It is said that the history of Dhaka city is more than 400 years old. It was established during the Mughal era as the capital of the Suba (province) Bangla.Till then lot of water have flown through the River Buriganga on the bank of which the city is situated. The city had many ups and downs during the course of the history. Factor like change of dynasties or regimes changed the status of the city from capital city to an ordinary urban administrative center. During the British rule in India,Calcutta was chosen as the capital city which was later developed as one of the magnificent urban centers. Trade and commerce and other vocations flourished in Calcutta. It also became the premier learning center in the subcontinent. Dhaka as a city during those days was only not so important an urban center in the Eastern part of Bengal. Here it needs to be mentioned that the East Bengal was a Muslim majority area compared to the rest of the undivided province of Bengal. In later years, there was large scale political awakening particularly in the then undivided Bengal. Muslims had large scale dissatisfaction for their backwardness in social and economic arenas in Bengal. It may be mentioned here that the undivided Bengal was a large and highly populated province. With time, the colonial government found it difficult to effectively administer the province because of its vastness and political developments. For administrative and political purposes, mostly to satisfy the Muslim, the province was divided into two as the East and West Bengal in 1905. The province of Assam was added to East Bengal and it came to be known as the province of East Bengal and Assam with Dhaka becoming the capital city of the new province. Many, especially Calcutta based politician and elites did not like the ides of the creation of it. They thought it was a move to appease the Muslim and thereby secure their support for the British Raj which was weakening with time with increased movements for the total independence. However, Dhaka started to have a new beginning with increased importance by becoming the capital of the new province. But the honeymoon period was short lived. In 1911, the British had to annul the decision of the creation of new province of East Bengal and Assam under the increased political pressures of the political parties and people who were against this move. Bengal was reunited. Dhaka’s importance waned again. As a center of higher learning Dhaka again began to come into prominence with the establishment of the University of Dhaka in 1921. However, in 1947, Bengal was partitioned into East (excluding Assam) and West as two countries were created (India and Pakistan) with the grant of independence by the British. Dhaka became the capital city of the province of East Bengal which became a part of the erstwhile Pakistan and embarked on a new journey to achieve renewed importance and glory. Pakistan remained united for about 25 years. In 1971, Bangladesh emerged as an independent country after a bloody war against the Pakistani occupation forces. Dhaka automatically became the capital of the new born country. This new journey of the centuries old city is still continuing with unending vigour.
If we do not take into consideration the history of Dhaka city before the partition of India, the developments and changes that have occurred since then could be divided into parts or phases. These developments and changes have transformed the character, heritage and culture of the city beyond imagination. The first one spans over a period of 25 years of the Pakistani days. The second started with the independence of the country and is continuing. The second or the continuing phase can also be divided into two depending on the pace of change which brought in profound changes and transformed the character and culture of the city. This article tries to analyse the changes that happened from the early sixties of the last century to the present. Here it may be mentioned that Dhaka broadly has two parts older and the newer ones. The old part is the historic city developed over the centuries. On the other hand, the new city mostly developed after the creation of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh. For dividing these two parts an arbitrary line could be drawn. The south of the now nonexistent railway line could broadly be treated as the older part while the north of it could be considered as the new Dhaka. This write up mainly focuses on the so called new Dhaka. Here it should be pointed out that some infrastructure developed especially during the British Raj is situated in the newer Dhaka, like, the University of Dhaka, and the official areas adjacent to Ramna Park. During the Pakistani days most of the developments took place in the newer part of the city or toward North. With becoming the provincial capital, there was need for infrastructural development to promote trade and commerce and providing housing facilities to the ever increasing number of government officials. Bangabandhu (erstwihle Jinnah) Avenue, Motijheel Commercial Area, and Dilkhusha Avenues were built specifically to serve commercial purposes. A new secretariat was also built close to Bangabandhu Avenue. In the same locality, a grand mosque called the ‘Baitul Mokkarram’ and a stadium, now Bangabondhu stadium, was constructed. To provide residential facilities especially for the government officials, two areas were developed and many 3-4 storied apartment buildings in Motijheel and Azimpur were constructed. A modern market called ‘New Market’ was also constructed in the same locality. All these were located in new Dhaka. For ensuring planned development of the city, a government agency known as the Dhaka Improvement Trust was established. The Housing and Settlement Department of the government also looked after some aspects of urban development of Dhaka city. Beside planned development, there was also spontaneous growth of the city to cater to the needs of the ever growing number of people coming and settling down in Dhaka for various purposes. Different settlements sprung up primarily to provide housing facilities to the new settlers. These settlements retained their earlier local names, like, Maghbazar, Siddeshari, Malibagh, Rampura, Nayatola, Shantinagar, Naya and Purana Paltan, Kakrail, Shahjahanpur, Khilgaon, Chaudhury Para, Fakirepool, Arambagh, Gopibagh, Bashabo, Kamalapur, Zigatola, Testoribazar, Tejkuni para, Kalabagan, Bhuter Goli, Kathal Bagan, Rayer Bazar (both old and new settlements) etc. Only planned settlements built by the government were renamed like Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Mohammadpur, Pallabi (privately developed) and Mirpur to name some. Here it needs to be mentioned that Mirpur and a greater part of Mohammadpur were developed for settlement of refugees coming to East Pakistan from different places of India after the partition of 1947. In later years, especially after independence in 1971, more new settlements were developed to cater to the growing needs. Settlements in Dhaka also include slums or ‘Bastis’. These provide mainly housing facilities to the low to very low income groups who mainly work in the informal sectors. One important fact that deserves mentioning is that in all these new settlement areas schools, colleges and other forms of educational, sports and cultural organisations and institutions were established mainly through local initiatives. The government on its part also played a significant role especially in establishing different educational institutions. (To be continued)
(This write up is based absolutely on the personal observations of the writer.)
The writer is a Professor, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka.