A star in the galaxy of journalism disappeared at about 2:30am on Dec 11, 1971. Assassins of Al-Badr – the Pakistani Army’s paramilitary death squad – descended upon the residence of Serajuddin Hossain at 5, Chamelibagh in Dhaka. These devils of darkness kidnapped Hossain, the executive editor of ‘Ittefaq’ – the most popular Bangla-language daily in both Bangladesh and Pakistan. He never came back. His mutilated remains were lost amongst the heaps of body parts of innocent victims in the gruesome genocide of Bengalee intellectuals during the waning days of the Bangladesh’s Liberation War. This happened five days before Bangladesh earned victory. This war, which lasted nine months, caused three million deaths and displaced ten million more Bangladeshis as refugees to neighbouring India.

Serajuddin Hossain’s death reminds me of another exalted editor, Jean-Paul Marat, who was assassinated by a reactionary royalist one hundred and seventy-eight years before the assassination of Serajuddin Hossain. Marat has been immortalised by Jacques-Louis David in his painting, The Death of Marat, and by Baudelaire, who, in his critique of that painting, said:

“Now Marat can challenge Apollo. He has been kissed by the loving lips of Death and he rests in the peace of his metamorphosis.”

Serajuddin Hossain is not going to challenge Apollo but his memory rests in the hearts of millions of Bengalees in Bangladesh and its diaspora. His sacrifice remains a guiding beam for Bengalees in times of need. He carried out the intellectual battle of the Bangladesh Revolution by writing op-eds, creating headlines, and selecting news as the executive editor of the ‘Ittefaq’. Marat ignited the blaze of French Revolution through his newspaper, ‘L’Ami du Peuple’ (Friend of the People). While Serajuddin Hossain and Marat were different in temperament and style, both were martyred editors who fomented enormous social transformation. The world has borne witness to other great editors like Karl Marx, Benjamin Franklin, and Cavour who ignited revolution. Their lives, unlike Serajuddin Hossain and Marat’s, were spared from the gruesome wrath of assassins.

CHILDHOOD AND FORMATIVE YEARS

Serajuddin Hossain was born into a poor but educated family on Mar 1, 1929, in the village Sharushuna of Jessore District in the Bengal province of British India. When he was three his father died. He was raised, then abandoned by a paternal-uncle who was a school teacher. Serajuddin Hossain endured enormous hardship. But he never relented in his pursuit of becoming an educated human being. He continued his high school education, supporting himself by working as a tutor to the children of a widow in exchange for food and accommodation. He grew up in rural Bengal in poverty but never stopped to accomplish his passionate desire to be an enlightened individual and thus reminds us of another iconic leader of the Bengali renaissance – Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

Serajuddin Hossain attended Jhikargacha School, Jessore Madhusudan College, and Kolkata Islamia College from where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1947. His journalism career began as a part-time intern in the daily ‘Azad’ in Kolkata in 1945 when he was a student at Islamia College. After his graduation, he continued to work in ‘Azad’ in Kolkata then as a full-time journalist. Azad Media Company moved its operation from Kolkata to Dhaka in October, 1948. Serajuddin Hossain also accompanied ‘Azad’ to Dhaka, and later became its news editor. He was one of the youngest news editors of a major daily in the entire Indian subcontinent.

EVOLUTION AS A WRITER, JOURNALIST AND EDITOR

As a news editor of ‘Azad’, Serajuddin Hossain made incredible contributions to the Bangla Language Movement. His unflinching courage in supporting the Language Movement with the full force of the most popular daily newspaper defied conventional wisdom because the editor/owner of ‘Azad’ was none other than the leader of the Muslim League against which the entire movement was aimed.  The Muslim League government was determined to deny the majority speaking Bengalee the status of a national language. Serajuddin Hossain was highly principled, and did not compromise his moral principles for personal benefits. Finally, he was fired from ‘Azad’ in 1954 because of his strong news coverage of a new coalition named the United Front, which included the progressive elements of the Bengalee political movement.

In 1954, he worked at Franklin Publications of the United States Information Service first as a junior editor and later as an editor. The same year, for a little while, he was the news editor of the daily, ‘Sangbad’. His illustrious career in journalism also included a lengthy stretch as the news editor of ‘Ittefaq’ from 1954 to 1966. When General Ayub’s military junta banned the ‘Ittefaq’ in June, 1966, Serajuddin Hossain lost his job and earned his living as a freelance journalist for two years. Then in 1968 he joined Pakistan Press International, the pre-eminent news agency of Pakistan, as the Dhaka Bureau Chief and stayed in that job through 1969.

He returned to Ittefaq as the news editor in 1969 and was soon promoted to be the executive editor in 1970 and remained in that position until he was kidnapped on Dec 11, 1971. He was very active in organising and leading the journalists of Pakistan –a newly independent state. Twice, in 1964 and 1965, he was elected as the president of the East Pakistan Union of Journalists. He also became the vice president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists for 1970 – 71. For his contributions as a journalist to the language, autonomy and independence movements, and his leadership role as a mentor and guide to journalists, he was posthumously honoured by the Bangladesh Government with Ekushey Padak, the second highest civilian award, in 1977.

Serajuddin Hossain’s editorial and journalistic career evolved in three distinctive phases of the Bangladesh Revolution, leading to its independence. In fact, he led the intellectual motivation and information war in those three phases, i.e., the Language Movement (1948 – 1952), the Six Point Autonomy Movement (1966 -1969), and the Liberation War (1971).

Serajuddin Hossain had a transformative vision that he steadily developed through upbringing both in rural Bengal and Kolkata, the largest city of colonial Great Britain. He grew up as an individual who was extremely hardworking, spiritual, principled, courageous, honest, kind, amiable, tolerant, proactive, investigative and analytical.  He had seen the idyllic and majestic beauty of rural Bengal interspersed with its abject poverty. He had experienced the busy metropolis of Kolkata. He had seen suffering humanity in diverse settings. The intractable misery of life around him, trials and tribulations, as well as life’s simple joys uplifted him to a citadel where continuous self-discovery bestowed him with incredible eloquence constrained with unbreakable discipline, which was reflected time and time again in his phenomenal rhetoric.

After his return to Dhaka, East Pakistan, in 1948, he was appalled to see the confusion in the polity of a newly independent country named Pakistan – ironically meaning “holy land.”He saw a corrupt socio-economic-political system in the hands of elites comprised of the military and civil bureaucracy, spineless political opportunists, and comprador capitalists. The suffering of the common people had not been alleviated – rather it had become worse. The futile experiment of a religion-based polity in a culturally diverse population led to the undermining of the mother language of the majority-population of Pakistan. Economic exploitation was cruelly adopted as an accompaniment by the elites of Pakistan. Serajuddin Hossain revolted.  But his style was rational, thoughtful, and aspirational.

Serajuddin Hossain on the stage with Bangabandhu.

 

PRECURSOR OF THE BANGLADESH REVOLUTION AND ‘Look into the Mirror’

The desire for a sovereign independent state for the Muslim-majority eastern region of India (present Bangladesh) after the end of British colonial rule was first moved by AK Fazlul Huq as a resolution – known as the Lahore Resolution – on Mar 23, 1940, and adopted on Mar 24 in the All India Muslim League Council in Lahore. The Lahore Resolution says, “… the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”  Serajuddin Hossain’s political thoughts evolved on the core principles of the Lahore Resolution.  His book “Look into the Mirror” gives an excellent narrative of the background starting from the Lahore Resolution that ultimately led to the birth of Bangladesh.

The Muslim League participated in the general elections for electing the Central Legislative Assembly in December 1945. It also contested provincial elections in January 1946. Both elections were held in India by the British colonial rulers.  The Muslim League considered these elections as a referendum on the Lahore Resolution. According to Serajuddin Hossain’s book Look into the Mirror, Bengal with a 54 percent Muslim population voted with an overwhelming majority of 98 percent in favour of the Lahore Resolution or Pakistan Resolution. It could be contrasted with the lukewarm support of the western region (that later became West Pakistan) of a 97 percent Muslim population with just 50.8 percent vote supporting the creation of Pakistan. Later another resolution with a minor reference to the Lahore Resolution was passed in order to frame a constitution by the Legislator’s Convention known as the Delhi Convention (Apr 9, 1946). The word ‘States’ was replaced by ‘State’.  Abul Hashem and other leaders questioned the authority of the Legislator’s Convention for changing the resolution of the All India Muslim League, which was supported as a referendum in the general elections.  In the midst of suppressed discontent, Pakistan was born on Aug 14, 1947 as one state instead of dual states as envisaged in the Lahore Resolution.  Soon it became an oligarchy of West Pakistan’s vested interests ruled by a military junta. The old colonial rule of the British Empire was replaced in East Pakistan by neo-colonial oppression and economic exploitation. The perpetrators were the Military-Bureaucratic-Industrial oligarchy of West Pakistan. Serajuddin Hossain never accepted this shameful destiny of a united Pakistan. So he used his pen to voice his discontent with courage and dignity.

