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Bangladeshis in Italy  

Andrea Priori

The Bangladeshi population in Italy boomed in 1990, spreading from Rome and forming local enclaves shaped by migration chains; it is the second-largest Bangladeshi group in Europe and sees a preponderance of Sunni Muslims, a large majority of working-age men, and poor access of women to employment. Although both Italian institutions and migrant associations promoted a monolithic image of the “Bangladeshi community” as a category of political visibility, Italian Bangladeshis present considerable variety in terms of geographic origin and ideological affiliations and important differences in terms of social origins between endangered middle classes and urban middle classes with steady economic situations. Interaction with the Italian institutions results in further differentiation between “legal” and undocumented migrants, which overlaps, in part, with that between those in northern Italy, where Bangladeshi workers are generally entitled to full rights, and those in Rome and the south, where the informal economy is widespread. The large presence of undocumented working-age men fuels marginality and exploitation, both by natives and co-nationals. Patronage relations between co-nationals are crucial in providing access to emigration, housing, and employment and add to the dynamics of self-organization, especially in the case of secular associations. A peculiar characteristic of Italian Bangladeshis is the tendency to form mononational organizations (both secular and Islamic) that proliferate by virtue of scissions, along with transnationalism and entrepreneurship. In contrast, the new generation tends to move beyond communal introversion and transnationalism, but this is limited to only those with promising careers. Even among young people, extensive areas of marginality exist; this results in the persistence of attitudes typical of the migrant generation and reproduces among those who grew up in Italy the distinction, characteristic of the situation of the migrants, between those who have been successfully incorporated into Italian society and those suffering social exclusion.


Bengal Delta  

Iftekhar Iqbal

Located between the foothills of the eastern Himalayas and the northern shores of the Bay of Bengal, the Bengal Delta has been for more than a millennium a major frontier region of the subcontinent, a gateway to the Indian Ocean and an evolving cultural hub. Because of its frontier location, the region has experienced the interplay of domination and independence from northern Indian imperial powers. Its location also allowed it to connect with the western Indian Ocean as well as the Southeast Asian and South China maritime spaces, making it a long-term player in international trade. These spatially induced political and economic experiences and a remarkable mobility of people and ideas from and into the region shaped a culture that was regionally rooted yet open to cosmopolitan ethos. It was not until the arrival of late colonial national imaginations when the Bengal Delta’s regional integration was put to the test, which resulted in its splitting into two parts: West Bengal of India and Bangladesh.


Bengali Literature of Arakan  

Thibaut d'Hubert

Between the 16th and the 18th centuries, Middle Bengali became a major idiom of literary expression in the kingdom of Arakan. It is within the domain of this coastal kingdom, which then comprised the region of Chittagong in today’s Bangladesh, that Muslim subjects of the Buddhist kings started using the courtly vernacular that was previously cultivated by Hindu dignitaries of the Ḥusayn Shāhī sultans of Bengal. By the mid-17th century, which constituted a moment of economic prosperity and maximum territorial expansion, all genres of Middle Bengali poetry were represented in the corpus of texts written by authors living in the urban and rural areas of the kingdom. The many treatises on Muslim beliefs and meditative practices, the hagiographic literature, and the courtly romances testify to the formation of a local Islamic cultural ethos. After the Mughal conquest of Chittagong in 1666, local literacy was still cultivating standards set by authors of the Arakanese period such as Saiẏad Sultān and Ālāol. In Arakan itself, Bengali Muslim literature continued to be produced and transmitted until at least the first half of the twentieth century. A large number of manuscripts was collected in the first decades of the twentieth century and these are preserved in various institutions in Bangladesh. The Bengali literature of Arakan is characterized by its Indic religious idiom and Sanskritized poetics, but also by its complex intertextuality that reflects the region’s connections with north India and the Persianate trading networks of the Bay of Bengal. Up to the 2000s, the Bengali literature of Arakan has mostly been discussed within the framework of the national literary history of Bangladesh, but subsequently scholars have relocated this corpus within the cultural domain of the Bay of Bengal and the Islamicate literary traditions of South and Southeast Asia.


The History of Gilgit-Baltistan  

Shafqat Hussain

The Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region in northern Pakistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan, has a long history. The people of the region, described as Dards, are mentioned by classical Greek and Roman historians and in sacred Hindu texts. This early history (3rd century ce–10th century ce) of the region shows it as ruled by the Kushan, Chinese, and Tibetan empires. In the 7th-century accounts of Chinese travelers and 8th- and 9th-century Arabic and Persian chronicles, the region is named as Palolo or Bolor in Arabic. It is also mentioned in the 10th-century Persian chronicle Hodud al-ʿĀlam, the 11th-century Kashmiri classic Rajatarangini, and the 16th-century Tarikh-e-Rushdi of Mirza Haider Dughlat, a chronicler of the Mughal emperor Akbar’s court. The colonial history of the region began with the forays of the Dogra generals of Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu in the first half of the 19th century. It is this history of foreign invasions and local rebellions that lies at the heart of the confusion that surrounds the legal, political, and constitutional status of the region to this day. The successive invasions of local Rajas from Jammu and later on from Kashmir, then of the British, as well as the region’s attachment to Pakistan have resulted in multiple claims and counterclaims of sovereignty. Today, the region is mired in the intractable dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. At one point in the late 19th century, the Kashmir state, the British, and the Chinese all simultaneously laid claim on the small kingdom of Hunza. Between 1947 and 1974, the Pakistani government administered GB in much the same way as the British had done, that is, without political representation of the region in the national Parliament. The history of GB since Partition has been essentially a history of its struggle to become a full member of the Pakistani state. This history is fascinating as a case of graded sovereignty. Some piecemeal reforms and agonizingly slow implementation of those reforms since the 1950s has occurred. The hope of the local people in 1947 that they would join the Pakistani federation as a province, as other regions of the country, has essentially remained unrealized.


Indus Valley: Early Commercial Connections with Central and Western Asia  

Dennys Frenez

The study of the commercial and cultural connections between the Greater Indus Valley and other regions of Central and Western Asia occupies a pivotal role in scholarly research on the Indus Tradition. Interregional trade was already established in the Indus River basin during the Neolithic period in the 6th millennium BCE. However, from the early 3rd millennium bce, the Indus (Harappan) merchants and craftspeople contributed to defining, promoting, and regulating long-distance, cross-cultural trade exchanges throughout this region. Indus-type and Indus-related artifacts have been found over a large and differentiated ecumene, encompassing Central Asia, the Iranian Plateau, Mesopotamia and the northern Levant, the Persian Gulf, and the Oman Peninsula. The discovery of Indus trade tools (seals, weights, and containers) in all of Middle Asia, complemented by information from Mesopotamian cuneiform texts, shows that entrepreneurs from the Indus Valley regularly ventured into these regions to transact with the local socioeconomic and political entities. However, Indus artifacts were also exchanged beyond this core region, eventually reaching as far as the Nile Valley, Anatolia, and the Caucasus. In contrast, only a handful of exotic trade tools and commodities have been found at sites in the Greater Indus Valley. The success of Indus trade in Central and Western Asia did not depend solely on the dynamic entrepreneurialism of Indus merchants and the exotic commodities they offered. Specific products were proactively designed and manufactured in the Indus Valley to fulfill the particular needs of foreign markets, and Indus craftspeople moved beyond their native cultural sphere, adapting their distinctive productions to the tastes of foreign elites or reworking indigenous models. The adoption of specific seals and iconographies to regulate external trade activities suggests a conscious attempt to implement a coordinated supraregional marketing strategy adopting shared rules and procedures, with observable globalizing impacts in various contexts of Central and Western Asia.


Mobilities across European Banglascapes  

Francesco Della Puppa

Bangladeshi migration to Europe began as early as the 1600s, when young Bengali men worked as deckhands on British ships bound for London. The British capital became home to what would become, in the following centuries, the largest Bangladeshi community in Europe. However, in the 1970s, the United Kingdom and other continental European countries that had traditionally been destinations for international migration (e.g., the Federal Republic of Germany, France, and Switzerland), tightened their control over new arrivals. At the same time, Mediterranean European countries, which had recently undergone profound social and economic transformations, established themselves as new destinations for migration from the “Global South.” This meant that by the 1990s, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal were among the main destinations for Bangladeshi migration to Europe. The next twenty years saw the 2008 global economic crisis (which hit southern European countries particularly hard) as well as changes in the expectations and the legal and family status of Bangladeshi migrants in Mediterranean Europe (the second generation was born, and the first generation had acquired European passports). Hence, a new migration began to take shape, with Bangladeshi communities again moving to London, but this time from Mediterranean Europe. However, the migratory mobility of these Bangladeshi Europeans has not ended: while some have settled in the United Kingdom, even acquiring British citizenship, many others, because of the disillusionments concerning the United Kingdom as well as the implementation of Brexit, have decided to retrace their steps partially, returning to Mediterranean Europe or settling in other European countries. Meanwhile, many unskilled Bangladeshi workers who previously migrated to Libya also find themselves undertaking a further migration, crossing the Mediterranean to claim asylum in Italy. This demonstrates the ever-increasing complexity of interwoven mobilities across European Banglascapes.


Modern Bangladesh  

Iftekhar Iqbal

Bangladesh is a relatively young state with an agile political heart. Its emergence in 1971 as an independent state accompanied the familiar elements of modern polities, as reflected in the major principles of its first constitution: nationalism, secularism, democracy, and socialism (in the sense of social justice). Yet a prehistory and posthistory of the birth of Bangladesh are replete with contestations, tensions, and quests for new meanings for these categories, providing intriguing windows to the challenges and opportunities facing governance, ideologies, and public life in the country. In the modern period, between the transition to British colonial rule and present times, Bangladesh (part of Bengal until 1947 and East Pakistan until 1971) has been shaped and reshaped by several interrelated historical developments. The idea of nationhood was not a linear one thriving on a certain space, religion, or ethnicity at a given moment, the constant thread of collective national imagination being the desire for economic emancipation from a British colonial system and protracted military rule in Pakistan. But the poverty and deprivation that continued after the independence raised questions about the perception of the postcolonial state as the sole liberator. Since the 1990s, although inequality and poverty have remained constant, Bangladesh has seen remarkable economic growth and a relatively better human-development index, making it a potent partner in the recent spell of Asian economic growth. Democracy and citizenship, however, have remained the weakest link, occasionally leading to military rule or dictated democracy. Amid all visible ups and downs in its political, economic, and social life, Bangladesh remains a vibrant nation-space in the increasingly interconnected modern world.


The Mughal Empire  

Michael H. Fisher

Founded in 1526, the Mughal Empire expanded during the late 16th and 17th centuries across almost the entire Indian subcontinent (except for the southern peninsular tip). At its peak, the empire contained roughly 1.24 million square miles and about 150 million people (half of western Europe in size but double its population). The imperial dynasty was originally Turco-Mongol. But, especially under Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605), the dynasty established the Mughal Empire by incorporating Hindu and other Indian cultures and mobilizing India’s human and natural resources more effectively than any previous state there. Nonetheless, emperors almost constantly faced rebellions and revolts by rival members of the dynasty, imperial administrators, army commanders, regional rulers, and popular movements. By the early 18th century, the empire fragmented into successor states, but the dynasty remained on the throne until 1858 when the British Empire finally displaced it. Throughout, the imperial court patronized extensive histories and literature (in Persian and a range of Indian languages) and works of architecture and representational arts. The imperial administration compiled detailed records, including about the court, army, and the lands it ruled. Historians, from the time of the empire onward, have used these diverse source materials in their own analyses.


