Official Website of Mr. Serajul Alam Khan - Dada

Home > Books and Lectures > Social Classes in Bangladesh


Social Classes in Bangladesh



This paper focuses on the formation of social differentiation and stratification with the class structure of Bangladesh.

The effort here is to trace the growth of Bengali Nationalism and its politics, our historical background and to relate the development of stratified social forces to our socio-cultural characteristics and the relations of production that exist in our society.

The political and economical system that is described in the ensuing pages is the logical corollary of the social-contract worked out in the following analyses.

Serajul Alam Khan


The total population of Bangladesh is about 114 million (according to 1990 population report) of whom 62.5 millions are grown adults (over 18 years). Children and adolescents constitute 30 percent of the population i.e. 34.2 million. There are 17.3 million teen-agers. 48 percent of the population are female which figures at 53.75 million. The number of tribal people living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and elsewhere in the country are 1.3 million.


52 percent of the national income comes from industry, trade & commerce and the service sector. Agriculture contributes the rest of the 48 percent.


  1. Workers: The industrial labour force employed in mills and factories, transport industry, tea gardens, weaving and other industrial units alongwith agricultural labour force numbers about 30 million. Agricultural labourers form the largest chunk of this force i.e. about 20 million. These 30 million people constitute the workers in Bangladesh. The nature of their work mainly involves physical labour.

  2. Employees: The number of white-collared staff in the government, semi-government, autonomous and non-government institutions, agencies & offices, shops, trading houses, commercial organisations and factories stands at 5.6 million. Their work is clerical and semi-clerical in nature. These people are known in Bangladesh as employees.

  3. Professionals: The relatively well-off groups of cooperative farmers, other land-owning farmers, agronomists, diploma agriculturists, engineers, diploma engineers, physicians, rural doctors, teachers, lawyers, journalists, artists, literatures, cultural activists, writers, social workers, shopkeepers, small and medium businessmen, commercial executives, factory owners, executives of government and non-government organisations, officers and members of the village defence force, Ansars, Police, Border Defence Force and Armed Forces make up the body of professionals in Bangladesh. They are known as professionals for the kind of work they do and for the kind of social status and technical know-how they possess. Their number stands at about 9 million.


About 18 million adult are unemployed. The age of this majority ranges from 18 to 25 years. These people do get occasional and temporary jobs, but these do not bring them enough money for their livelihood. That makes them by and large dependent on the earnings of the other members of the family.

Division Of Social Forces

  1. The Workers: The workers the labour force of Bangladesh, earn their livelihood, basically by selling their physical labour. In the present capitalist form, they are employed as labourers in the factories, transport industry, tea gardens, garments & weaving units and other industrial units and as agricultural labours in the land owned by co-operative farmers and other land owning farmers. Although proletariat in the classical sense, these people have a propensity to acquire small business and property. The relationship between the factory-owners and labourers is generally non-antagonistic. But sometimes it turns hostile. The transport workers are apt in ensuring their daily income by striking a balance between the owners and management. The employers-workers relationship in the tea gardens, weaving units and other organizations also do not invite conflicts.

    The agricultural labourers are, in fact, totally dependent on the land-owing farmers for their year-round employment. This situation of co-existence of the labourers with the employees and professionals is quite obvious. Many employees and professionals are also closely or consanguinity related to the workers. But the workers are in many ways better organised. This is perhaps, one of the reasons why the workers are considered as so vital a social force, on the basis of numbers, that no economic activity can take place without their participation.

  2. Employees (White-Collared Workers): The employees i.e. white collared workers in Bangladesh are people of a low income bracket. They act as a necessary managemental link between workers & professionals. Although they are employed in different government and non-government offices, organisations, institutions, trading and commercial houses etc. they often are engaged in petty business. They don't sell their physical labour like workers. Many of them have a small piece of land. The income difference between the workers and the employees is not much. Yet the employees tend to consider themselves a little better-off than the workers. Again on the question of protecting group interests they, in most cases, forge a unity with the workers. They have a proclivity towards attaining the status of professionals. They nourish an ambition to become the owner of a property of business. However, this desire is not fulfilled, not even in case of an insignificant few.

    These employees of Bangladesh constitute a well organised social force who have the capability to bargain for the fulfilment of their demands.

  3. Professionals: The professionals of Bangladesh constitute that portion of the population who are well established both social and economically. Most of them come from the middle and lower middle class. They are the harbingers of science, technology and knowledge, production and distribution, art and literature, administration, defence etc. as well as the owners and possessors of land, capital, talent and technological know-how. The workers and employees cannot conduct systematic economic activity without the participation of the professionals. This class can be characterised by its egoism, intolerance and parasitism. Ambition is also a general characteristic that pertains to these people. Despite the fact that they have different ways of living and thinking from those of the workers and the employees, the professionals cannot live in isolation from the workers and employees. In Bangladesh, the professionals are a very well organised social force.


In a nutshell it can be said that these workers, employees and professionals are such a determinant social force that no political, economic, social or cultural growth can be achieved without their joint participation.

Politico-Historical Background

  1. The Bengali speaking eastern part of India is distinct from the rest of the subcontinent. Village oriented Asiatic 'kowm' (collective) ownership based rural society was economically stagnant, though it was not that difficult to earn one's living. Unpredictable weather used to bring in sorrow and sufferings in the daily life of people. But the three basic amenities for life i.e. food, clothing and shelter, were so easily available that people hardly ever had an occasion to experience a long struggle against adverse conditions of living. And as we know that the evolution & development of science, knowledge and technology centres around the procurement of these three basic amenities of life and since those were relatively easily available the urge for development of science, knowledge and technology was never felt among the people of this land. Development of the skill of artisans was limited to the fulfilment of the requirements of the rural aristocrats. This skill had no relationship with the necessities and the way of life of the mass of the people. Whatever trade and business was there during the forth, fifth, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries came to an end after the fall of Pals and Sens. The alien administrative system introduced and conducted by the Arab, Afgan and Turks after the eleventh century was mainly meant for the personal earthly pleasures of the rulers. These rulers sometimes revolted against the central rule of Delhi only to ensure their absolute personal enjoyment. The rural masses had no involvement with the lavish life style of the rulers or with their revolts against Delhi.

  2. Some administrative changes in the region were noticed during the Moghal rule, in connection to the collection of land tax. Moreover, the stagnancy in the rural life of Bengal was yet to be shaken off.

  3. The history of East India Company as well as of British rule covers a special chapter of the history of our subjugation and economic exploitation by foreigners. But it was this period that enabled us to enter the modern age in which the modern postal system was introduced, communication system was developed through roads and rail roads, small factories were established, river ports were build, ship building docks were established, trade and commerce both in national and international areas were developed, modern paper note currency was introduced. This process officially imparted a social mobility within the hitherto static rural life of Bengal.

  4. The extensive expansion of English as a language during the British rule was a new addition, which also resulted in the development of knowledge, science and culture in the region. These social, economic and culture activities helped the emergence of a middle class along with transmitting dynamism in the life of the backward masses of Bengal.

  5. This eastern part of India is riverine. Nature is to some extent erratic here. The main occupation was agriculture and fishing. The form of livelihood and culture in this region was dependent on rivers, nature and agricultural production.

  6. In the later ages the admixture of Aryan, Hindu and Muslim culture gave birth to a mixed culture and a new form of livelihood. This should not be identified with that of mere Hindus or Muslims. This hybrid culture is what came to be known as Bengali culture.

  7. The people of this region have their distinctive ethnic entity. The biological mixture of Aryans, Muslims and the Magh, Dutch and Portuguese pirates contributed to the changes in the physical shape, appearance and behaviour of the people of the region.

  8. The European type of slavery of feudalism never existed here. The pattern of land ownership was ecclesiastical-based on religious institutions like the mosques and the temples. The European type of revenue collection was also absent in the region. In the rural 'KOWM' ownership based society the amity of the people of different religions was noteworthy. In the absence of a central rule, the Bengali speaking region of India with its above mentioned political, socio-economic and cultural identity grew as a totally different society in respect of history, politics, tradition, ethnicity, culture and understanding of life. The history of the last thousand years is the testimony of this statement.

  9. The first expression of the need for making a separate state comprising the region inhabited by Bengali speaking people was manifested in the historic 'Lahore Resolution' of 1940. The 'Lahore Resolution' had two basic points. First, to build a modern state in the eastern parts of India where Bengali speaking people form the majority and second, to run that state by applying a democratic mechanism formed by people's representatives appropriate to a modern state. The reference made to the Muslim majority in the 'Lahore Resolution' indicates the necessity for demarcating the boundaries of the different states. This was a point of reference, not the basic issue. But the so called 'two-nation theory' preponderated over the main theme because of the diplomacy played and pressure exerted by the British rulers, the Muslim League and the Congress. The creation of Pakistan and India was an abortive effort to nullify the central theme of the 'Lahore Resolution'. Although Pakistan was created on the basis of the 'two-nation theory', the people of East Bengal started to oppose it right from its inception.

  10. The language movement of 1948, 1949 and 1952 was the expression of the self realisation of the Bengalees of East Bengal, opposed to the concept of Pakistan. The landslide victory of the United Front in the 1954 general election was its political eventuality. The demand for greater provincial autonomy under the 6-points demand in 1966 and the mass upsurge of 1969 and 1970 under the 11-points movement added a new chapter to the Bengali re-awakening. Bengalees provide the existence of a separate entity of East Bengal through the results of the 1970 national polls and the non-cooperation movement in the early months of 1971. Finally, the birth of Bangladesh through the nine months long armed struggle of the people proved that the 'two-nation theory' was wrong. The essence of the 'Lahore Resolution' would never die.

    This is the unique role played by the Bengalees of East Bengal in creating an independent state for themselves.

  11. The Bengalees in the Indian state of West Bengal by successfully implementing left politics in their society have amply proved that they are the fore-runners in building up a socialist society. The Bangalees who once played the leading role in the fields of ideas, culture, literature and economics in the whole of India role in the fields of ideas, culture, literature and economics in the whole of India have proved once again the they can create an independent state for themselves in the Eastern half of the land and go ahead with the efforts to build up socialism in the other (western) half. This role of the Bengalees in the East and the West still remains a subject of research for the politician and the social scientist of the future.

Socio-Economic Analysis

  1. After the fall of the Palas and the Sens dynasties the alien Muslim rule put a discord into the continuity of traditional rule in the region. Later, even the Moghal and the British could not establish the continuity of political administration. Apart from that, lack of continuity imparted some distinct features to the politics of this region. To perpetuate their colonial exploitation the socio-economic development and the modernisation in education and culture brought by the British rule gave birth to a modern middle class. This middle class started political activities which raised the political consciousness of the people. Thus were born the Indian National Congress, the Muslim League, the Krishak Paraja Party, the Communist Party etc. The terrorist movement was also initiated and led by this middle class.

  2. The economic and social conflict between the Hindu elite and the Muslim elite was the main political factor in the 1940s. That is why the conflict between the oppressed poor and the elites of the Hindus and the Muslims remained out of the scene. This precipitated the distortion of the 'Lahore resolution' and opened the scope for the creation of Pakistan and India.

  3. During the Pakistan period the conflict of interest in the political, economic, social and cultural field between the rising Bengali middle class and the West Pakistani bourgeois took a clear shape within a very short time. The twenty-three year long continuous political movement of the anti-Pakistani Bengalees of East Bengal formed the basic structure of Bengali Nationalism. This was led by middle class Bengalees of East Bengal.

  4. The middle class who led the creation of Bangladesh on the basis of Bengali Nationalism has begun to experience quantitative and qualitative changes in life, ideas and points of view. A scope for playing a creative role befitting an independent state has been ushered in. The middle class concentrated on strengthening the capitalist socio-economic structure as much as they can. Although dependent of foreign capital and technology, this capitalist trend is playing special role in the development of the economy of Bangladesh. With industrial growth under the capitalist economy the numbers of workers and employees are also increasing.

  5. These workers and employees possess 'labour-power'. Rural society is also no longer static. Capitalist mode of production is spreading fast in agriculture. The circulation of agricultural products is increasing both in the national and international markets. The ownership of lands is getting concentrated in the hands of the rich and middle class farmers. The agricultural labour force comprises 60 percent of the rural population. The decaying old middle class has given birth to a new middle class. Physicians, engineers, agronomists, journalists, teachers, businessmen, factory owners, civil and military officers, scientists, technologists, artists, writers, lawyers together comprise the new middle class. This middle class is the leader in production and distribution, science, technology and art, literature, culture. They own capital, organisation and talent. They have special training. They are the professionals in Bangladesh society. These professionals possess skill and technological know-how.