The seeds of independence of East Pakistan (current Bangladesh) were sowed in 1940 by the Lahore Resolution, and sprouted and blossomed due to its subsequent rejection by the ruling oligarchy of Pakistan.  These dormant seeds needed fire to regenerate, like the Giant Sequoia trees of California. The Six Point Program of Sheik Mujibur Rahman ignited that fire. As Editor, Serajuddin Hossain, through his uncompromising pen, spread that fire throughout East Pakistan. The desire for a sovereign state as envisioned in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 was engraved in the Bengali psyche long before the birth of Pakistan. After that birth on Aug 14, 1947, that desire metamorphosed into the demand of autonomy in the new reality of post-independence Pakistan. It was basically a demand for a federal-type government and was championed by several political parties.  Later, the Six Point Program as an autonomy movement was a big leap forward. It was the demand of an extremely loose confederation in which a central government would exercise its limited right for foreign affairs and defence. Everything else would be the jurisdiction of provincial governments which would have their own currency, own militia, and rights to negotiate trade agreements with foreign governments. The central government would not have any right to levy taxes.

The prelude of the Six Point Program can be traced to the Twelve Point Program adopted by the East Pakistan Awami Muslim League in 1949, which states that the central government will have authority over defence, foreign affairs (political), and currency. Everything else will be under the jurisdiction of the provincial government including East Pakistan’s right to have its own army, navy and air force. The Twelve Point Program was a watered-down version of the Lahore Resolution. In February 1950, there was a Grand National Convention in Dhaka attended by professionals, workers, peasants and students. This convention presented the basic principles for framing the constitution of the newly independent Pakistan, in which only defence, foreign affairs, and limited taxation would be the authority of the central government. The autonomy proposal of the Grand National Convention was adopted in 1954 by the United Front comprising major political parties in their Twenty-One Point charter. The United Front won a landslide victory in the general election of East Pakistan in 1954. The East Pakistan Assembly passed a resolution in 1957 on autonomy as a follow-up of Twenty-One Point Charter.

Serajuddin Hossain, through his activist journalism, played a catalytic role in the ongoing transformation of peaceful methods aimed at achieving the universal goal of freedom of the aspiring Bengalees. These peaceful constitutional approaches for autonomy were completely crashed by a coup d’état led by General Ayub Khan. The military dictatorship of Ayub continued. At this critical juncture, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman stepped in with the Six Point Program in 1966. Previously, the autonomy demands had been more compromising. The cycle of diminishing demands was replaced by more radical approach of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his Six Point Program. Serajuddin Hossain became a loyal partner–and writer-comrade –of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on his journey to crush the colonial oppression of East Pakistan by the Pakistani military junta.

THE BANGLA LANGUAGE MOVEMENT AND SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN

The Bangladesh Revolution can be compared to an organic entity. The Bengali Language Movement (1948 – 1952) was the embryonic form of Bangladesh Revolution. At that time the transmission of information in order to organise and lead a political movement against the tyrannical regime was done through posters, pamphlets, graffiti, and clandestine meetings. Most newspapers acquiesced to the wishes of the authoritarian government. Serajuddin Hossain was the News Editor of the pre-eminent daily, ‘Azad’, under the owner/editor Akram Khan, who happened to be leader of the ruling party: the Muslim League. The government formed by the Muslim League was trying to exclude Bangla and establish Urdu as the only official language for Pakistan, even though the vast majority spoke Bangla. Even Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, ex-prime minister of colonial Bengal and the leader of young Bengalee progressives, supported Urdu before changing his mind.

Serajuddin Hossain meticulously covered the Language Movement despite formidable odds. His daring actions defied the conventional wisdom of the time. He did it with the risk of getting fired and imprisoned. Nothing deterred him from his support for the Bangla language. In fact, his newspaper became the main instrument of information transmission for the movement, which greatly helped it reach its success. The English daily ‘Observer’, with a smaller circulation, supported the movement but it was closed by the government on Feb 12, 1952. In the words of legendary journalist and diplomat KG Mostofa (Serajuddin Hossain, tatkalin rajniti abong sangbadikata, page 3, paper presented at CIRDAP, Dhaka, Dec 26, 2001) , “At that time Azad’ was the only Bengali language daily that worked in favor of the language movement. The Editor of ‘Azad’ was the President of Muslim League (antagonist of the Bengali language movement). News Editor Serajuddin Hossain defying extreme pressure (from the top) made ‘Azad’ the mouthpiece of the entire movement.”

