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People, Languages & Religions in Bangladesh


Some 98% of the people are Bengalis (or Banglas). About 12 tribes inhabiting the Chittagong Hill Tracts, collectively totalling less than one million people, are ethnically distinct from the Bengalis; their facial features and language are closer to the Burmese. The government's policy of resettling Bengalis in the region, which is much less densely populated than Bangladesh as a whole, led to racial and religious disturbances and a small-scale tribal insurgency in the early 1980s. About 250,000 of the national population consists of Biharis, non-Bengali Muslims who migrated from India to what was then East Pakistan after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. In the coastal areas of Bangladesh, Arab, Portuguese and Dutch settlers have gradually come to adopt the Bengali life-style.


Bengali (Bangla), part of the Indo-European language family, is the official language of Bangladesh and is spoken by about 98% of the population. The successful move to make Bengali coequal with Urdu as an official language was a hallmark of Bengali nationalism in the early 1950s. Non-Bengali migrants from India still speak Urdu (and Hindi) today, and this language is widely understood in urban areas. A few tribal groups, notably the tribal peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, also speak distinct Tibeto-Burmese languages, akin to Burmese and Assamese. Among those speaking Bangla there are differences of dialect according to region. The people of Chittagong, Noakhali and Sylhet are known for their distinctive dialects. Although today Bangla is the official language, English is also used for official and legal purposes and widely used in business.


The major religion practised in Bangladesh is Islam (89.7%) and a sizeable minority adheres to Hinduism (9.2%). About 96% of the Muslims are Sunni while over 3% are Shi'a. Ethnic Biharis are predominantly Shi'a Muslims. Other religious groups include Buddhists (0.7%, mostly Theravada), Christians (0.3%, mostly of the Roman Catholic denomination), and Animists (0.1%). Bangladesh ranks fourth after Indonesia, Pakistan and India by the number of Muslims, with over 130 million. Islam is the state religion of Bangladesh, but other religions may also be practised in harmony. The United Nations has recognised the country mainly as a moderate Muslim democratic country.





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