are notverymobile. More than half(58%) have
lived in the same house, howeverdilapidatedits condition,formore than
fiveyears and only a few (15%) would liketo change theirpresent resi-
dence, since they realisticallyappreciate the problems of locatingbetter
qualityhousingat a low price (CUS 1979:12-13).
The homes ofthe urbanpoor are constructedof any and all available
materials.The CUS surveyfoundthat80% were made of non-brickcon-
struction,that nearly 60% needed substantial repairs, and that 10%
needed immediatereconstruction (CUS 1979:13). Abouttwo-thirds of all
the houses are simple single-room units, only about 20% have two
rooms, and about 5% of the urban poor surveyed must share a single-
roomhouse among twoor morefamilies.Mostofthe livingspaces are be-
tween 50 and 200 square feet,withthe resultthatnearlyhalfof all families
do theircooking and sleeping in the same room. Onlyone-quarterof the
households have theirown latrines,of whateverkind.In some communi-
ties (as in Khulna)as manyas forty familiesmay share one latrinewithina
housing compound. Almostall of the urban poor have serious problems

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obtainingpotable water, and when they can get drinkingwater it is ex-

pensive. Fewer than 20% of the households surveyed have direct ac-
cess to electricityforlighting;most depend on kerosene or firewoodfor
fuel. To complete the picture of urban poverty, the CUS survey
(1979:14) reveals thatthe materialpossessions of the sample population
are meager. A wooden-framebed is foundin onlyhalfof the homes; only
about 8% have bicycles, an importantmode of transportforthe poor in
Bangladesh; only15% have a radio,10% have a clock or watch, and just
3% have a sewing machine (used forearningincome,ifpresent).
The economic circumstances of the urban poor are trulydesperate.
Althoughabout two-thirds of all male household members above the age
of ten are gainfullyemployed, and about one-tenthof the females older
than 10 are employed, most (79%) households reportonly one income-
earning member,followedby 17% withtwo earners. Most men workas
day laborers or rickshaw-peddlersor cart pullers. A small numberhave
found"inside"work,as factoryhands, guards, low-levelclerical employ-
ees, domestic servants, etc. The low level of industrialdevelopment is
reflectedin the similarityin the percentage of factoryworkers (6%) and
street hawkers (5%).
Despite the marginalstatus of many of the jobs held by the urban
poor, theytend to be stable sources of earnings. Fewer than 5% of the
household heads surveyed by the CUS reportedthatthey had changed
jobs in the past year, while nearly87% reportedthat they had held the
same job for more than three years. The urban poor work long hours
nearlyeveryday ofthe week when theyhave the opportunity. More than
35% worked seven days a week, and roughlythe same percentage
worked six days a week. More than 20% worked 10 or more hours per
day, and an additional40% worked8-10 hoursper day.
The earningsfrommostjobs held bythe urban poor are miserable.At
the time of the CUS survey,the WorldBank estimatedthatthe "poverty
line"fordevelopingcountrieswas equivalentto a yearlyincome of about
$200 per capita. For the urban poor of Bangladesh, fewerthan 2% of the
households could surpass this minimallevel of income. The CUS re-
search team furthercalculated that it required about 40 cents U.S. per
day per person to pay forthe food essential forminimumnutrition foran
average adult in Bangladesh. They calculated thatfewer than 6% of their
responding households achieved this standard (1979:20), althoughthey
also reportedconsiderable regional variationin average household in-
come forthe fourcities surveyed: Dhaka was highestwithan average of
$45 U.S. per month,Rajshahi with$35 U.S. per month,Chittagongwith
$30 U.S. per month,and Khulnawithjust $25 per month.As low as these
figures may be, they are still higherthan the average incomes found
among most households in the Bangladeshi countryside.

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384 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

The community settings for the urban poor are found in central as
well as peripheral areas of the cities. Their locations are dictated by near-
ness to places of employment, availabilityof low-cost shelter and marginal
exploitable lands. A tendency for poor households to cluster into slum
neighborhoods is everywhere apparent to even the casual observer of
urban life in Bangladesh. Despite random governmental effortsto "clean
up" the slums, the task is beyond the budget or personnel of any munici-
pal agencies.
As a result, clusters of thatch-roofed shacks are likely to be found
next door to new high rise office buildings. The urban areas are continu-
ally expanding and the urban poor follow along at the same time that
formerly rural villages are converted into marginal urban settlements.
Entrepreneurial slumlords as well as municipal agencies are involved in
constructing building sites and housing forthe urban poor. For example, I
have observed several instances in Dhaka where lands devoted to paddy
cultivation within the urban zone have been built up high enough to
avoid the worst of the annual floods. Then shacks were built and a com-
munitycreated. Typically these new settlements had very limitedservices
such as potable water, sewage, paved roads, or electricity.
Not surprisingly,the general health conditions for residents of such
areas are extremely poor. Dysentery, gastrointestinal diseases, malnutri-
tion, skin diseases, tuberculosis, and similar diseases are commonplace
and have much to do withthe relativelylow lifeexpectancy and high rates
of infantmortality.As a result of their survey, the CUS research team ar-
gued (1979:59) that "A sense of social and cultural alienation and apathy
was found to prevail among these poor communities in general. These
sentiments are manifested in deviant and unrestrained behavior . . ., a
sense of powerlessness, dependency on luck and chance rather than
justice and sometimes in a militantattitude to the authorities in particular
and the outside world in general."
In many of these urban communities the absolute and relative level of
deprivation has resulted in frustrationwith the local political structure.
Political parties opposed to the present military-dominated regime of
President Ershad findthat slum dwellers are willingto be involved in large
scale strikes and other political actions (e.g., overturning and burning
buses) intended to get immediate improvements in living circumstances
as well as longer term changes in the national political system. For in-
stance, Qadir (1975:82) has argued that "political parties were quite ac-
tive in mobilizing bastees forvotes. Observers of bastee life believed that
the bastee people were being used for political purposes, about which
they were very littleaware."
Effortsby local and international agencies to improve the conditions
for the urban poor have been sporadic and insufficient,especially in the

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lightof the developmentemphasis on ruralproblemsin Bangladesh. For

the communities surveyed by the CUS, some 47 differentagencies
(rangingfrominternational to local volunteerand governmentalagencies)
were identifiedas being involvedin some fashionwitheffortsto improve
the lives of the poor in Bangladeshi urban areas. The CUS researchers
go on to conclude (1979:60) that "The immediate consequence of the
sense of isolationis thatthe poor communitiesare hesitantand unwilling
to utilizewhateversocial developmentfacilitiesare available and accessi-
ble to them. Even when local enthusiasts intendto initiatea program,
theybegin to look at itwithenough skepticism.This mightexplain partly
the lack of mass participationand response to social developmentplans
in these communities.On the otherhand, the unfavorableattitudeof the
authoritiesor the neighboringcommunitieshindersthe flowof services
and facilitiesto these [poor]communities."
Zaman (1984:62) has argued that"urbansquatters in Bangladesh ci-
ties have not received fromthe researchers the kindof close attention
theydeserve as 'people withproblems'... He goes on to offerthe fol-
lowing four-pointcritique of the research to date: "First,none of the
studies has examined socio-historicalfactors forthe growthof urban
squatters in Bangladesh cities. Secondly, discussions on the economic
structureof the cities are missingin every study.The occupational pro-
filesprovidedin the studies are of limiteduse due to the absence of anal-
ysis of the cityeconomy and employmentstructures.Thirdly,it seems
thatthe studies generallyaccepted that urban squattingoccurs as a re-
sultof massive inmigration fromsurroundingruralareas. Hence, the focus
of research on the urban poor has altogetherignored the social condi-
tionsofthe widerruralsociety. Finally,Bangladeshi squatterstudies tend
to be more'piecemeal' in character,and the squattingproblemas treated
by several scholars seem to be simplyan 'urban problem'ratherthan a

Social Science and Urbanization in Bangladesh

When compared to the millionsof dollars and thousands of pages of

monographs, articles, and consultancy reportsdevoted to agricultural
problemsin Bangladesh, relativelylittlehas been done to studysystem-
aticallythe problemsof its urban structure.Moreover,most of the avail-
able studies concerned with urbanization and development in
Bangladesh have been published by local scholars, eitherin the journal
ORIENTAL GEOGRAPHER or throughthe publicationsof the Centre for
Urban Studies at the Universityof Dhaka. Most of these studies are de-
scriptiveratherthan theoretical,and are concerned withlocal problems

