Helping to transform the intellectual landscape of the Bangladeshi community in the UK and celebrate the amazing British diversity

B r i c k  L a n e  C i r c l e

National Martyrs' Memorial situated in Savar, about 35 km north-west of Dhaka City


History and recent developments

Bangladesh is an independent sovereign country and Dhaka is its capital and premier city. It gained its independence in 1971 after a nine months bloody war of liberation against the Pakistani military occupation force. Although the actual Liberation War lasted for nine months the people of this land had struggled for centuries to become free from foreign rule. 

Sometimes the full significance of the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 is  neither fully appreciated nor adequately understood by everyone. Very few individuals realise that the people of this land have become the masters of their own destiny after one thousand years of outside domination. Foreign rule started in the late eleventh century with the Hindu Sena rulers who came from southern India and gradually increased their territories after replacing the previous Buddhists Palas. By the early twelfth century Sena rule was firmly establish throughout Bengal. Although their capital city was Vijayapura in West Bengal they had a second capital in Vikrampur, not far from Dhaka city. 

The Muslim rule of Bengal started with Ikhtiyar Al-Din Muhammad Bin Bhakhtiyar Khalji who overthrew the last Sena ruler Lakshaman Sena in 1203/5. It continued for about five hundred and fifty years, lasting until the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when the ruler Nawab Sirajuddaula was overthrown by the British. Half a millennia is a very long time and many things happened during that period in Bengal, including local people's interactions with north western India, Afganistan, Iran, Arabia, Central Asia, etc. However, unfortunately our knowledge of the cultural, educational and economic development and inter-communal / religious relations, etc. of that period is very limited indeed.

The British ruled Bengal as part of their British Indian Empire until 1947 when the subcontinent was divided on religions lines and Pakistan was created by carving two chunks of land out of the Indian territories.  People of Bangladesh were very hopeful that this time they would be free. However, very soon it began to dawn on them that the Pakistan project, for which they sacrificed so much to help achieve, was not going to deliver the freedom and dignity that they were seeking. They continued to fight for their rights and freedom, but a bloody unjust war was imposed on the innocent people of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971, by the military ruler of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan, after the 1970 election produced a result not anticipated by the dictator.

According to the 1970 election result Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the political party called Awami League based in the then East Pakistan, should have become the new ruler of Pakistan. Instead the military dictator plotted a crackdown on the Bengali population while pretending to negotiate a transition into civilian rule. This pretension  continued between December 1970 and March 1971 until the launch of the bloody war on 26 March of the same year. However, the Bengalis were not going to be cowed down by the overwhelming force of the military crackdown. Rather, the unjust attack triggered a reaction of defiance and determination to fight for freedom and independence. The hero and champion of the freedom struggle of the Bengalis of East Pakistan at that time was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the majority of the people of the land called him Bangabandhu.

After nine months of sacrifices Bangladesh became an independent country  on 16 December 1971 and in the history of the people of this land a new  chapter had begun. Dhaka was the natural and only contender city within  Bangladesh to become the capital of this new republic.

Since independence in 1971

Since its independence, although Bangladesh started from a very low base - in terms of educational levels, individual and institutional capacities and the state of the economy, compounded by war devastation - the country has achieved many outstanding successes during the last four decades. These include improvements in healthcare; roads and infrastructural expansion; agricultural self-sufficiency and industrial diversification; literacy rate and educational attainment; export growth; democratization and the development of a strong civil society. The capacities of individuals and institutions have continued to improve, and Bangladesh has also experienced sustained economic growth year on year. For example, … the share of aid as a resource for development for development has declined from around 10% of GDP in the early 1980s to 2 or 3% at the end of this century. This decline in aid dependence in Bangladesh reflects both an improved capacity for domestic resource mobilization as well as an expansion in our export earning over the last decade….

(Page 7, by Rehman Sobhan, Bangladesh on the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century: An Agenda for Change)

The table below shows that Bangladesh has achieved increased rate of GDP growth during the
1990s as compared to the previous decade, while reducing the rate of population growth and increasing per capita GDP quite significantly. This was achieved in a climate of dramatic reduction in foreign aid dependency and an increase in domestic capacity. This also shows the
role that capacity building programmes can play in a country's development.


GDP Growth


Population Growth


Per capita GDP



6.4 / 4.0

2.7 / 2.5

3.6 / 1.5


5.8 / 6.1

2.1 / 1.8

3.7 / 4.9

Sri Lanka

4.0 / 5.3

1.4 / 1.2

2.6 / 4.1


4.3 / 4.8

2.4 / 1.6

1.9 / 3.2

(Page 74, by Wahiduddin Mahmud, Bangladesh Economy: Performance, Prospects and Challenges, ibid)

In the field of health improvements and educational development Bangladesh has achieved many outstanding successes. Bangladesh has registered some gains in health. Its immunization programme has registered promising results. Its family planning programme has raised the contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) from around 10% in the 1970s 50% today which has helped to halve its fertility rate in 20 years from 6.4 to 3.2. (Page 15,by Reham Sobhan, ibid)
Mortality is often considered as a criterion for judging economic successes and failures of nations. Bangladesh has displayed considerable success in this respect, especially in reducing infant and child mortality… The declining infant and child mortality rate has led to an appreciable increase in the average longevity of the Bangladeshi population. The matched indicator - life expectancy at birth - hovered around 55/56 years in 1980os; it increased to 57.7 years in 1993, and to 60 years in 1999/00.

(Page 172, by Binayak Sen, Poverty Alleviation: Changes,Channels and Challenges, ibid)

Since independence in 1971, the number of educational institutions and participating students has also increased quite significantly. For example, in 1971 there were a total of 28,731 primary schools in Bangladesh, which increased to 60,711 in 1997, and the total number of 6-10 year olds participating increased from 10.1m to 19.5m during the same time period.

(Page 502, by Sharifa Khatun, State of Pre-University Education,1971-2000, ibid)

It is being increasingly recognized that women's development are an essential prerequisite for a country's development. Without an overall development  of women, in terms of education, health, economic independence, etc. there will be little chance of achieving the level of development needed  for poverty alleviation. In Bangladesh, although women continue to face
major barriers and obstacles, they have been making a steady progress in various ways.
Educational enrolment as well as the percentage of literacy has risen. Education has been diversified. Particular worthy of attention has been the interest girls are taking in education. Their opportunities are limited compared with those of boys, but having made determined use of the opening that they have got, girls have done well and, at places, beaten the boys.

(Page 215, by Serajul Islam Chowdhury, Society and Culture, 1971-2000, ibid)

In fact, women's participation in economic activities has clearly increased. They  can be seen almost everywhere - from building sites to airplane cockpits. Women are visible in city streets. One sees the female garment  workers walking with confidence to and from factories. Huddled
together, they live in shanties, but even this way of life represent an emergence from the servitude of domestic labour. In the villages some women look after small poultry and cattle farms they have set up with loans taken from credit-giving bodies. Women work as health visitors, primary school teachers, even as labourers in shrimp cultivation. They serve as police women and are now joining the regular army. 

(Page 215, by Serajul Islam Chowdhury, Society and Culture, 1971-2000, ibid)

Bangladesh Parliament

Jatya Sangsad (National Assembly) is both an architectural masterpiece and a source of tremendous pride for the people of Bangladesh. It is situated in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar and the
building itself is surrounded by beautifully laid greenery and lakes. The National Assembly serves as the seat of government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, an independent democratic country since 1971. However, the project was conceived in the late 1950s when Bangladesh was  East Pakistan, as part of a master plan to develop parts of Dhaka to be  the second capital of Pakistan. In 1959, the Martial Administration under president Ayub Khan instituted the process to build a parliament building in Dhaka and the land was acquired for that purpose.

The government invited the famous Louis Kahn, a Jewish American architect with an Estonian origin, to submit a proposal to undertake the task and a tendering process was initiated. The approval process took several years and Louse was awarded  the contract in 1962, who then proceeded to work on the project immediately. The original plan produced included a Grand Mosque, Supreme Court and Presidents Palace.

The plan was however revised and only included the National Assembly Building as it exists today. The building  work was started immediately and stopped during the Liberation War but
commenced again in 1974 without any changes to the agreed plan. The complex was completed in 1982 and inaugurated by President Abdus Sattar and the first session held on 15 Feb 1982.

The building is made up of nine individual blocks and contains, among other things, a total of 627,833 square feet space, 50 staircases and 340 toilets. The central block accommodates the Assembly chamber with a capacity of 354 seats for members of the parliament. The basement accommodates a parking area, offices of maintenance agencies and service installations for the main building. The building has a water body of artificial lake touching its walls on all sides, and the North and the South plaza tie it to the site.

The open green area is a public open space and very popular venue for the city people to go
and relax. The space gets very crowded especially during Friday holiday and on special occasions, such as Eid festivals and Bengali New Year Celebration.

Bangladesh Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Bangladesh is the highest level in Bangladesh Judiciary and includes the Appellate Division and the High Court Division. Prior to the liberation of Bangladesh the High Court was the highest judiciary in East Pakistan.

The legal system in Bangladesh is based on the British system set up soon after the Battle
of Plassey in 1757 and the British conquest of Bengal. In 1968 the High Court of East Pakistan was moved from nearby premises to this building. After Bangladesh came into being in 1971, the Bangladesh Supreme Court was created. The Primary responsibility of the High Court is to hear appeals to decisions made by lower courts and the Appellate Division considers decision made by the High Court.

This building is a famous landmark of Dhaka City and shares the enclosed space with the
National Idgah. In addition to the National Eid prayers held, the space is used for a variety of purposes.

Young people are seen playing sports, particularly on Friday when the space becomes very
crowded with hundreds practicing and playing cricket.

People walking pass a roundabout opposite the main entrance to the Supreme Court. This project was part of the Dhaka City Corporation's Dhaka beautification initiative called "Clean Dhaka Green Dhaka", in partnership with the private sector.