Socio-Economic History of Bangladesh

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy

Table of Contents

History of Grameen Bank
Early History
Chapter II.6
Working Table of Contents

History of Grameen Bank (as of October 21st 2008) . . . go to Teacher's comment

1.) Experimental Period (1976-1983)
            In 1974, Bangladesh suffered from great famine. Nearly a million people lost their lives, and thousands suffered from hunger. To respond to poverty plaguing the streets, Muhammad Yunus, an economics professor at Chitagong University, decided to investigate the phenomenon and come up with a solution. His first efforts were aimed at constructing an irrigation system and increasing the agricultural productivity at the neighboring town Jobra. By digging wells and constructing a water pipe system, the townspeople of Jobra were able to cultivate on lands that were once infertile. Although Yunus succeeded in increasing the agricultural productivity of Jobra, he soon realized that his success in Jobra did little in alleviating the poverty in the streets of Bangladesh.
            While pondering on the solution for poverty, Yunus gained an unexpected lesson from a lady in Jobra. Sophia Begum was a lady who spent all day making bamboo chairs in the town of Jobra. Despite her long working hours, she had difficulty in escaping poverty. Due to the lack of initial capital, Begum had to turn to money lenders who charged her high interest rates. Yunus surveyed the people of Jobra and found out that 42 people were trapped in this vicious cycle because they lacked 27 dollars in total. As an economics professor, Yunus had been lecturing about millions and billions of dollars, but in reality a whole town was suffering from poverty because of only 27 dollars. To relieve these people from poverty, Yunus lent them 27 dollars from his own pocket ? free of interest.
            Reflecting on his experience in Jobra, Yunus attempted at persuading a nearby branch of Janata Bank to lend money to the local poor. Not surprisingly, the bank refused Yunus¡¯s proposal claiming that it was against the bank¡¯s policy to lend money to people without any collateral. Left with no option, Yunus lent money from the loan he personally received. In the following year, Yunus initiated a research project under the name Grameen Bank (meaning ¡®bank of the villages¡¯) to provide credit and banking services to the local poor. His experiment was a success, and soon Yunus¡¯s microcredit program started receiving attention from the central Bangaldesh Bank.
            With the support of Central Bangladesh Bank, Yunus was given an opportunity to implement his microcredit program in the Tangail District, a region deemed 'hopeless' by the central bank. By successfully executing the microcredit program, Yunus proved that microcredit was universally applicable. Despite the two-year-long successful implementation period, officials of other banks still discredited Grameen Bank. Nevertheless, Yunus continued expanding his program with the support of institutions like the Ford Foundation, and FIDA.

2.) Grameen Bank, First Phase (1983-2002)
            On October 2nd of 1983, Grameen Bank was officially recognized as a bank by the Department of Finance despite the opposition of seven other national banks. Yunus had initially planned to distribute 60% of its shares to its members and 40% to the government; however, Grameen Bank started off vice versa. Step by step, Grameen Bank started expanding its services nationwide. In 1989, it established the Grameen Trust to provide technical and financial support to microcredit programs overseas. In 1994, it established the Grameen Fund to support domestic microcredit programs. The Grameen family continued to expand by establishing new branches such as the Grameen Phone, Grameen Fisheries, and Grameen Health Care Services. Through such efforts, Grameen Bank was able to create a surplus by the year 1993, and become financially independent by the year 1995.

3.) Grameen Bank, Second Phase (since 2002)
            After becoming recognized as an official bank by the government, Grameen bank succeeded in expanding its service throughout Bangladesh. However, Grameen bank started showing problematic drawbacks despite its long period of preparation. The most crucial problem was its lack of a system to prevent members from dropping out of its program.
            Bangladesh suffered from severe flooding in the year 1995. As a result, many borrowers of the bank had trouble repaying their loans and some of them chose not to show up at the regular center meetings. Likewise, Grameen Bank was at the risk of losing many of its members. Realizing the limits of its microcredit program, Grameen Bank decided to initiate a thorough reformation. Consequently, Grameen Bank entered a new phase known as Grameen II. With its new set of financial programs, such as insurances and pensions, Grameen Bank recovered from its loss of members. After its successful recovery, Grameen Bank further expanded its services throughout Bangladesh and supported overseas microcredit programs. For this accomplishment, Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 2006.

