Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 60, Tuesday March 18, 2009




The voice behind the scene

March 26 this year is tinged with a shade of darkness, with the atrocities of the past month still fresh in our minds. Even then, this day is one of pride for us, when we look back and remember all those who contributed towards that gift which we cherish the most- the right to live freely in a nation of our own and the undeniable identity as Bangladeshis, is a date that not only holds significance in the pages of our nation's history, but is also etched into the hearts of all Bangladeshis.

In an exclusive interview with Star Lifestyle, we bring forward one such individual, Belal Mohammad, who is not only one of the founders of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, but is also the pioneer organiser of the station, for it was this 'brain-child' if his, that was the concept behind it all.

“During the time of the Non-cooperation Movement of 1971, the entire nation was in turmoil. Apart from the dreaded apprehension of what was to come that had spread throughout the nation, there was also an undeniable unrest among the Bangalis; a sense of immense agitation. We all felt that we had to do something,” he says.

“On 7 March, when the Non-cooperation Movement began with the speech from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, I remember one particular line, which he directed towards the radio. He had instructed, that if nothing on behalf of the nation was broadcasted on the national radio, then all Bangali radio officers should stop contributing to a radio that was no longer ours.

“I was then a government officer and worked as a scriptwriter and artiste for the radio, and I took his words to heart. I also believed that the radio was a strong backbone for a nation. That is when the idea of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra came to my head.

Since I was already a radio officer, I had some experience on the subject. In those days, the Chittagong Radio station had a 10 KW transmitter, which had a radius of 50 miles listening area.

I, along with two of my friends and co-organizers, Abdullah-Al-Faruque, Abul Kashem Sandwip, and two other unwilling engineers, who we somehow managed to convince, set out for the transmitter station at Kalurghat.

When we arrived at Kalurghat, we realised that we would also need some sort of security force to back us, because the transmitter was situated three miles away from the city, in a very remote place, devoid of any sort of human settlement.

The inaugural transmission of Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was broadcasted at 7:30 pm on the 26 of March 1971, under the leadership of Abdullah-Al-Faruque, Abul Kashem Sandwip and myself.

As content material for the first broadcast, we managed to collect a number of materials. As signature tune, we used the title song 'Joy Bangla, Banglar Gan' from the film 'Joy Bangla'. We also managed to acquire a photocopy of the leaflet that included a telegram from Bangabandhu carrying more instructions for the nation and stated Independence, and we translated that into English. We had another broadcast, at 10:00 pm that night, where, Mahmud Hossain, a close friend of mine read out an announcement, in the form of an SOS, under the name 'Hello Mankind'. That night we ended with an invitation to stay tuned at around 9:00 am the next morning.

That was pretty much how we managed things the first day.

On returning home to Enayet Bazar, I instructed everyone to listen to other radio stations, such as BBC and Voice of America, and jot down important news and headlines, which we could use as material for later broadcasts.

Dr. Shafi's residence at Enayet Bazar was a flurry of activity that night as everyone worked with enthusiasm towards doing their part for the people. And I started thinking of ways to deal with the immediate problem at hand- that was, to gather some sort of security for the next day's broadcast.

On contacting many of my friends, one of them, Taher Sobhan, mentioned that he knew the where about of a Major, who was currently away from the HQ and staying at Potiya Thana. On more questioning, Taher explained, that this 'Major', whose name he did not know, had a company of 150 soldiers under him and he had been put in charge of unloading the cargo from two Pakistan army battleships, the Babar and Swat, that had arrived at the Chittagong Port.

I decided to seek this anonymous Major out, and my friend Mahmud Hossain helped us out by providing transport for us to go to Potiya.

We reached Potiya on the afternoon of the 27th, and there we found ourselves face to face with Major Ziaur Rahman. As it was, the Major who my friend Taher had mentioned, was none other then Major Zia himself.

On meeting the Major, who seemed genuinely excited to see us, I told him of our predicament and asked for his help, whereupon he immediately agreed to help us in every way he could. That day, we returned to Kalurghat feeling victorious. As we all got down to working, I stated to the Major, that since he held a position of importance among the people, it would be very valuable if he would address the nation in a speech over the radio. Again, he readily agreed, and we sat down to work on the speech.

It was thence that we worked for the next two days.

The Kalurghat radio centre was abandoned when it was heavily shelled by the Pakistan Air Force on March 30. The centre, however, resumed its second phase of activities from 3 April 1971 at Bagafa (Tripura State) with a short wave transmitter. The centre was later shifted to Shalbagan and Bagafa-Belonia Forest Hills Road, Agartala. Several other liberation activists who joined later included Abdullah-Al-Faruque, Abul Kashem Sandwip, Kazi Habibuddin Ahmed Moni, Aminur Rahman, Rashidul Hussain, A M Sharfuzzaman, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Syed Abdus Shaker, and Mustafa Monwar. The damaged transmitter that they brought with them from Kalurghat was made operative by engineer Syed Abdus Shaker. The daily programme in this phase consisted of a morning transmission between 8.30 and 9 and an afternoon session between 5 and 7.

Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was renamed Bangladesh Betar on 6 December 1971, when India gave formal recognition to independent Bangladesh and its provisional government. The Bangladesh government moved to Dhaka on 22 December 1971 and Bangladesh Betar started broadcasting in independent Bangladesh on the same day.

Recently, a documentary has been made on the efforts of Belal Mohammad and others behind the formation of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, under the name “Ekkattorer Shobdo Shainik”.

Belal Mohammad, author of many literary works, including stories for youngsters, such as ' Joy Bangla Radio', a novel 'Amar Protiridher Bhasha' and a series of anthologies, concluded with: “Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was the first organised group venture by the people to fight for what they believed in. It was an organization that was conceived as a means of great requirement during that moment, and was ended and shifted to something new, after having served its purpose.”

By Farina Noireet


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