Vol. 4 Num 57 Wed. July 23, 2003  

Social change in Bangladesh

Professor M. Afsaruddin in his article "Social Change in Bangladesh" (DS May 23) has provided an excellent overview on the subject matter. Non-sociologists should be able to get some notion from this short essay about the concept of society. As a matter of fact one cannot however do justice to the subject matter in such a small space. I take this opportunity, however, to add to what the author has presented as a definition of society and some related information. In defining the term society the author missed one very important factor, i.e GEOGRAPHIC TERRITORY. In our work we find the ollowing definition most useful. "A group of people with a common and at least somewhat distinct culture who occupy a particular territorial area, having a feeling of unity, and regard themselves as a distinguishable entity." ( Modern Dictionary of Sociology).

We cannot fully agree with the author when he says that the society "... individuals and social groups... work together in joint problem solving..." only. The society does not limit itself to "problem solving" only it carries out all activities intended to sustain and enhance the cause of the society within the given social system (structure and value). Prof Afsaruddin writes that it was the donors, multilateral agencies as well as the national government who founded the family planning programme in this country. Not exactly for it was as early as in late 60s of the last century some social activists under the leadership of Professor Humaira Saeed of the Dhaka Medical College, set up a clinic at Segun Bagicha, under the banner The East Pakistan Family Planning Association, the first of its kind in Pakistan, to advice women from low income families on family planning and distribute contraceptives among them. It will not be out of place to mention that the family planning as an innovative concept and service was introduced to the educated class of this country, for that matter the sub-continent as a whole, by late Abul Hassanat through his book Jauna Bigyan and Jonmoniontron O Shu Sontan Lav in 1952. The government, the donors and the multinationals, however, picked up the urban based programme for introducing the service throughout the nation after the service was experimented in rural areas, as a project by late Akhter Hameed Khan, at the Comilla (BARD) Academy.

Social change: A perspective

Role differentiation among our women is in the offing. It is markedly apparent among the middle class and the lower class. Generally they were confined to the kitchen and house keeping. Now with the increasing number of female graduates entering the job market they are increasingly going out to work while taking up the responsibility of accompanying their children to and from school with the added responsibility of taking care of utility bills and also shopping in kitchen market and the mall as well. All these activities used to be exclusively man's domain. The village girls until a decade ago or so were confined to their household chores including helping mothers with baby sitting. Now they are rushing out to the city to work in garment factories. Thus they have turned into bread earners from the reclusive home bound 'non-productive' life. Thus the role and functions of our women are changing and this change is taking place slowly but significantly.

Natural calamities (flood, tidal bore, pestilence) and socially perpetrated carnage (communal riot, famine, war) and social unrest were and some are still visitants to this land of ours. Long before, since the 12th century, these changes started to take place. The people saw diametrical change in their life and living with the arrival of preachers of various religions of foreign origin to this geographic entity, called Bangladesh. Literature on history is replete with such facts and figures. One can just consult SONGSOD:BANGLA OBHIDHAN, a publication of Kolkata, and see over a thousand of foreign words are in use in our vocabulary that bear witness to the change in our education, in our dietery habit, in our dress, in our custom and tradition, and many other cultural activities representing all those foreign immigrants and invaders.

Again incrementally people of this land have started going abroad for entering into the job market in their land of immigration and for seeking formal education in science, technology and literature. Most of them in early days preferred to return home after completion of training and education and take up responsible positions in the fields of law, science, literature, technology, politics and education. To name some: Hussain Shaheed Surwardy, Khawaja Najimuddin (politics); Michael Modhu Sudon Datta and Dr. Shahidullah (literature); Professor S N Bose, Dr. Md. Enamul Huque, Dr. Megh Nath Shaha (Science).

Post independent Bangladesh has distinguished social reformists in the persons of Professor Yunus, Mr. Abed and Dr. Zafrullah. All of them and many others on returning home were instrumental in bringing change in their respective field of expertise that are affecting the society in more than one way. These efforts are accentuated by other NGO programmes in the length and breadth of the nation. The mass communication and electronic media with the latest arrival of IT and circulation of books of foreign origin on science, art, literature, culture and technology have singly and severally impacted upon this society. The quality and quantum of contact between the people of this land and the world around has increased and is still going on unabatedly. Every event as recounted above had contributed and has been contributing to great many changes in the life of individuals, family members and the society at large.

Usually social change refers to significant change in behaviour, in modifying means of livelihood from farming to urban labour, or a change in some larger social system rather than to minor changes in small group or groups. Thus social change refers to the changes that are taking place in the established patterns of social relationships. For example, in family (women in the work force), religion (conversion of lower caste Hindus, subjected to social deprivation, to Islam and Christianity), economic life (farmer enters into industrial labour market), culture (village girls entering into modern education system leaving behind or extending beyond Maktab), institution (formal institution based education system to open university system). These developments are themselves by and large positive in nature but often the fast speed of the change they bring about demeans the absorbility and stability of the society that ultimately contribute to social unrest.


Thus the society is in a flux. Old values and traditions are on the wane with little or no substitution in sight. The situation is further aggravated by the law and order situation and little or no self-restraint among a great proportion of individuals or group of individuals from intrusion upon others' right. Here the role played by the government in administering the country seems to be half-hearted and confusing and in most cases it is rather destructive. Many important constitutional laws are hoodwinked, or misapplication of the law is a day to day affair among government agencies.

Money and muscle power are all that matter. Resultantly the people cannot benefit from the changes while old way of life has almost lost its credence.

Syed Waliullah is former Director General, National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT)