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Sylhet , Bangladesh

Sylhet (Sylheti: ছিলট Silôţ, Bengali: সিলেট Ṣileţ), is a major city in north-eastern Bangladesh. It is the main city of Sylhet Division and Sylhet District, and was granted metropolitan city status in March 2009.[1] Sylhet is located on the banks of the Surma Valley and is surrounded by the Jaintia, Khasi and Tripura hills. The city is approaching a population of 500,000 people while also having a high population density.[citation needed] It is one of the largest cities in Bangladesh. The Sylhet region is well known for its tea gardens and tropical forests The city is also known for its business boom; being one of the richest cities in Bangladesh,[4] with new investments of hotels, shopping malls and luxury housing estates, brought mainly by expatriates living in the United Kingdom.[5][6]
Sylhet has a history of conquests and heritage from different types of cultures. The city is described as a City of Saints,[7] with the mausoleum of the great saint Hazrat Shah Jalal, who brought Islam to Bengal during the 14th century, being located here.[8] During the next few centuries it was part of the state of Assam during the rule of British India. After independence between India and Pakistan, Sylhet was then part of East Pakistan based on a referendum, and is now part of Bangladesh. It played a major role in the Bangladesh Liberation War during the 1970s.

Historians[who?] believe that Sylhet was an expanded commercial center from the ancient period, which explains its original namesake. During this time, Sylhet was probably inhabited by Indo-Aryan Brahmins, though ethnically the population would also have traces of Assamese, Dravidians of Bengal, Arabs, Persians and Turks.[citation needed] It has also been suggested that the Ancient Kingdom of Harikela was situated in modern Sylhet.[9][10]
In the ancient and early medieval period, Sylhet was ruled primarily by local chieftains as viceroy of the kings of Pragjyotishpur.[11] There is evidence to suggest that the Maharaja Sri Chandra, of northern Bengal, conquered Bengal in the 10th century, although this is a much disputed topic amongst Bangladeshi historians and archaeologists. This was a period of relative prosperity and there is little evidence to suggest this was marred by wars or feuds. Sylhet was certainly known by the rest of India, and is even referred to in the ancient Hindu sacred Tantric text, the Shakti Sangama Tantra, as 'Silhatta'.[citation needed] The last chieftain to reign in Sylhet was Govinda of Gaur.[12] Sylhet was previously a Brahmin kingdom, controlled by the rajas. Brahmin kingdoms of ancient Sylhet declined and tribal people of mongoloid origin established their chiefdoms in most parts of Sylhet. One of such chieftains was Gavinda of Gaur, commonly known as Gaur Gavinda, who was defeated in 1303 by Hazrat Shah Jala Yamani and his 360 Sufi disciples

