The research was conducted in and around Nilphamary, a small town in the north-west of Bangladesh. Like many other parts of the country, the economy of the area is dominated by agricultural activity, and the town acts as both a local market and a district centre for government and non-government institutions (see Hartmann and Boyce 1983). The town itself developed in the early 1900s as an administrative centre on the railway line between Calcutta, Silliguri and Darjeeling. Under British colonial rule in the 1800s, this was an area of extensive indigo cultivation, and there is some feeling locally that the name Nilphamary may be connected to indigo, as ‘nil’ means blue, the colour of indigo.2 After independence and partition, the railway connection with India was broken, and the area is therefore somewhat isolated economically by the political boundary with India to the north, and by distance from the large economic centres to the south. Nevertheless, the area is heavily influenced by the political and economic activity of the capital city, Dhaka. The town itself is split into two main centres of activity, one associated with the state apparatus (such as court, land registry, school and hospital), and the other associated with the bazaar. The town also acts as a centre of religious activity and contains two large mosques and a Hindu temple.