Bangladesh Betar: unsung heroes of 1971

March 26, 2015

Bangladesh Betar- unsung heroes of 1971=The war of independence was fought on many fronts, not just on the battlefield with rifles, bayonets, grenades and incendiaries. Bangladesh earned its independence in just nine months because of the untrammelled passion of its people who strived in whatever way they could to make it happen.
The officials of the then Radio Pakistan, now Bangladesh Betar, are some of those unsung heroes who fought in their own way and made the message of independence stand out, inspiring people to put individual differences aside and unite for a cause.
Even before the declaration of independence was formally declared, officials of the Dhaka station of Radio Pakistan, under the headship of regional director Ashrafuzzaman Khan, changed the centre’s name into Dhaka Betar Kendra and aired patriotic songs and reports on political developments without prior consent of the higher authority.
Officials of other stations like Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet and Rangpur soon followed suit and spread the message far and wide, said Ashfaqur Rahman Khan, the then programme organiser of Dhaka station. Khan, who retired as a deputy director general of Bangladesh Betar in 1999, described how the war on the broadcasting front was fought.
‘Since the language movement of 1952, radio officials supported the Bangali nationalism and the muted dissent found open expression after the newly-elected national assembly was postponed on March 1,’ he said.
It was a desperate time requiring desperate measures, but radio officials knew they needed to be cautious and watchful of the unfolding events. Their efforts began with changing the Dhaka station’s name and broadcasting programmes with the changed name announced in opening and closing credits.
Kazi Abdur Rafique, a programme producer of the station, would host secret meetings of the radio officials at his residence. During that volatile time, former radio officials said, an integral part of their strategy was to play patriotic songs of singers like Anjumanara Begum, Zahidur Karim, Ajit Roy, Sabina Yasmin and others.’
There were a few Urdu speaking officials posted to the station but they were outnumbered by their Bangladeshi counterparts and held little sway over the goings-on. ‘We didn’t face any obstruction from the Pakistan authorities as they were still observing our activities,’ said Ashfaqur Rahman Khan.
A major predicament arose when the Dhaka station decided to live-broadcast the historic March 7 speech delivered by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Director Ashrafuzzaman Khan formed a team of officials tasked with broadcasting the speech live to the audience, with Mabzurul Hossain, Ahmeduzzaman, Mafizul Huque, Nassar Ahmed Chowdhury, Kazi Abdur Rafique, Bahram Siddiqui, Shamsul Alam and Taher Sultan in the team.
‘We had a feeling that the central government might intervene to stop the airing, so as a precaution, we kept our telephone receivers off the hook so that no one could call and disrupt the schedule, and started airing announcement of the speech since early morning of the day,’ Khan said.
‘Ashrafuzzaman Khan, Kazi Abdur Rafique and a few other officials were on the field while a few of us stayed back, to oversee the airing from inside the station.
‘However, the plan failed as an official inadvertently put a receiver back in its cradle and received a call from a Major Siddque Saleh, who ordered to stop the airing. I informed Ashrafuzzaman Khan of the development and he delivered the message to Mujibur Rahman, who was on stage delivering the speech.
‘Sheikh Mujib then announced a civil disobedience movement urging all government officials to abstain from work from that very moment onwards. In compliance with his order, Ashrafuzzaman Khan instructed us to leave the station immediately,’ Khan said, with pride glittering in his eyes.
The station, which was the most popular mass communication medium at the time, remained shuttered for a full day. ‘We stayed away from work and were waiting for the next instruction of Ashraf-Uz-Zaman,’ said Kazi Abdur Rafique.
‘The strike was unprecedented in its nature and the authorities had to finally agree to our condition, so we joined office again. I had recorded the speech via an EMI emergency portable recording gear and we aired the speech at eight in the next morning,’ he added.
The station faced no other obstruction until March 25 and continued to air special bulletins as well as general programmes. After March 25, when the Pakistani army cracked down on Dhaka, some radio officials in Chittagong launched Swadhin Bangla Biplabi Betar Kendra though it was destroyed by Pakistani army on March 30.
By the second week of May, some officials and announcers of the Dhaka station crossed the border to India and soon the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra was reformed.
‘HA Sikder, Taher Sultan and I went to India on May 11, where we helped form the Kolkata-based Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, which started operating on May 25,’ said Ashfaqur Rahman Khan.

-Input from New Age

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