Theatre Traditions in Bangladesh  

Syed Jamil Ahmed

Theatre in Bangladesh is best understood in the plural form of “traditions,” since it is a quadruple intertwining of four distinct streams: Sanskrit, indigenous, modern, and applied. Both the Sanskrit and the indigenous traditions employ narration, dialogue, song, dance and music, and eschew “conflict” as the driver of action. Traceable to sometime between the 5th and 6th centuries ce, from which period the earliest textual evidence of a primary form of Sanskrit play is available in ancient Bangladesh, the tradition continues in early-21st-century Bangladesh, albeit only in the academic milieu. More importantly, the secondary forms of Sanskrit plays, which are almost entirely rendered in music and/or dance, serve as a link between the ancient Sanskrit tradition and the indigenous forms of theatre seen in globalizing Bangladesh. Prevalent at least since the 9th century ce, the indigenous theatre tradition is widely prevalent in early-21st-century rural Bangladesh. It displays a wide array of forms such as masked dances suggestive of Buddhist masked dances and festivals of the Himalayan belt; illustrated sung narratives evocative of similar performances in China and Tibet; and song-and-dance performances such as the rās nŗtya of the Manipuri ethnic community, members of which migrated to Bangladesh from the erstwhile independent state of Manipur from the mid-18th century. However, the dominant forms are religious sung-narratives eulogizing Hindu deities, Muslim holy men, Buddhist spiritual teachers, and Christian saints, such as Manasā, Gāzī Pīr, Mādār Pīr, Siddhartha Gautama, and Saint Anthony. Secular sung-narratives, some devised around the renowned collection of ballads titled Maimansimha-gītikā, are also very popular. A second cluster of dominant forms, known by the generic term jātrā appended to a specific name, emerged by adapting European dramaturgy through various acculturations in the 18th century. The tradition of modern theatre emerged out of the conflict-driven notion of European dramaturgy in the mid-19th century—a time when colonial Bengal was negotiating cultural disjuncture ushered in by colonial modernity. Remaining mostly in cultural backwaters till 1971, the modern theatre tradition of Bangladesh emerged with vigor after the War of Liberation, engineered most energetically by about 250 nonprofit city-based ensembles of Group Theatre practitioners. Although amateurs, the groups have successfully striven for artistic excellence, producing memorable plays on the following themes: the liberation war, political protest articulated by Marxist class struggle, machinations of hegemonic masculinity, remonstration against the oppression of the ethnic communities, and cultural-nationalist agendas (most significantly articulated by Rabindranath Tagore). The last-named thematic gave rise to Theatre of the Roots in the 1980s, most memorably enunciated in plays by Selim Al Deen, who rejected European dramaturgy to craft his unique narrative mode of playwriting that evokes the techniques of the sung-narratives of the indigenous theatre tradition of Bangladesh. The tradition of applied theatre is the youngest inclusion in the quadruple intertwining, having emerged in the fervent yearnings of freedom from the internal colonization of the state of Pakistan, as voiced in street theatre plays produced during the years immediately before the liberation war. In the late 1970s, it reemerged as applied theatre brands, popularized as Popular Theatre and Mukta Natak. By the early 1990s, numerous nongovernmental organizations, drawing on the culture and ideology of “development” deployed by the Global North, began to co-opt applied theatre, feeding on rural poverty like vultures in the air.


The Women’s Movement in Bangladesh  

Firdous Azim

The women’s movement in Bangladesh can be traced to the moment of its birth and can be aligned with nation-building efforts. These early feminist campaigns and interventions influenced the ways in which feminist campaigns were launched or how feminist standpoints were conceptualized during the last decades of the 20th century. Three main movements or campaigns marked this moment, leading to new forms of activism and new issues that have emerged in present times. Thus the main contours of women’s activism in the country can be traced to the concepts and campaigns that animated the social movement arena from the 1970’s to the 90’s. Any account of the women’s movement in Bangladesh has to keep in mind the complexities of the ‘woman question’, and the evolution of strategies and tactics for advocating for women’s greater rights and freedoms.