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386 URBAN ANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

such as squatters, poverty,and migrationinstead of the articulationof

Bangladesh's distinctiveformsof urban integrationwiththe international
capitalistsystem. An important exceptionto thisgeneralizationis the im-
portant survey article by M. Q. Zaman (1984) on "Urban Squatter
Settlements in Bangladesh: A Review and Some Theoretical
Inthissection,we examine some ofthe majorareas ofsocial scientific
inquiryregardingurban Bangladesh. The literatureis diverse in temporal,
spatial, and topical concerns. Althoughthe area now called Bangladesh
has had a fairlylong urban history,relativelyfew studies (Bose 1978;
Chaudhury 1980) have examined in detail its historicaldevelopment
withinthe Indian sub-continentalurban system, much less withinthe in-
ternationalnetworkof localitiestied to the metropolitan centers in Europe
and America(the sole example is Zaman 1984).
A numberof scholars have focused on urban spatial organizationfor
the countryas a whole as well as forspecificcities. Atthe nationallevel,
urban studies have emphasized demographicprocesses (Algamir1973;
of localitieswithinthe nationalurbansys-
Islam 1973), the spatial structure
tem (Islam 1976; Islam et al. 1980; Islam [ed.] 1980; Patel 1970), and
especially internal migration(Ahsan and Hussain 1987; Boer 1981;
Chaudhury1978; Chaudhuryand Curlin1975; Choguill 1984; Islam and
Begum 1983; Khan 1982; Khan 1972; Krishnan and Rowe 1978;
Mahabub and Amin 1980; Obaidullah 1967; Stoeckel, Chowdhury,and
Aziz 1972). Some scholars have also been concerned withthe role of
women in urban areas (Centre for Urban Studies 1979; Chaudhury
A small set of studies have been explicitlycomparativein theirexami-
nation of urban problems, especially squatter settlementsand poverty,
among the largerurban areas of Bangladesh (Centre forUrban Studies
1976, 1979, 1980; Islam et al. 1976; Patel 1970; Zaman 1984). Most of
this field research has been carried out throughthe auspices of the
CentreforUrbanStudies at the University of Dhaka.
Dhaka has been the focus ofthe mostcase studies of urban life,and
many of the research reportsconcerned withthe capitol have empha-
sized problemsof migration(Nisa 1983), squattersettlements(Centrefor
Urban Studies 1982b; Islam et al. 1977; Qadir 1975; Rahaman 1974),
and poverty(Centre forUrban Studies 1982a; Farouk et al. 1978; Islam
and Amin 1980). A small numberof studies have also reportedon the
characteristicsof middle and upper-class communitiesin urban areas
(Ahsan 1979, 1980; Khan and Islam 1964) or on the ecology of the cen-
tralbusiness district(Majid 1970).
Relativelylittleworkhas been conducted in secondary cities to date.
Aside fromthe comparativestudies mentionedabove, the followingcities

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have been the sites of fieldresearch: Chittagong(Khan and Salehuddin

1967) Comilla (Khan and Masood 1962); Faridpur(Islam et al. 1978);
Khulna (Centre forUrban Studies 1981); Rajshahi (Arephinand Sheikh
1980; Patel 1974; Sheikh 1976).
Finally,in recentyears the phenomenon of internationallabor migra-
tionhas attractedsocial scientiststo examine its role in the process of ur-
ban and nationalarticulation withforeignnations(Siddiqui 1986).
This brief consideration of the social science literatureon urban
Bangladesh shows that (1) the workis dominated by local Bangladeshi
scholars, especially specialists at the Centre for Urban Studies at the
Universityof Dhaka; (2) research has been funded to examine urban
- -
"problems"such as squatters,poverty,migration,and more recently
the role of women the labor market; and (3) little
attention has been
given to detailed analysis of the articulationof Bangladesh and its urban
systemto the broaderAsian and global urban structuresin whichitis em-
bedded. We agree with Zaman's observation that "what we need in
Bangladesh rightnow is notonlysocial, economic and demographicpro-
filesofthe urban poor but historical-contextual studies ... thatexplain an-
tecedent conditions on the national, regional or city-specificlevels"


