Forty eight years have passed since Bangladesh gained independence. It was earned through sacrifices of millions of lives. The scorched earth policy of the Pakistani occupation forces during the War or Liberation also caused widespread destruction across the country. Everything came to a standstill and particularly the economy was shattered. In reality, all had to be started from zero.
However, under the leadership of Bangabandhu after his coming back to Bangladesh on 10 January, 1972 from the captivity in Pakistan, everything started to move forward. After liberation, Bangabandhu could lead us for about only three and a half years. The bullets of the assassins took away his life on the night of 15 August, 1975. However, by that time, everything that was needed for an independent country to move forward to achieve its cherished goals was given a shape.After the assassination of Bangabandhu and later the four national leaders inside the Dhaka Central Jail in November 1975, the country witnessed a number of coups and counter coups especially during the rule of General Ziaur Rahman. He was succeeded by General Ershad who also seized power through a military coup by disposing President Sattar. General Ershad was in power for about ten years until he stepped down as a result of a popular upsurge in 1990. Democracy was restored in the country with the adoption of the parliamentary system of government by amending the Constitution. Since then it is continuing with a short disruption during the military backed care taker government of Fakhruddin Ahmed.
All these historical events suggest that Bangladesh’s journey as an independent state was not a smooth one. It has been marred by several disruptions and change of courses. Still then, the country progressed and had significant achievements in a number of areas. However, it also needs to be acknowledged that there are challenges that are to be overcome in the coming years.
This fiscal year, Bangladesh’s economy is estimated to grow by 8.13 per cent, the highest in its history. It has been ranked 41st among the world’s largest economies in 2019, moving up two steps from the previous year. According to a London Based think tank, Bangladesh has become the second biggest economy in South Asia. It is predicted that Bangladesh will enter the league of the top 25 largest economies by 2033. It will rank 36th in 2023 and 27th in 2028.
This indicates that Bangladesh’s economy, over the years, has grown rapidly. This also led to increased job opportunities and standard of living. In 1980, Bangladesh had a GDP of only $18.14 billion. As of 2016, the country’s economy has risen to about US$261.4 billion. Industry and services form a large part of Bangladesh’s economy. The service industry accounts for a majority of the GDP in Bangladesh at 56.5 per cent while contributions of industry and agriculture are 29.2 per cent and 14.2 per cent of the GDP respectively. However, still about 60 per cent of the country’s population works in the industrial and agriculture sectors.
Bangladesh has become the world’s second largest garments exporter, with export amounting to little over US$ 30 billion after China. In this sector, about 4 million workers, mostly women, are working. After liberation, Bangladesh also started exporting human resources especially in the middle-eastern countries. Later, Bangladeshis also went to other countries for pursuing different economic activities. According to one estimate, currently about ten million of our countrymen are working in various countries of the world. Bangladeshi workers remit money back at home for supporting their families and kin. Last year alone, Bangladesh received remittances to the tune of about US$15 billion. The remittances contribute greatly for the development of the country.
Although the economy has rapidly developed, poverty in Bangladesh still persists. But, it has declined remarkably since the independence as a result of decades of concerted efforts in this regard. According to the World Bank, Bangladesh‘s poverty rate fell from 82 per cent in 1972, to 18.5 per cent in 2010, to 13.8 per cent in 2016, and below 9 per cent in 2018, as measured by the percentage of people living below the international extreme poverty line. Based on the current rate of poverty reduction, Bangladesh is projected to eliminate extreme poverty by 2021.
Bangladesh’s success in reduction in poverty is often credited to be a result of gender equality. In recent time, Bangladesh has topped in South Asia in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum. It has jumped 25 steps to 47th place in the Global Gender Gap Ranking, 2017, closing the gender gap by 72 per cent. Bangladesh scored 0.719 on the gender parity index and it has been ranked the highest among South Asian nations. The magnitude of gender disparity is tracked by addressing the issue over time, with a specific focus on the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.
Life expectancy in Bangladesh has risen remarkably. The average lifespan of Bangladeshis is now about 72 years. School enrollment has also increased. In young adults aged 15-24, the literacy rate has increased. The female literacy rates are relatively higher at 93.54 per cent than males at 90.91 per cent. In the Human Development ranking, Bangladesh has also moved up three spots and ranked 136th in HDI due to the remarkable progress it had made in many socio-economic areas, including life expectancy and per capita income according to the Human Development Report (HDR) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
There are other areas of successes after independence. In the arena of sports, we have made laudable progresses. Bangladesh is now one of the Test playing nations of the world. Here it should be noted that only a few countries of the world could achieve this feat of joining the select club within such a short period of time. Bangladesh girls’ football team is one of the leading teams in the south Asian regions. Our sportspersons, in many other sports, have also proved their worth and brought name and fame for the country.
Bangladesh has also made remarkable contribution to maintaining peace across the world by contributing peace keeping forces under UN sponsorship in various troubled zones in different continents. In the last two year, Bangladesh has given shelter to about one million forcefully displaced Rohingya Muslims driven out by the Myanmar armed forces. This has been a great contribution of the country to a humanitarian cause.
These are some of the achievements of the country after gaining independence. But still there are many challenges ahead. Poverty has to be completely eradicated, issues centring equity and social justice are to be addressed, human rights situations needs to be improved and gender parity in all respects is to be achieved.
To cope up with the adverse impacts of the climate change is another important challenge for Bangladesh. Sending back the displaced Rohingyas to Myanmar is the other important issue that Bangladesh needs to address. Bangladesh is a signatory committing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Achievement of SDGs will ultimately depend primarily on government initiatives by creating effective institutions. Good governance is the other important area that needs to be addressed without further delay as this will serve as the ultimate key in making Bangladesh a developed and prosperous nation.
At the very birth of the nation, some quarters tried to stigmatise the country as a ‘basket case’. But with time, those detractors were proved to be wrong. Now, Bangladesh is a basket with full of resources from where it is extending humanitarian and other supports and assistances to many other countries and communities. However, all these have been possible due to the hard work of the people, in both home and abroad, who are ever resilient and challenge seeking and the legacy of the able and selfless leadership of Bangabandhu. He instilled in them indomitable courage to fight against all odds and showed the way how to snatch victory in all possible areas.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude).
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh.