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HISTORY

Remnants of civilization in the greater Bengal region date back 4,000 years,[3][4] when the region was settled by Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, and Austro-Asiatic peoples. The exact origin of the word Bangla or Bengal is unknown, though it is believed to be derived from the Dravidian-speaking tribe Bang that settled in the area around the year 1000 BCE.[5]

After the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the kingdom of Gangaridai was formed from at least the 7th century BCE, which later united with Bihar under the Magadha and Maurya Empires. Bengal was later part of the Gupta Empire from the 3rd to the 6th centuries CE. Following its collapse, a dynamic Bengali named Shashanka founded an impressive yet short-lived kingdom. After a period of anarchy, the Buddhist Pala dynasty ruled the region for four hundred years, followed by a shorter reign of the Hindu Sena dynasty. Islam was introduced to Bengal in the twelfth century by Sufi missionaries, and subsequent Muslim conquests helped spread Islam throughout the region.[6] Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkish general, defeated Lakshman Sen of the Sena dynasty and conquered large parts of Bengal. The region was ruled by dynasties of Sultans and feudal lords for the next few hundred years. By the sixteenth century, the Mughal Empire controlled Bengal, and Dhaka became an important provincial center of Mughal administration.

European traders arrived late in the 15th century, and their influence grew until the British East India Company gained control of Bengal following the Battle of Plassey in 1757.[7] The bloody rebellion of 1857, known as the Sepoy Mutiny, resulted in transfer of authority to the crown, with a British viceroy running the administration (Baxter,[7] pp.30—32). During colonial rule, famine racked the Indian subcontinent many times, including the Great Bengal famine of 1943 that claimed 3 million lives.[8]

Between 1905 and 1911, an abortive attempt was made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones, with Dhaka being the capital of the eastern zone. (Baxter,[7] pp. 39—40) When India was partitioned in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines, with the western part going to India and the eastern part joining Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan), with its capital at Dhaka.[9]

In 1950, land reform was accomplished in East Bengal with the abolishment of the feudal zamindari system. (Baxter,[7] p. 72) However, despite the economic and demographic weight of the east, Pakistan's government and military were largely dominated by the upper classes from the west. The Language Movement of 1952 was the first sign of friction between the two wings of Pakistan. (Baxter,[7] pp. 62—63) Dissatisfaction with the central government over economic and cultural issues continued to rise through the next decade, during which the Awami League emerged as the political voice of the Bengali-speaking population. It agitated for autonomy in the 1960s, and in 1966, its president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was jailed; he was released in 1969 after an unprecedented popular uprising.

In 1970, a massive cyclone devastated the coast of East Pakistan, and the central government responded poorly. The Bengali population's anger was compounded when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose Awami League won a majority in Parliament in the 1970 elections, (Baxter,[7] pp. 78—79) was blocked from taking office. After staging compromise talks with Mujib, President Yahya Khan arrested him on the night of March 25, 1971, and launched Operation Searchlight,[10] a sustained military assault on East Pakistan. Yahya's methods were extremely bloody, and the violence of the war resulted in many civilian deaths.[11] Chief targets included intellectuals and Hindus, and about ten million refugees fled to neighbouring India. (LaPorte,[12] p. 103) Estimates of those massacred range from three hundred thousand to 3 million.[13][14] Most of the Awami League leaders fled and set up a government-in-exile in Calcutta, India. The Bangladesh Liberation War lasted for 9 months. The guerrilla Mukti Bahini and Bengali regulars eventually received support from the Indian Armed Forces in December 1971. Under the command of Lt. General J.S. Arora, the Indian Army achieved a decisive victory over Pakistan on 16 December 1971, taking over 90,000 prisoners of war[15] in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

After its independence, Bangladesh became a parliamentary democracy, with Mujib as the Prime Minister. In the 1973 parliamentary elections, the Awami League gained an absolute majority. A nationwide famine occurred during 1973 and 1974,[8] and in early 1975, Mujib initiated a one-party socialist rule with his newly formed BAKSAL. On August 15, 1975, Mujib and his family were assassinated by mid-level military officers.[16]

A series of bloody coups and counter-coups in the following three months culminated in the ascent to power of General Ziaur Rahman, who reinstated multi-party politics and founded the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Zia's rule ended when he was assassinated in 1981 by elements of the military.[16] Bangladesh's next major ruler was General Hossain Mohammad Ershad, who gained power in a bloodless coup in 1982 and ruled until 1990, when he was ousted in a popular uprising. Since then, Bangladesh has reverted to a parliamentary democracy. Zia's widow, Khaleda Zia, led the BNP to parliamentary victories in 1991 and 2001 and was Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to end of 2006. At the present, the caretaker government is in power and after a successful election the new government will be formed. Sheikh Hasina, one of Mujib's surviving daughters and the head of the Awami League, was in power from 1996 to 2001. Although Bangladesh enjoys the distinction of having two female politicians leading national politics, it continues to suffer from extensive corruption,[17] disorder and political violence.




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