“Bangladesh” is a combination of the Bengali words, Bangla and Desh, meaning the country or land where the Bangla language is spoken.
The class system is similar to a caste structure. The ashraf is a small upper-class of old-money descendants of early Muslim officials and merchants whose roots are in Afghanistan, Turkey, and Iran. Some ashraf families trace their lineage to the Prophet Mohammed. The rest of the population is atraf.
In rural areas, this classification is linked to the amount of land owned, occupation and education.
In urban areas, a great majority of people are laborers; the middle class is of small businessmen and midlevel office workers, and above this is an emerging entrepreneurial group and upper-level service workers.
One of the most obvious symbols of class status is dress. The lungi is worn by most men, except those who consider themselves to have high socioeconomic status and done pants and shirt or loose white cotton pajama pants with a long white shirt. White dress among men symbolizes an occupation that does not require physical labor.
The society is patriarchal in nearly every area of life, although some women have achieved significant positions of political power at the national level. For ordinary women, education is stressed less than it is for men whose authority is reserved to woman’s father, older brother, and husband.
Family and kinship are the core of social life in Bangladesh.
A family group residing in a bari functions as the basic unit of economic endeavor, landholding, and social identity. A barhi is composed of a husband and wife, their unmarried children, and their adult sons with their wives and children. Grandparents also may be present, as well as patrilineally-related brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews. A bari might consist of one or more functional households, depending on the circumstances of family relationship.
A barhi in rural areas is composed of three or four houses which face each other to form a square courtyard in which common tasks are done. Food supplies often are shared, and young couples must contribute their earnings to the household head. Cooking, however, often is done within the constituent nuclear family units.
In the eyes of rural people, the chula defined the effective household which is an extended family exploiting jointly held property and being fed from a jointly operated kitchen. Married sons generally live in their parents’ household during the father’s lifetime.
Marriage is almost always an arranged affair. Men marry typically around an age of 25 but women marry between 15-20; thus the husband is usually at least ten years older than the wife. Muslims allow polygynous marriage, but its occurrence is rare and is dependent on a man’s ability to support multiple households.
A parent who decides that a child is ready to marry may contact agencies, go-betweens, relatives, and friends to find an appropriate mate with an equal match in terms of family economic status, educational background, and piousness. Later, an arrangement between two families may be sealed with an agreement on a dowry and the types of gifts to be made to the groom.
Divorce is a source of social stigma and can be most difficult for the woman, who must return to her parent’s household.
The following 8 rituals take place in a Bangladeshi wedding:
- Arranging the wedding: arranged by Ghotoks (matchmakers), who are generally friends or relatives of the couple, or sometimes just professional
- “Paka-dekha” or “patri-patro”: formal consent given by the family elders from both sides
- Turmeric ceremony: the paste is prepared by five married women called ‘Eyo-stree’ and is applied to the bride’s skin by her friends
- Main Wedding ceremony: Saat paak: bride encircles the groom seven times, as he remains seated on the ‘piri’ while covering her face with betel leaves. Followed by Shubhodrishti: when the bride finally removes the leaves from her face and their eyes meet. Ritual is accompanied by ululation and blowing of conch shells.
- Bou Bhaat: bride serves Rice with Ghee to all her in-laws at lunch at her new home
- Phul Shojja: bride wears a lot of floral ornaments presented by the bride’s family
- Oshto Mongola: 8 days after marriage, the couple visits the bride’s house and spends three nights there
- Shubhochuni Satyanarayan Puja: On the 8th day of marriage, the newly wed couple in their wedding attires are blessed by the purohit and prayers are offered to bless the couple with a happy family
Islamic inheritance rules specify that a daughter should receive one-half the share of a son; but this practice is rarely followed. A widow is supposed to receive a share of her husband’s property, but this too is rare. Sons, however, are custom-bound to care for their mothers, who retain significant power over the rest of the household.
The patrilineal descent principle is most important and the lineage is very often localized within a geographic neighborhood. Lineage members can be called on in times of financial crisis, particularly when support is needed to settle local disputes. Lineages do not meet regularly or control group resources.