VISION OF INDEPENDENCE
After the then Dacca Radio Station was taken over and renamed as Radio Pakistan by the Pakistani army on March 26, 1971, a group of rebels at the Chittagong Radio Station, headed by Belal Mohammad, Abdullah-Al-Faruque and Abul Kashem Sandwip, wasted no time to carry all the equipments miles away to the Kalurghat hideout in the woods. On the same evening, the recalcitrant group inaugurated transmission at 7:30pm from there, challenging the propagandist broadcast of the Radio Pakistan.
Much has been said about the role of the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra(SBBK) veering inevitably towards the never-ending debate as to who made the original declaration of independence. Instead of excavating the exploits, carried out by the people involved with the SBBK, what we have got so far are a jumbling of conflicting narratives. As a result, at stake is the truth about the various phases of the SBBK and the challenges its officials faced to continue their work.
Kamal Lohani, who worked as the chief news editor of the BSSK, tells RIFAT MUNIM about the experiences he had during those turbulent days.
Was the formation of the SBBK a part of an organised move against the Pakistani army?
The most interesting thing about the SBBK was the spontaneity with which some progressive-minded technicians and cultural activists, who also happened to be involved with the Chittagong Radio Station, formed it with whatever they had. After the Pakistani army's crackdown on the Bengalis and the taking over of Dacca Radio Station in the early hours of March 26, the Chittagong-based radio technicians and officials instantaneously decided and implemented the formation as well as transmission of the SBBK. There was no premeditated governmental or political plan behind its formation except for the concerned officials' commitment to resisting the propagandist broadcast of Radio Pakistan. As members of the Chittagong Radio Station, they were well aware of the propaganda that an autocrat-run radio can exert on the psyche of the people by broadcasting false news as to the resistance of the freedom fighters as well as the masses.
The Kalurghat base was bombed soon after it started broadcasting. Where did it shift and settle eventually?
As we know, the first phase of the SBBK spans only for four days at Kalurghat, from March 26 to March 30, until it was bombed by the Pakistani army. Then carrying the instruments all the way to a place near Agartala at Tripura in India, the transmission went on for several days. But things were becoming more difficult with a 10 KW transmitter. Meanwhile the Mujibnagar government was formed, which then asked for broadcasting facilities to the Indian government. The Indian government agreed to help and provided a 50 KW medium wave transmitter. Equipped with a better transmitter, the third phase began at the Ballygunge Circular Road in Kolkata, where the ministers of the Mujibnagar government used to stay. This place, however, was used for recording. The transmission was done from the border area. We handed over the recorded materials to the BSF officials who then took it to the transmission centre. The first transmission began on May 25. That's how we settled down and kept working till December 21. We shifted to Dhaka on December 22.
Kamal Lohani. Photo: zahedul i khan
You were the chief news editor of the SBBK. What were the difficulties that you faced and how did you manage to work in the face of all those difficulties?
I joined there on May 25 as the chief news editor. In the beginning, as you understand, it was not possible for us to compartmentalise all the responsibilities and works into different sections. As a result, responsibilities overlapped. The news editor had to look after the music section while the drama producer had to present news. But as we started to have more people, things became easier for us and all the different sections became strengthened.
The difficulties were of various kinds. There was not enough space and we had to work, eat and sleep at the same place. And think of the working environment: collecting news, preparing and editing those, and dealing with the artistes. Then when the recording began, we had to shut all the doors and windows. Expecting an AC in such a turbulent time was beyond question. But we could not even switch on the fan because in that case the sound created by the fan would be inserted in the recorded material, which was against our 'radio ethics'. Moreover, in that case, everyone might have the impression that we are working in a very aristocratic environment. Consequently, we were always swetaing. That's how we used to work for the whole day.
For a long time we have come to associate the SBBK with a group of singers whose role cannot be emphasised more. But what were the other programmes that you broadcasted?
Our foremost priority was the news, which in the beginning was broadcast in two sessions: one in the morning and the other in the evening. But later we added another in the afternoon. In each session, the news was presented in Bengali and English. Later Urdu was added. Syed Hasan Imam, Babul Aktar and Ali Ashraf Chowdhury, among others, were the Bengali newscasters while filmmaker Alamgir Kabir and theatre personality Ali Zaker, among others, were the Enlish newscasters. Zahid Siddiqui and Parvin Hossain were in charge of Urdu news.