Early History (as of September 9th 2008) . . . go to Teacher's comment

            No trace of civilization was found in the Bengali region prior to 1000 B.C. Historians believe that Bengal, the area where present-day Bangladesh is situated, was settled in about 1000 B.C. by Dravidian-speaking people who later became known as the Bang (Vang). The origin of the words 'Bangla' and 'Bengal' is also thought to have been derived from the tribal name.
            Bengal was the eastern extreme region of the Mauryan Empire (ca. 320-180 B.C.), the first empire to spread over most of present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Although the empire was well administered, little is known of the function that the Bengali region played. It is known, however, that it served as a seaport (near Tamluk in West Bengal), a point from which Buddhism spread to Burma, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. As the Mauryan Empire fell, the eastern potion of Bengal became the kngdom of Smatata. Although Samatat remained politically autonomous, it served as a tributary state to the Indian Gupta Empire(A.D. ca. 319-ca. 540).
            The next great empire was the Harsha Empire (A.D. 606-47), which absorbed Samatata into its political structure. This short-lived dynasty was replaced by the Pala Dynasty (A.D. 750-1150), an empire established by a Buddhist chief. For most of its history, the Bengali region remained as a political backwater. Rather than being active participant, it was rather an observer in the great political and military events of the Indian subcontinent. However, the Pala dynasty was the first Bengali dynasty to actively expand outwards. The Pala dynasty expanded westwards and conflicted with the kingdoms in India. The rulers of the Pala dynasty provided stability, security, and prosperity while spreading Buddhism throughout the state and into neighboring territories.
            When the Pala dynasty fell, the Bengali portion was dominated by the Senas, a principality of orthodox and militant Hindus. During their short reign, the Senas worked to revive Brahmanism as the religion of Bengal. However, the common people preferred the casteless foundation of Buddhism to the rigid caste system of Brahmanism. In 1202, the last major Sena ruler was expelled by Muslims, and the Bengali region entered the Islamic phase of its history.

Chapter II.6 (as of June 4th 2008) . . . go to Teacher's comment

II.6) Media in Bangladesh

            The Bangladeshi media have undergone great changes since the 90's. In a changed global economic and political situation, Bangladesh went through media liberalization along with market liberalization. The government of Bangladesh had always heavily controlled the state owned radio and television channels, but since the early 90's, they gave permission to commercial satellite channels. As a result, foreign channels were introduced to the Bangladeshi audience, who had only experienced Bangladesh Television (BTV) until then.
            In Bangladesh today, there are eight private satellite channels, and two FM radio channels along with the national television channel. According to the National Media Survey (NMS) in 1998, Bangladeshi media is composed of "radio 39%, television 42%, newspapers/magazines 15%, and cinema 17%" (1).

II.6.1) Radio (2)
            Apart from Radio Metro which is a private channel, the rest of the radio stations in Bangladesh are owned by the government. There are 234,000 licensed radio sets in Bangladesh; in other words, 1 radio set per 555 people. Compared to other forms of media, access to radio through ownership and listening at a neighbor's house or a public place is, in general, the highest.
            As for its function in the society, radio is a major source of raising awareness about development messages like family planning, oral dehydration, and immunization. Popular themes of radio programs are music, drama, news, family planning and public information.

II.6.2) Television (3)
            The terrestrial channels of Bangladesh are government owned; whereas, the 8 satellite channels are privately owned. There are 572,108 registered TV sets in Bangladesh, which amounts up to 1 TV per 227 people. In general, rural people have less access to television. Drama is the most popular, followed by news, music, and public information.
            Bangladesh Television (BTV), the national television channel, is the single largest provider of development information, such as child rights, vaccination, and iodine deficiency. The channel mainly focuses on entertainment, education and development news. There is no declared policy for the channel, but the guidelines are known to change with the changes of government. BTV is heavily influenced by the government.

II.6.3) Newspapers (4)
            Unlike other forms of media, newspaper firms are all private. There are 201 different kinds of dailies (188 Bengali and 13 English), and 451 kinds of weeklies. Overall, this sums up to 1 newspaper per 55 literate people. Despite the great number of newspapers, the Bangladeshi press is accused of failing "in their primary function of keeping their readers well informed." In addition, Rahman's study found that 60% respondent believed that press did not reflect the true image of society.
            Concerning circulation, Bangladesh press has been listed in the "media poverty zone", meaning "the press was unable to reach the readership that was available." However, most newspapers tend to exaggerate their circulation figures to gain a share of government advertising and bigger allocation of newsprint.

II.6.4) Freedom of the Press and the Right to Know
            In the constitution, Article 39 (2) states: "a) the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression and b) freedom of the press are guaranteed." However, there are 16 legal provisions (5), such as the Official Secrets Act, designed to repress freedom of expression. The specific areas of restrictions include state security, foreign relations, public order, and defamation.
            Press freedom in Bangladesh is also restrained by physical harassment of journalists. Rahman (6) reports that six journalists were killed and 282 injured, mostly local reporters, in attacks across the country from the year 2000 to 2003. With such conditions, Bangladesh ranked 137th in terms of press freedom in a study conducted by the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) in 2006.
            As for the public's right to know, there is no clear reference on the right to information in the constitution. However, after a strong demand from journalists and civil society, the government has decided to introduce the Right to Information Act in 2007.

