Processes of polarization and the breaking up of patron-client relationship in rural Bangladesh.

Jansen EG
In: Bangladesh faces the future, edited by Ole David Koht Norbye. Dhaka, Bangladesh, University Press, 1990. 21-34.

As that part of the population of Bangladesh dependent on agriculture grows, the population adapts to the dwindling availability of cultivable land. 10% of families in Bangladesh own almost 50% of the land while >50% of the families own nothing. These latter families compete with landholders. In Bangladesh, land is transferred either through inheritance or sale between 2 households. Population growth has resulted in increasing sale of small homestead plots of the poor which, about 25 years ago, was considered immoral. If this trend continues, the landless group will grow larger and larger. Generally land transfer occurs under a patron-client relationship which denotes a class difference between people. Patron-client relationships dominate rural areas. For 100s of years, the people have accepted this hierarchy as necessary and morally right. The higher ranked person expects respected behavior from the lower ranked person. It is to the poor seller's advantage to know the codes and practice of respectful behavior. For example, respectful behavior towards a patron may result in favorable employment or a sharecropping contract. Continued trends of increased landlessness will result in many people falling outside the patron-client network since they have nothing to offer patrons. Further no one can take anything from them since they have nothing and are unemployed. These people will form horizontal networks, instead, as already evidenced in some rural villages where laborers have banned together to demand higher wages. In fact, unattached laborers do not exhibit respected behavior to the richer villagers. For example, they stare at the smoke in from of richer peasants or set fire to their barns, homes, and rice paddies. Presently, however, most people in rural areas still operate under behavior dictated by the patron-client relationship. This situation will worsen if population growth continues or alternative sources of employment are not created.

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