The Developed Form Of Bangali Nationalism

  1. The establishment of a nation state for the Bengalees, i.e. Bangladesh has added a new dimension to the ideas, concepts, mentality and inspirations of the Bengali middle class. The outlook of Bengali Nationalism has gained depth and expansion. People are no longer confined within the nationalistic concepts and ideas of 1940, 1952 or 1971. Isolatory identification as Hindu Bengali or Muslim Bengali or Christian Bengali or Buddist Bengali or as Bangladeshi instead of Bangali would open no scope for solving any national or social problems of Bangladesh.

  2. After the emergence of Bangladesh the identity of Bengalees has not only become deep and wide, the new identity of the Bengaliees of Bangladesh in their respective occupational fields as workers, employees and professionals is providing them with incentive to engage in different socio-economic activities. Along with their general identity as a Bengali the special identity that they carry are Bengali worker, Bengali peasant, Bengali employee, Bengali teacher, Bengali physician, Bengali officer, Bengali agronomist, Bengali engineer, Bengali artist, Bengali author, Bengali intellectual, Bengali scientist, Bengali technologist, Bengali factory owner, Bengali banker, Bengali businessman, Bengali journalist, Bengali policeman, Bengali soldier etc. The identity of a Bengali decided in this way by relating him to his work or occupation is a worker, an employee or a professional.

  3. There is a big difference between the identify of a Bengali as Hindu Bengali, Muslim Bengali, Bangla speaking Bengali or Bangladeshi Bengali with that of a Bengali identified on the basis of what job he does. The reality of political, economic, social and cultural view point of the people of Bangladesh should be measured with this difference in consideration.

Socio-Cultural Characteristics

  1. The dominance of the middle class on the social structure of Bangladesh is distinct. These people compete with each other. They are intolerant, unstable and self-centered. On the other hand, they cooperate with each other whenever their group interest demands it. In addition to this middle class the rest of the workers and employees of the society are also influenced with the middle class mentality.

  2. All who belong to these three broad categories want to own some wealth. Here every one is engaged in an unreasonable competition. Everyone wants to compare himself to the next higher level. Everyone wants to reach the peak in his own field. It was because of these habits that Maculae described the Bengalees as 'inferior' or 'lowly' people. But this description was totally wrong. Terming the general socio-cultural properties that are found in an entire nation as 'inferior' or 'lowly' is tantamount to sully a society without perceiving its real nature. These socio-cultural characteristics of the Bengalees are their national quality. The political, economic, social and cultural future of the nation should be guided by keeping these national characteristics of the Bengalees in mind.

Form Of Production Relation

  1. The workers and the employees are basically the owners of the 'labor-power'. The professionals in turn control capital, technology, science, organization, arts and literature. In one word, they control technological know-how or skill.

  2. An effective production-unit depends on the organic coordination of the 'labor-power' of the workers-employees and the 'expertise' of the professionals. But in the present day set up of production relations in Bangladesh there exist a kind of fragmented isolatory relationship between these two. To set up an effective production process the representative of 'Labor-Power' and 'expertise' i.e. the workers-employees and the professional people should be integrated through ensuring their participation in the production, decision making and the process of execution of those decisions.

The inevitability Of Establishing A Social Contract Based On A Philosophical Logic

  1. In the light of the politico-historical, socio-economic background, socio-cultural characteristic and production relation, a new philosophical logic is also emerging in support of the necessity to build up institutions through appropriate social-contact.

  2. Every society has to work out its corresponding philosophical logic and formulate its social-contract.

  3. In the case of Bangladesh, this philosophical logic must assure the satisfaction of basic psychological and aesthetic needs of all the citizens, eliminate the flagrant economic and social inequalities within the society and optimize the potential freedom of each person and each social group to resist manipulation by others. The Philosophical logic that is precipitated in the social milieu of Bangladesh has earned fame as the concept of 'Participatory Democracy' which requires representative participation of the workers-employees and the professionals in the social policy making body or bodies on the basis of equality. It needs formation and development of a new institutional framework through an effective approach of social-contract to bring different groups of people nearer to each other.