The 14th century marked the beginning of Islamic influence in Sylhet, with the arrivals of Sufi disciples to the region.[14] In 1301, Sylhet was conquered by Shamsu'd-Din Firuz, a Bengali enterprising governor. Sikander Shah rallied his army against Raja Gaur Gobind, because the Raja ordered a man to be killed for sacrificing a cow for his son. But Sikander Shah was defeated by the Raja.[15] A messianic Muslim saint, Shah Jalal, arrived in Sylhet in 1303 from Mecca via Delhi and Dhaka with the instructions for aiding Sikhander Khan Ghazi in defeating Govinda of Gaur.[7][16] Ghazi was the direct nephew of Sultan Firoz Shah of Delhi. Under the spiritual leadership of Shah Jalal and his 360 companions, many people converted to Islam and began spreading the religion to other parts of the country. Shah Jalal died in Sylhet in or around the year 1350. His shrine is located in the north of the city, inside the perimeter of the mosque complex known as Dargah-e-Shah Jalal.[17] Even today Shah Jalal remains revered and visitors arrive from all over Bangladesh and beyond to pay homage.[7] Saints such as Shah Jalal Shah Paran and Shah Kamal Qahafan were responsible for the conversion of most of the populace from the native religion of Hinduism or Buddhism to Islam. Shortly thereafter, Sylhet became a center of Islam in Bengal. In the official documents and historical papers, Sylhet was often referred to as Jalalabad during the era of the Muslim rule.[18][19]
British rule in the Indian subcontinent began in the 17th century. During the period the British East India Company employed Indian lascars which included Sylhetis.[20] In the late 18th century, the British East India Company became interested in Sylhet and saw it as an area of strategic importance in the war against Burma. Sylhet was gradually absorbed into British control and administration and was governed as a part of Bengal. In 1778, the East India Company appointed Robert Lindsay of Sylhet, who started trading and governing the region, making fortune. He was disregarded by the local Sylhetis and other Muslims.[citation needed] In 1781, a devastating flood struck the region which wiped out crops and killing a third of the population. The locals blamed the British for not preventing the greatness of the event, which led to an uprising, led by Syed Hadi and Syed Mahdi (known as the Pirzada). Lindsay's army was defiant and defeated the Piraza in battle in Sylhet.[citation needed] The numbers of lascars grew during the wars, some ending up on the docks of London and Liverpool temporary, other however established themselves in the communities and married English women. In the next few years during the World War II, many fought in the war and some were serving in ships in poor conditions, which led to many escaping and settling in London, opening Indian curry cafes and restaurants.[21][22]
After the British administrative reorganization of India, Sylhet was eventually incorporated into Assam. It remained a part of Assam for the rest of the era of British rule. In 1947, following a referendum, almost all of erstwhile Sylhet became a part of East Pakistan, barring the Karimganj subdivision which was incorporated into the new Indian state of Assam.[23] The referundum was held on 6 July 1947, 239,619 people voted to join Pakistan and 184,041 voted to remain part of India.[24] The referendum was acknowledged by Article 3 of the India Independence Act of 18 July 1947.[25] In 1971, Sylhet became part of the newly formed independent country of Bangladesh.[18]
Sylhet has a "Friendship Link" with the city of St Albans in the United Kingdom. The link was established in 1988 when the District council supported a housing project in Sylhet as part of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless.[citation needed] Sylhet was chosen because it is the area of origin for the largest ethnic minority group in St Albans.[26] In July 1996, the mayor of Sylhet, Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran, signed the Twinning accord between Sylhet and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (home to around 40,000 Sylhetis at the time), with the mayor of Tower Hamlets late Albert Jacobs in London.[27] In March 2009, the Mayor of Sylhet, Badar Uddin Ahmed Kamran, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to form another Friendship Link between Sylhet and the Metropolitan Borough of Rochdale (home to around 8,000 Sylhetis at present), with the Mayor of Rochdale Cllr Keith Swift at the Sylhet City Corporation
Sylhet is located at 24.8917°N 91.8833°E, in the north eastern region of Bangladesh within the Sylhet Division, within the Sylhet District and Sylhet Sadar Upazila. The climate of Sylhet is humid subtropical with a predominantly hot and humid summer and a relatively cool winter. The city is within the monsoon climatic zone, with annual average highest temperatures of 23 °C (Aug-Oct) and average lowest temperature of 7 °C (Jan). Nearly 80% of the annual average rainfall of 3,334 mm occurs between May and September.[28]
The city is located within the region where there are hills and basins which constitute one of the most distinctive regions in Bangladesh. The physiography of Sylhet consists mainly of hill soils, encompassing a few large depressions known locally as "beels" which can be mainly classified as oxbow lakes, caused by tectonic subsidence primarily during the earthquake of 1762. It is flanked by the Indian states of the Meghalaya in the north, Assam in the east, Tripura in the south and the Bangladesh districts of Netrokona, Kishoregonj and Brahmanbaria in the west. The area covered by Sylhet Division is 12,569 km², which is about 8% of the total land area of Bangladesh.
Geologically, the region is complex having diverse sacrificial geomorphology; high topography of Plio-Miocene age such as Khasi and Jaintia hills and small hillocks along the border. At the centre there is a vast low laying flood plain of recent origin with saucer shaped depressions, locally called Haors. Available limestone deposits in different parts of the region suggest that the whole area was under the ocean in the Oligo-Miocene. In the last 150 years three major earthquakes hit the city, at a magnitude of at least 7.5 on the Richter Scale, the last one took place in 1918, although many people are unaware that Sylhet lies on the earthquake prone zone of Bangladesh.[