Bipul Bhatyacharya. Photo: Star File
Apart from news, there were regular cultural programmes that included plays, music, and 'kathika' (a narrative story in a sketchy shape). The patriotic and the rebelling songs, many of which were selected from the songs of Indian Gananatya, were very popular which played a pivotal role in boosting up the morale of the freedom fighters. Abdul Jabbar, Ajit Roy, Sujeo Shyam, Samar Das, Rathindranath Roy, Timir Nandi, Manna Haq, Fakir Alamgir, and Kalyani Ghosh, among many others, were the popular singers back in those days. Many from the Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Dal such as Bipul Bhatyacharya and Shaheen Samad also performed for the SBBK. Initially there was no tabla and the instrumentalists tapped rhythmically on the tables and chairs to make up for the tabla.
A number of plays were also very popular. Among these, the Jallader Darbar was the most admired radio play of that time. The play was written by Kalyan Mitra and directed by famed actor Raju Ahmed. Another popular play was Mrityuheen Pran. Syed Hasan Imam was in charge of drama production. Narayan Chakravarty, Madhuri Chatterji, and Bulbul Mahalanabish, among others, were the actors in the plays.
But the most popular programme was a Kathika called Charampatra written, directed and narrated by M R Akhtar Mukul. In this narrative, Mukul presented the exploits of the freedom fighters, using various Bengali dialects in a distorted voice, all of which were intended to utterly mock the Pakistani army.
How was the news collected from the war fields?
That's a very long story altogether. In brief, we had some reporters who used to send news by telegram from the war front. Then sometimes we got news from the headquarters of the Allied Force, situated at Fort William. Besides these, we always monitored the BBC, Akashbani and Voice of America to collect news about the war.
Can you please tell us the name of some war front reporters?
It has been such a long time since I last met them. Yet, I can remember Mainuddin who regularly sent news from the war front.
|Shaheen Samad, a member of the Mukti Sangrami Shilpi Dal. Photo: Star File
What is your most striking memory while the news section was incumbent upon you?
Towards the end of the war, the Communist Party of India (CPM) called hartal in Kolkata, making all sorts of communication totally impossible. As a result, we were totally cut off from the transmitter situated near the border. Moreover, news sent from our reporters could not be carried to us. But if we failed to broadcast news, then everyone would understand that we were operating from India, a fact that we tried to hide from the countrymen. Faced with such a situation, we had decided to talk with the freedom fighters who were in Kolkata at that time. They told us about the probable attacks that they were going to launch on the Pakistani army in the coming days. Based on their information, we had prepared news for all the three days in advance, and had sent those to the transmission centre before the hartal began. That's how we dealt with such an unpredictable situation and got it over with.
A singer of the SBBK, Bipul Bhattacharya, has fallen seriously ill recently, requiring a lot of money for his treatment. Neither the government nor any other organisation is coming forward to help him. Only one or two singers are contributing individually. Doesn't he deserve to be taken care of by the government?
Of course he does. Not only Bipul, but all the artistes, journalists, and technicians involved with the SBBK should be guaranteed proper treatment in case of their illness by the government. They should also be given housing and other facilities. If the government really wants to uphold the spirit of the Liberation War, then it must ensure all these facilities to the people involved with the SBBK.
In recent times, we have seen some instances of yellow journalism in our country. Given the glorious past of the SBBK which epitomised responsible journalism, what do you think today's journalists should do for the country?
We do not seem to take any lesson from that. Back then, we not only envisaged a prosperous future, but also implemented that risking our own lives. We tried to direct the whole nation in the light of nationalism and socialism. Now the journalists are more inclined toward commercialisation. That's why not only the journalists, but the whole nation rushed to the Army stadium only to see the Indian artistes dance, which has nothing to do with our country or culture. And think of the month! It is the month of victory. Then think of the overall condition of the country! The whole country is reeling under a thousand problems. Ignoring all those, we went to take a glance at Shahrukh Khan spending thousands of money. But if just a little of that money was used for charity, then a good number of the impoverished youth would get a job and a better life.
Now time has come for us to think more deeply about the pros and cons of the country. And the journalists, like we did in 1971, should take the people toward the right direction.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010