The Sandbank People of Bangladesh

Chars are inhabited sandbanks in the Brahmaputra river that crosses Bangladesh from north to south. The chars comprise less than 1.5% of the country’s total land area but accommodate an estimated 5% of its population. Some char settlements only last one or two monsoons after which they disappear into the river and the inhabitants move to another one. Others, like Chauhali char, have been inhabited for two or more generations, have areas of up to tens of square kilometers and have more permanent infrastructure.

Like on most of the larger chars, the daily economy of the char bashi or char dwellers on Chauhali and elsewhere is based on subsistence agriculture, small-time animal husbandry and pond and river fisheries. The majority of the households on Chauhali char are quasi-landless in the sense that they own less than half an acre of land. There is, however, also a small middle group on the char that owns enough land to rent to the landless or to hire landless manpower.