Sylhet consists of 27 wards and 210 mahallas, it is a small city with an area of 26.50 km².[31] The rapid growth and expansion of Sylhet occurred during the colonial period. Sylhet Municipality was established in 1878. A devastating earthquake demolished almost the entire town on 12 June 1897 following which a modern and European model new town was built on the wreckage. Many new roads were constructed in the late 1890s and Sylhet became really connected to the other parts of the country with the establishment of an extension line of AssamBengal Railway in 1912-15. From the very beginning of the 20th century, the importance of Sylhet increased with the establishment of the tea industry. In the 1950s and 1960s, rapid urbanisation took place in the town, fostered by the expatriate Sylhetis and the process is still ongoing.
On 9 April 2001, Sylhet was changed to a city corporation from a municipal board, and currently the city is administrated by the Sylhet City Corporation. At present, Sylhet is the district-headquarters as well as the divisional headquarters of the districts of Sunamganj, Habiganj, Maulvi Bazar and Sylhet District. The Sylhet City Corporation is responsible for the services that are provided within the city which includes traffic, roads, garbage collection, water supply, registrations and many others. The corporation consists of the Chairman and 22 other Commissioners, and focuses on the development of the city
Remittance has been the key element of the economic growth of the city and also the region. The money is mainly sent by expatriates of Sylhet living abroad, particularly the United Kingdom, majority of the community originate from Sylhet.[33] These foreign Bangladeshis are now looking to invest in the city. During the fiscal year of 2005-06, the flow of remittances increased by 25 % to $4.8 billion, mostly from expatriates of Sylheti origin living in the United Kingdom with significant contributions from expatriates in the United States. That amount was expected to increase to $5.5 billion in 2007, with the government's attention toward supervising and monitoring banks.[34] The amount of idle money lying with the commercial banks in Sylhet as deposits is about 4,000 crore taka, which is not common in the rest of Bangladesh.

Although Sylhet is a small city in comparison to the capital, it has been transformed drastically over the years. The construction industry in Sylhet is currently booming, with many shopping centres and apartments being built to luxurious standards. It has been described as one of the wealthiest cities in the country .[4] The skyline of the city is mainly dominated by large buildings of western-style shopping malls, which has been the largest investments made by the expatriates.[36][37] There are many new restaurants and stores, often themed on those found in London, which have been established to cater to the visiting Sylheti expatriate population and the growing Sylheti middle classes.[38] These include, Garden Tower in Uposhohor, the London Mansion, Sylhet Millennium, Blue Water (named after Bluewater Shopping Complex in the UK), London Fried Chicken (from Perfect Fried Chicken) and Tessco (misspelt from the original Tesco).[38] New hotels have been established, the Rose View Hotel and the first Apartment-Hotel and resort in Bangladesh, called Grand Sylhet, are both the only five-star hotels in the city.[39] Large multinational companies have also started to invest in Sylhet, one of these being HSBC Bank, which started its service in 2006 with 6,000 customers, and opened a Customer Service Center in 2008 in the Upashahar area.[40] The Sylhet area contains several important natural gas fields, which make an important contribution to the energy balance of Bangladesh.

The government has taken steps to create a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Sylhet.[41] It is the first SEZ to be created in Bangladesh, after research conducted showed that the region is the best place, which will protect the human and natural resources, including the infrastructure of foreign investment, and to create strong economic development with domestic and international markets.[42] The new zone only allows public-private partnership, without the interference of government finance.[43] The SEZ was created due to the demands of the British-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce, which is an economic forum of British Bangladeshis.[44] The plan comes as an initiative toward stimulating the ongoing investment that has already taken place in Sylhet as well as providing a basis towards long-term investment to turn Sylhet into a major economic hub.[45] Investments by British Bangladeshis led the way for two additional privately owned airlines, Royal Bengal Airlines and United Airways, to launch services in 2007. The investment is regarded to serve the Sylheti population living in the UK.[46]
However with the growth of new businesses being based in the city, there are criticisms for the lack of sustainability of the economy of the city. There are relatively few industries developed and is also lacking the levels of agricultural production, which is very low in comparison to other districts due to lack of interest in agriculture. Large numbers of remittance and investment is being spent in the city, but the first and second generation British Bangladeshis have not considered whether these investments will create new jobs for the people in order to create a sustainable developing economy. It has created a prosperity type of society, where school children believe that London will only provide success.[4] Studies have shown that 70% of the community rely on remittance sent from relatives abroad, shopping malls are mainly created because it is recognised as being safe, and these investments may have reached to the point of saturation.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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