(1)      Chowdhury, Afsan. Media in Times of Crisis: National and International Issues. Shrabon. Dhaka 2004.
(2)      Rezwan-Ul-Alam, S M. "Trends in Bangladesh Media." The Communication Initiative Network. UNICEF. 4 June 2008 .
(3)      ibid.
(4)      ibid.
(5)      ibid., and Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index - 2006. Reporters Sans Frontiers. 4 June 2008 .
(6)      Rahman, Mahfuzur. The State of Media in Bangladesh. News Network. Dhaka 2004

Working Table of Contents (as of June 3rd 2008) . . . go to Teacher's comment

I. Introduction
     1.) Bangladesh Prior to Independence (Brief History)
     2.) Independence of Bangladesh
II. Social History of Bangladesh
     1.) Social Structure
         1.) Ethnicity
         2.) Caste
         3.) Immigrants
         4.) Women in Bangladesh
     2.) Social Integration
     3.) Education
     4.) Religion
     5.) Culture
     6.) Media
III. Economic History of Bangladesh
     1.) Economic Structure
     2.) Industry
         1.) Agriculture
         2.) Manufacture
         3.) Mining
         4.) Tourism
     3.) Development Plans
         1.) 1st Development Plan
         2.) 2nd Development Plan
         3.) 3rd Development Plan
         4.) 4th Development Plan
         5.) 5th Development Plan
     4.) Foreign Trade
     5.) Foreign Aid
     6.) Grameen Bank
IV. Conclusion

Bibliography (as of March 23rd 2008) . . . go to Teacher's comment

I. Books
1.      Zehadul, Karim A.H.M. The Pattern of Rural Leadership in an Agrarian Society A Case Study of the Changing Power Structure in Bangladesh. South Asia Books.
2.      Ali, Imam A.F. Changing Social Stratification in Rural Bangladesh. South Asia Books.
3.      Rahman, Hossain Zillur. Rethinking Rural Poverty Bangladesh as a Case Study. SAGE.
4.      Islam, Nazrul. Urbanization in Bangladesh and the Growth of Dhaka Land Use, Poverty and Governance : Four Lectures. K.P. Bagchi & Co.
5.      Singh, Nagendra Kumar. Bangladesh Society and Change. New Delhi : Anmol Publications, 2003.
6.      Rahman, Motiur. Development Policies and Poverty Alleviation in Bangladesh. New Delhi : Serials, 2005.
7.      Baxter, Craig. Historical Dictionary of Bangladesh. 3rd ed. London : Scarecrow, 2003.
8.      Krishna, Meeta. Poverty Alleviation and Rural Poor. New Delhi : Mittal Publication, 2003.
9.      Theruddin, M. Banking and Development Issues in Bangladesh. (publisher N/A on web)
10.      Begum, Asma. Village Women and Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Gyan Books, 2007.
11.      Yunus, Muhammad. Banker to the Poor : The Story of the Grameen Bank. Aurum Press.

II. Articles
12.      Khandker, Shahidur et al. Is Grameen Bank Sustainable ? Human Resources Development and Operations Policy, 1994. .
13.      Dowla, Asif Ud. Micro Leasing : The Grameen Bank Experience. St. Mary`s College of Maryland. July, 1998. .
14.      Islam, S. Aminul. Overcoming Poverty in Bangladesh : Search for a New Paradigm. Bangladesh e-Journal of Sociology. Vol. 1. No. 2. July, 2004. .
15.      Hossain, Mahabub and Catalina P. Diaz. Reaching the Poor with Effective Microcredit : Evaluation of a Grameen Bank Replication in the Philippines. International Rice Research Institute. .
16.      Littlefield, Elizabeth et al. Is Microfinance an Effective Strategy to Reach the Millennium Development Goals. Focus Note. 2003. .
17.      Morduch, Jonathan. The role of subsidies in microfinance: evidence from the Grameen Bank. Journal of Development Economics. 1999. .

III. Websites
18.      Banglapedia.
19.      Bangladesh, from Library of Congress, Country Studies. .
20.      Dr. Muhammed Yunus, from Bangladesh Cultural Center. .
21.      Grameen : Banking for the Poor (official website). .
22.      Muhammad Yunus, from The Nobel Peace Prize. .
23.      Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. .
24.      Article : Microfinance, from Wikipedia. .
25.      Article : Grameen Bank, from Wikipedia. .
26.      Article : Bangladesh, from Wikipedia. .
27.      Article : Muhammad Yunus, from Wikipedia. .

This is a Working Reference List in Progress