The district of Dinajpur lies in the north-east of Bangladesh. It is surrounded by the districts of Thakurgaon in the north-west, Panchagarh in the north, Nilphamari in the north-east, Rangpur in the east, Gaibandha in the south-east and Jaipurhat in the south, and the Indian state of West Bengal in the west and south-west.
The district's population (as recorded in the 2001 census) is about 2.26 million. Males (51.6% of the population) outnumber females (48.4%). Muslims make up almost 77% of the population, while Hindus make up 20.5%. There are also Buddhist and Christian communities in the district.
The region is well known for its architectural heritage. Its most famous structure is the beautiful Kantanagar (or 'Kantajir') temple - built in 1752 in brick and decorated with terracotta panels. The Dinajpur Rajbari (late nineteenth century) is also one of the most striking buildings of North Bengal. Sukhsagar and Ramsagar are huge man-made ponds where people come to picnic.
Dinajpur also has many beautiful mosques such as the simple and fine-looking Nayabad mosque. An inscription on the central doorway records the date of its construction as 1793 AD in the reign of Emperor Shah Alam II. According to local stories, the mosque was built by the Muslim architects and workers who had been brought from Iran to build the Kantanagar temple. They settled in Nayabad, a village near the temple, and built the mosque for their own use.
Dinajpur: the land of migrants
There are two types of migrants to this region – those who exchanged land – mainly the wealthy zamindars (landlords) of Dinajpur and those who came as settlers of river banks. The latter came in groups, settled in groups, and are usually from Chapai (some also from Murshidabad). The more educated and wealthy replaced the Hindus and eased themselves into their professions in Rajshahi city (which was a predominantly Hindu city) and the less fortunate settled in surrounding areas like, Shibganj, Kansat, Haripur. Then one day they seem to have migrated north to Dinajpur, Ranishankhail after the river changed course and their lands were flooded when the river bank broke.
Jinnahbhai: wealthy migrant of Dinajpur, Chairman of the Community Development Association (a non-governmental organization) - Dinajpur.
North Bengal is a place of migrants – especially of rich people; many came here before Partition. These people who came were rich, they did not necessarily 'come with land' but they brought cash and gold and started businesses here. Many got government assistance like loans and lands to start factories because those who came from India had the know-how – as mainly the educated and the landed came.
Now the birds and animals migrate to India – most of them leave because of the dangerous amounts of pesticides we Bangladeshis use to grow vegetables and because of the random felling of trees for construction work. After 1958, when the United Front government came to power, massive construction businesses were launched all over the country. Civil contractors started appearing everywhere – mostly linked to the army – and forests were cut down to make way for American-style buildings all over Bangladesh, especially Dhaka; many satellite towns cropped up for the rehabilitation of migrants.
The place we're in is a satellite town – an uposhohor – it has quite a few engineering and administrative offices. Every immigrant was given a small flat with a bathroom and kitchen attached. The sewage system, electrical system, water supply were all very modern – and this was for the poorest. For the middle classes there was even land reserved but then 1971 happened and land wasn't given out.
Biharis and other migrants mainly settled in towns –not many moved to the villages. Those from Malda are derogatorily called 'Diyariya' because a 'diyar' means a river bank and so they are referred to as 'people from the river-banks'. People don't like them because they helped the Pakistani army in 1971.
During festivals and fairs our borders are thrown open and people from both sides can come and go easily. The rest of the year, 80% of the population from Dinajpur go to India when they fall ill, because they have better doctors there – doctors have a better attitude towards patients in India, plus, they're better trained.
People are now decidedly either 'Bangladeshi' or 'Indian'… But Dinajpur is a very relaxed place in relation to both ethnic and religious background – you have none of the tensions and anxieties elsewhere in Bangladesh or around Rajshahi. People of all religious denominations and ethnic backgrounds walk around with cultural and religious markers intact. It is a real melting-pot and people here seem to have a 'live and let live' attitude.
Dinajpur: the land of rich paddy fields
The economy of Dinajpur depends mainly upon agriculture. Dinajpur is famous for its rice production. 'Katharibhog' rice is considered one of the finest in Bangladesh. Dinajpur is also rich in wheat production. The lychees of Dinajpur are the best in Bangladesh and along with Rajshahi, Dinajpur is famous for its mangoes. 'Koshba' is called the original mango. The region produces plenty of vegetables and fruits. A huge percentage of people from Dinajpur depend on agriculture-based products and industries such as rice processing mills. The region is also rich in natural resources like coal.
Baset: a migrant from Chapai
This place is good. You know the proverb about Dinajpur? Its 'paddy piled up high, sheds full of cows, ponds brimming with fish' [gola bhora dhan, goyal bhora goru, pukur bhora mach]. People in this district are much happier than those in other districts, everything grows easily, it’s a peaceful place.