  4. The society that falls either to find out the philosophical logic befitting its own specialties or to devise and execute a social-contract or to enrich the philosophical logic or to tune the social-contract with time is bound to fade away with the cycle of time. This is one of the decisive factors for the rise and fall of a society.

  5. The requirement for today's Bangladesh is to give birth to an effective institutions based on the appropriate philosophical logic and the social-contract.

  6. Effective institutions aimed at bringing the workers-employees and the professionals nearer to each other on the basis of social-contract should be built up. The social unity that will emerge through the development of this institution will turn into the guiding force in law making, administration, production and distribution, knowledge and science, literature and culture of the state and the people. This unity will be the national unity of the people of Bangladesh.

System Of Administration And Economic Management On the Basis Of Participation

  1. In the back drop of the social division, differences in the form and nature of social stratification, the principal task will be to build up institutions at all levels of the state and the society with a view to mobilizing the political, economic, social activities of the people on the basis or participation. The applied side of the philosophical logic of participation based on the participatory mentality is the 'social-contract'. And the philosophical logic itself in the context of Bangladesh is 'participatory democracy'.

  2. The aim of this 'participatory democracy' is the development of the entire people for the proper development of the individual. Individual is not only a part of the society he is the ruler and the social leader too.

  3. The administrative system, law making body and its size, ways of voting, economic activities, economic management and the system of production and distribution should be built up on basis of 'participatory democracy'. These institutions should be made into the people's centers for thought, consciousness, decision making and implementation of those decisions by ensuring representation of the workers-employees, and the professionals in those institutions.

On The Role Of The Political Parties

  1. The political organizations of Bangladesh center around individuals. These organizations generally preach some ideology. That is why the structure, forms of character of these organizations are uni-dimensional. But the point of view, behavior and mentality of the workers-employees, and the professionals are multi-dimensional. These people, therefore, cannot develop by becoming members of political parties. On the other hand the trade unions, societies and associations of the workers-employees, and the professionals to which they belong are non-political and hence cannot play any basic role in statecraft and national politics. These organizations are compelled to vote for political parties and their roles become bound within the limits of economism. This is why the workers-employees and the professionals need to be united into 'non-party' bodies to ensure their role in the state politics, social and economic fields. These 'non-party' bodies besides, will be committed to play political roles. People from all strata of the society will get the opportunity to practice politics and democracy only when 'non-party' political bodies grow side by side with political parties.

  2. The workers-employees and the professionals are the bridge or transmitting belt between the government and the people. These three categories of people are the only medium through which decisions taken at the highest level can be executed at the lowest level. The lack of their democratic participation in the decision making process makes them as if they are nothing but a machine that only take orders and obeys.

  3. But the ideas and thinking, hopes and aspirations of these people are not only different from these of the political parties and groups, they also subtle and refined. That is why ensuring the participation of the workers-employees and professions in law making and its implementation is today's main political task. Any political system that leaves the workers-employees and the professionals without 'right' in practicing politics and democracy and render them 'powerless' and without 'authorities' will keep politics and democracy far from the life of the people.

On Implementing Political Technology

  1. Importation of new technology in the economic fields for enhancing the production system is scientific. In the same manner the use of new political technology is essential for making the political system compatible to modern times.

  2. The appropriate use of political technology in the political area of Bangladesh entails representation of the workers-employees and the professionals by building up institutions appropriate for performing the effective social-contract based on the philosophical logic.

Use Of Political Technology in The Light Of International Experience

  1. New political technologies are being used to bring about changes in political administration in the Soviet Unit, China, Eastern Europe and the capitalist world. The political role of the workers-employees and the professionals is being given constitutional recognition in the countries of the world no matter which country belongs to what political camp.

  2. These new political technologies are being introduced because of the fact that the political parties have failed to reflect ideas, hopes and aspirations of the workers-employees are the professionals through their traditional party-based politics.

  3. In the case of Bangladesh too, the constitutional recognition of the political role of the workers-employees and the professionals is the most essential task for the interest of social progress.

  4. Workers, Occupational and Professional people units.