Many participants of the students’ demonstration for the demand of Bangla as the official state language were martyred and injured on the climactic day of Feb 21, 1952. Finally, the government accepted Bangla as one of the two official languages of Pakistan. That was the beginning of the nationalist movement, based on the Bangla language, which two decades latter culminated in the independent country of Bangladesh. The United Nations General Assembly and UNESCO now recognise Feb 21 as International Mother Language Day. Serajuddin Hossain among others contributed tremendously to the success of the Bangla Language Movement.

In this undated photo, martyred journalist Serajuddin Hossain (Right) is seen presiding over a meeting of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, being its elected president.

 

ITTEFAQ, THE REVOLUTIONARY NEWSPAPER AND SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN

During the second phase of the Bangladesh Revolution involving the famous Six Point Movement for autonomy, Serajuddin Hossain held the position of news editor till 1966 and later Executive Editor (1969-1970) at the daily ‘Ittefaq’ – the most popular Bangla language newspaper at that time. In addition to his usual duty, he worked also as an informal copy editor writing headlines and designing pages. In fact, he became famous for his sensational headlines and designs. He also wrote editorials and columns. Serajuddin Hossain successfully used the ‘Ittefaq’ as a firebrand mouthpiece of the autonomy movement. It became the unyielding revolutionary voice of the Bengalee population of East Pakistan. The ‘Ittefaq’ was banned from publication first from Jun 17 to Jul 11 in 1966, then again from Jul 17, 1966 to Feb 9, 1969. It reappeared on Feb 11, 1969 after the embargo was lifted. Its owner/editor Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah was imprisoned on Jun 16, 1966. He passed away in Rawalpindi on Jun 1, 1969 shortly after his release from jail in early 1969.  Finally, the ‘Ittefaq’ office was shelled by tanks and artillery and burnt to ashes on Mar 26, 1971 by the military junta of Pakistan in its infamous armed assault named Operation Search Light.

SIX POINT MOVEMENT AND SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN

The manifesto of the Six Point Movement was drafted by Ruhul Quddus on behalf of the legendary leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Tajjudin Ahmed played a coordinating role. The first pamphlet on the Six Point Movement had listed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Tajjudin Ahmed as authors. Its core demands were formulated on the basis of ending the colonial exploitation of East Pakistan by the western province of Pakistan, resolving the security concern of East Pakistan due to the negligence of the central government of Pakistan in territorial defence of East Pakistan, and longing of Bengalees for a democratic polity.  The insecurity problem came to the forefront during Indo-Pak War of September, 1965. The central government of Pakistan kept East Pakistan, which was geographically separated by more than one thousand miles from the central command, completely defenceless during the September war. “After the 1965 War, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto made a statement in the National Assembly which caused a furore. He said that East Pakistan had been ‘saved by China’. … It began to appear to them that if the bulk of the forces were located in West Pakistan, and there were hardly any troops in East Pakistan to defend it, then the Union with Pakistan held no practical advantages.” Indeed this quote is one of the truths embedded in many misinformation in the book ‘The Betrayal of East Pakistan’ authored in 1998 by General Niazi – the defeated Pakistani Commander of the Bangladesh Independence War of 1971.

According to the Six Point Program, the central government would have had authority only on defence and foreign affairs and only in a limited way. The provinces could raise their own militia and could forge trade agreements with foreign governments. Monetary and fiscal authority would be vested to provincial governments. Even there is a provision for two separate currencies. Fiscal authority like taxation would be the jurisdiction of the provincial governments.  Foreign trade would also be under the authority of the provincial government. In summary, the Six Point plan proposed a very loose confederation not seen anywhere else in the world. It was the Lahore Resolution in disguise, which would ultimately culminate into independence.

On Feb 6, 1966, twenty six years after the Lahore Resolution had been passed, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman presented the Six Point Program in the same city Lahore at the joint meeting of all the opposition political parties of Pakistan.  It was immediately rejected by both the ruling and the opposition establishments. Mujib did not flinch. He placed this program as a motion at the provincial Awami League Working Committee in Dhaka on Feb 21, 1966 – the 14th anniversary of the Language Movement protest. It was passed unanimously. The Six Point booklet was distributed in the council meeting of Awami League on Mar 18, 1966. March is also the month when Lahore Resolution was adopted in 1940. Mujib started a three month long political movement with massive rallies in every major town and city of East Pakistan to realise his demand. He was arrested eight times in three months, and finally jailed on May 9, 1966 for a prolonged period.

As the news editor and the de facto copy editor of ‘Ittefaq’, Serajuddin Hossain transformed ‘Ittefaq’ inro the voice of Six Point Movement. His firebrand headlines, eye-catching page setup, daring columns, and thoughtful editorials won the heart of Bengalees in supporting the Six Point Movement.  Bengalees from all walks of life, e.g., professionals, traders, industrialists, rural landowners, peasants, workers, and trade unionists were convinced by ‘Ittefaq’ that the Six Point Programme was the Magna Carta of Bengalee emancipation. In particular, the clever propaganda by ‘Ittefaq’ transformed students into the vanguard of this movement. Bengalee civil servants, army, businessmen, and industrialists who were suffering under the colonial rule of West Pakistan found in the Six Point Program a death nail to exploitation, unfairness,  and injustice.

‘Ittefaq’, under the guidance of Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah and Serajuddin Hossain, effectively expressed to the Bengalee masses the Six Point Program’s challenge to economic and political exploitation of West Pakistan. ‘Ittefaq’ convinced the Bengalee masses if the Six Point Program were implemented, the export earnings of East Pakistan would not be used for industrialisation of West Pakistan. East Pakistan would get an appropriate share of the defence budget and foreign aid, and would not be a captive market of inferior goods and services from West Pakistan. East Pakistan would be able to defend its territory. ‘Ittefaq’ was successful in complementing Sheikh Mujib’s extraordinary oratory that the Six Point Program was the only ray of hope of saving Bengalees from unbearable exploitation for decades by West Pakistan. In this unique situation, the Awami League under the leadership of the charismatic Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged as the only political party that could fight on behalf of the suffering masses of East Pakistan. The Awami League became immensely popular, which was demonstrated by its landslide victory in the general election of 1970.

Subsequent to the jailing of Sheik Mujibur Rahman, almost all other leaders of Awami League were jailed. Acting General Secretary Amena Begum kept the movement going essentially with the help of the student wing of the party. At this critical time of history of the Bengali nation, Serajuddin Hossain as the news editor of ‘Ittefaq’ was giving daring coverage of the movement.  He, as a political thinker, gave his prudent advice on a day-to-day basis to  Amena Begum for carrying out effective political agitation. Protest demonstrations broke out in several cities in support of Six Point Program and for the unconditional release of political prisoners including Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Thirteen demonstrators were shot dead by the police on Jun 7, 1966. While Sheik Mujibur Rahman was in jail, the military junta indicted him with few others for a sedition trial known as the Agartala Conspiracy Case.

ELEVEN POINT DEMAND AND SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN

The major student organisations of East Pakistan constituted an alliance named Shorbodolio Chatro Shongram Porishad (The All Party Student Action Committee) in October, 1968, declared the Eleven Point Demand on Jan 4, 1969, and launched a vigorous movement. The most interesting aspect of the students’ demand was the inclusion of Mujib’s Six Point Program except his separate currency provision. The separate currency demand for the two wings of Pakistan envisaged in Six Point Program was replaced by one currency with restrictions against the free flow of currency between East Pakistan and West Pakistan. The Eleven Point Demand also included the interests of the entire Bengalee masses of East Pakistan including peasants, workers, and middle class. Therefore it garnered a tremendous support of people from every walk of life.

Student protests and rallies erupted in 1969 in every city and town of East Pakistan. Serajuddin Hossain, the human Prometheus, already over the years ignited the blaze in the pent-up discontent of tyrannised Bengalis through his intrepid op-editorials and news coverage on the pages of ‘Ittefaq’. First peaceful demonstration, then police brutality, and finally resistance of the general masses! Many people were killed in pitched battles between protesters and the army followed by a general uprising on Feb 15.  The Agartala Conspiracy Case was withdrawn on Feb 22, 1969 and Mujib was freed the following day. On Feb 24, 1969 Mujib was given the title Bangabandhu by Tofail Ahmed at a massive rally at the Ramna Race Course in Dhaka city. A month later President Ayub Khan was overthrown in a coup d’état by General Yahya Khan.