"Different formsof urban societyinvolvedifferent formsof societal in-

tegration"(Leeds 1979:234). Early in its urban development,the area of
Bangladesh was an unwilling participant in a feudal systemdominatedby
external political,military,and economic powers, especially duringthe
centuriesof the Mughal Empire.The entryof European interestsintothe
Indian subcontinentwiththe Portuguese and then the Britishshiftedthe
mode of articulation towardan incipientcapitalism.
Capitalist societies involvethe centralizationof the productivepro-
cess. The Britishcolonial administration definedthe Ganges delta region
as a "breadbasket" of food crops (especially rice), as a source of cash
crops (e.g., opium and jute), and - to a much lesser extent as a market
forthe productionof manufacturedgoods such as textilesfromthe mills
of Manchester.As a result,the process of urbanizationduringthe period
up to 1947 saw the regionalcapital (Dhaka) and its hinterlandsbecome
dependent on Calcutta,whichwas in turnlinkedto Europe as a node in
the capitalistperiphery.The resultingurban patternin the Ganges delta
regionwas a widespread systemof relativelysmall towns surroundedby
thousands of agricultural villages. Dhaka and Chittagongemerged as the
major nodes of concentration of capitalistdevelopmentin the regionand

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388 URBANANTHROPOLOGY VOL. 18(3-4), 1989

attractedmostforeigninvestmentas well as most internalcitywardmigra-

tion. The Partitionof the subcontinentresulted in furtherexploitationof
Bangladesh and its people by their Muslim counterparts in Western
Afterthe War of Liberationin 1971 , the vulnerability
of Bangladesh in
the worldsystemwas visibleto all. WhatSobhan (1982) has characterized
as "the crisis of externaldependence" on foreignaid fromdiverse gov-
ernmentsand privateagencies shows no sign of coming to an end. A
principaldifferencefromthe colonial period is the much higherpopula-
tionand the largerconcentrationsin cities and towns,whose growthhas
been much higherin the last two decades thanthe growthrates of village
The demographic, social, and economic profileof contemporary
Bangladesh has no parallelin Asia or inthe worldbeyond. In no otherna-
tion does one encounter such a large population settled at such high
densities throughoutthousands of settlementsrangingfromtinyvillages
to metropolitanareas. Nowhere else is such a populationstructurecom-
binedwitha demographicprofileof low lifeexpectancies, highinfantmor-
talityrates,and highcrude birthand death rates -- usuallyassociated with
an "old regime"preindustrial social structure.Nor do we findanotherna-
tionwithan economic profileof low Gross NationalProductper capita and
an educational profileof low literacyrates. Cityand village residentsfind
themselves in a common search forsurvival,competitionforscarce local
resources, and continuingdependence on foreignassistance programs.
The resultingshared povertyof the Bangladesh urban system continues
to involve an urbanizationprocess which,as Zaman (1984:64) has ob-
served, "should be examined in the contextof the formationof citycen-
ters,theirgrowth,and analysis of class relationshipand dependence on
the externalsystem."Only by attentionto the particularfeatures of spe-
cializationof people, localities,labor,and institutions
can we understand
the criticalurban problems that need immediate attentionthroughout
Bangladesh - fromthe capital cityof Dhaka to the thousands of villages
dottingthe countryside.


For theircarefulreadingand constructivecriticismof an earlierversionof

the paper, Prof. Raymond E. Wiest (Department of Anthropology,
University of Manitoba) and Prof. M. Q. Zaman (Department of
Anthropology, Universityof Lethbridge,Alberta,Canada) deserve great
praise. I am responsible forthe remainingdeficiencies in the paper. I
would be remiss if I did not thank Ben J. Wallace (Department of

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Anthropology, Southern MethodistUniversity)forgivingme the oppor-

tunityto do research in Bangladesh as his colleague in two projects
(1984-1987) which permittedfirst-handobservationof that nation's con-
temporary urban crisis.


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