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August 15, 16 in 1975: Through the pages of newspapers

August 15, 16 in 1975: Through the pages of newspapers

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Since the formation of Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League or BKSAL on January 25 in 1975, four national dailies Ittefaq, Dainik Bangla, The Bangladesh Observer and The Bangladesh Times had carried news on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on a regular basis and appreciated decisions made by his government.

But things took a ‘U turn’ on August 15, 1975 following the assassination of Bangabandhu, who was also the president of newly independent Bangladesh, and most of his family members by a group of disgruntled army officers at his Dhanmondi residence in the capital.

Forty seven years after the heinous incident, take a look at how the role of newspapers changed within a day through the pages of dailies published on August 15 and 16.

By the time Bangabandhu was killed in the early morning, newspapers had already been printed in the press. Therefore, it is understandable that why only regular news on Bangabandhu instead of his assassination were published in dailies.

On August 15, the highest circulated English newspaper The Bangladesh Observer, edited by Obaidul Haque, published a six-column top story titled ‘Bangabandhu visits DU today/Hearty welcome will be accorded’ as the great leader was scheduled to attend the convocation of Dhaka University on the day.

The headline of second lead was, ‘Korean envoy lauds leadership of Bangabandhu’.

The Observer also ran separate stories on comments made by Bangabandhu’s political secretary Tofail Ahmed and BKSAL secretaries Sheikh Fazlul Haque Moni, Zillur Rahman and Abdur Razzak at a Bangabhaban programme.

The Ittefaq, back then the most popular Bangla daily edited by Nurul Islam Patwary, also made the Dhaka University convocation its lead story. It published a supplement on the occasion as well.

The lead news of the Dainik Bangla, edited by Ehtesham Haider Choudhury, was on the then industries minister AHM Kamaruzzaman’s comment that Bangladesh needed to generate jobs in the villages.

The newspapers which were full of stories on Bangabandhu and his party leaders on and before August 15 couldn’t even bring the news of the assassination of Father of the Nation in their headlines on August 16.

Instead, they emphasised the news on the newly formed government and new President Khandakar Mushtaque Ahmed. The Bangladesh Observer headlined ‘Mushtaque becomes President’ with a shoulder ‘Armed Forces take over: Martial Law proclaimed: Curfew imposed’ and a kicker ‘Mujib killed: Situation remains calm’.

The eight-column story was supplemented by a photo of Mushtaque’s swearing-in ceremony. A number of reports with different titles including ‘Special prayers’, ‘Mushtaque calls for co-operation’, ‘People hail take-over’, ‘Pakistan accords recognition’, ‘Inviolability of foreign missions assured’, ‘Justice must be established: President/Work hard to improve condition quickly’, ‘US ready to conduct normal diplomatic business’, and ‘Curfew relaxed for Juma prayers’ were published in The Bangladesh Observer on August 16.

The Observer’s front page editorial headlined ‘Historical Necessity’, which tried to justify the sudden army takeover, was striking to its readers.

The Bangladesh Times, edited by Abdul Ghani Hazari, made the lead story with the title, ‘Mushtaque Assumes Presidency’. The kicker was ‘Martial Law proclaimed in the country: Mujib killed’.

In its first page op-ed section ‘Our Comments’ a write-up was published with a headline ‘On the Threshold of the New Era’.

The other headlines of the front page stories of the newspaper were ‘People thank Armed Forces’, ‘US ready for normal ties’, ‘Vice-President, ten Ministers, six State Ministers sworn in’, ‘Values have to be rehabilitated’, and ‘Help make Bangladesh a prosperous country’.

The Daily Ittefaq, known as the mouthpiece of Awami League during the pre-independence era, also failed to present the news of Bangabandhu’s assassination properly in its edition on August 16.

Its six-column headline on the day was ‘Military takes power under Khandakar Mushtaque’s leadership’.

Even the intro of the lead didn’t mention about the killing of Father of the Nation as it read, “The Bangladesh armed forces led by President Khandaker Mushtaque Ahmed took over the power in greater interests by toppling former President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman yesterday morning.”

The second paragraph then included, “During the takeover, former President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed in his home.”

Like the two English dailies, Ittefaq also published an editorial supporting the takeover. The headline of it was ‘Historic New Journey’.

The other headlines on the front page of that day’s edition of the newspaper were ‘Vice president, 10 ministers and 6 state ministers take oath’, ‘Takeover in the greater interest of nation’, ‘US to continue normal diplomatic operations’, ‘People heave a sigh of relief’, ‘Return of up to Tk 8,000 of invalid currency’, ‘Felicitations by several quarters’, ‘Status of foreign embassies to remain unaffected’, and ‘BA Siddique becomes Red Cross Chairman’.

The headline of the eight-column lead story of Dainik Bangla was ‘Khandaker Mushtaque new President’.

The shoulder was made ‘Sheikh Mujib assassinated: Martial law and curfew declared: Armed forces express loyalty’ while the headline of its editorial on the front page was ‘A Historic Step’.

Other stories of the major daily on the first page were ‘No compromise with corruption’, ‘Alliance-free policy will be followed: President’, ‘10 ministers and 6 state ministers take oath’, ‘Up to Tk 8,000 of invalid Tk100 currencies will be refunded’, ‘US to continue diplomatic operations with new govt’, and ‘Pakistan decides to give recognition’.

Both Ittefaq and Dainik Bangla published a photo of Khandaker Mushtaque along with their main stories.

Journalists had showed their character even during the autocratic rule of Field Marshal Ayub Khan and General Yahya Khan in the Pakistan era.

Ignoring the red eyes of military dictators, they played a pivotal role in developing public opinion in favour of independence of Bangladesh.

But why the journalists couldn’t publish news objectively after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu? Did the martial law determine the role of media?

Senior journalist and researcher Afsan Chowdhury thinks that it is almost impossible to understand the traumatic reality of 1975 after so many years.

“Everyone was shocked as no one except the killers could think that Sheikh Saheb ever be killed. Martial law was clamped in Bangladesh for the first time. Definitely the new rulers had intervened and made journalists bound to publish news of their choice. Newspaper editors had every reason to be feared. The people who killed a leader like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman could do anything that time,” he said.