THE BANGLADESH LIBERATION WAR, THE BLOOD TELEGRAM AND SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN

During the Bangladesh Liberation War, Serajuddin Hossain stayed in Dhaka. As the executive editor of ‘Ittefaq’, he applied a splendid innovative technique to support the Liberation War. During the nine month occupation by the genocidal Pakistani armed forces, there was strict censorship on media. This was especially applied to the print media for news on political instability such as strikes, hartals, and guerrilla war activities of Bengalee freedom fighters. Defying the conventional wisdom of safety while living under marauding hostile enemy, this brave soldier of the Bangladesh Liberation War published translated news from the Urdu dailies from West Pakistan reporting strikes and demonstrations taking place in West Pakistan. Under the map of East Pakistan, he would publish the news from East Pakistan. He presented the map of East Pakistan as a symbol of an independent Bangladesh. As the de facto copy editor, he designed the pages ensuring that the readers would notice. This daring act amongst others cost him his life. He also motivated his eldest son to join the fight as a foot soldier. He was the only son out of eight who was old enough to enlist as a freedom fighter. Secretly, Serajuddin Hossain sent information to the Bangladesh government in exile in India through the clandestine channels used by the freedom fighters. His advice and information helped the government in exile in shaping its strategic policies. He also published op-editorials debunking the anti-Bengalee propaganda spewed by the newspapers belonging to anti-independence political parties like Jamaat-e Islami and Muslim League.

The barbaric genocide unleashed by the Pakistani Army dubbed as ‘Operation Search Light’ during Mar 25-26, 1971 was completely ignored by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. These two personalities were only eager for establishing a link to the Chinese communists with the help of deplorable killers of the Pakistani military junta. The facts on the ground in East Pakistan were horrific and beastly. On those fateful days the savage marauding Pakistani armed forces murdered indiscriminately 4,000 – 6,000 civilians including women, children, elderly and the sick with tanks, machine guns, mortars, and other artillery. These Neanderthal beasts torched many establishments including, but not limited to, universities, colleges, schools and libraries, place of worships, newspaper offices, women’s dormitories, health care facilities, and civilian residences. Nixon and Kissinger kept on ignoring the reports coming from the US Consul General Archer Blood stationed in Dhaka at that time. In his book ‘The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh’, Archer Blood mentioned, “On the morning of April 6, the last day of the evacuation, several of my officers presented me with an eloquently and strongly awarded message of dissent from the US policy toward East Pakistan, and asked me to send it to the State Department, with copies to the embassy and our other consular posts in Pakistan.”  This document is the famous Blood Telegram of 1971. It says, “Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities.” It also says, “… we have chosen not to intervene, even morally, on the grounds that the Awami conflict, in which unfortunately the overworked term genocide is applicable, is purely internal matter of a sovereign state. Private Americans have expressed disgust. We, as professional public servants express our dissent with current policy.” That current policy was appeasement and support of the military terror of Pakistan by the Nixon administration.  The Blood Telegram was leaked. Joseph Sisco of the US State Department blamed Archer Blood for leaking or giving it a low security classification. Blood was later punished for this leaked document. This leaked document created a furore all over the world, including the US, and helped galvanise the support of the American people, politicians, and news media for the independence of Bangladesh.

This incredible Blood Telegram was passed to the exile government of Bangladesh by Serajuddin Hossain. A swashbuckling narrative of this daring action could be found in the Bangla language article of Raju Ahmed in the book ‘Smritipate Serajuddin Hossain’. Serajuddin Hossain got it through his connection with an US officer, stationed at that time in Dhaka, under whom Serajuddin Hossain worked as an assistant editor at the Franklin Publication of USIS in the 1960s. This daredevil journalist transmitted secretly to the exile Bangladesh government that he had a very important document that he wanted to give them. Raju Ahmed against all odds in an occupied country became a successful mail-runner of that important envelope containing the Blood Telegram that he received from Serajuddin Hossain in the late afternoon of Jun 21, 1971. He hand delivered this extraordinary document to the exile government of Bangladesh. From the clandestine Bangladesh Radio Station (Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra) the contents of this telegram were broadcast several times across many days. It was carried by the news media all over the world. It also positively impacted the US Congress in favour of Bangladesh Independence War.  Before this broadcast from the Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, Senator William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requested the State Department to make available to his Committee the reporting cables from Dhaka, particularly singling out the dissent telegram. The State Department declined to provide the reports on the grounds that it was the Department’s long standing practice not to provide diplomatic communications to the Congress.

The main reason that this Blood Telegram was kept secret by the State Department was not known until Jul 15, 1971. The quote from ‘The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh’ says, “On that date came the dramatic announcement of Kissinger’s secret trip to China via Islamabad. Nobody in the State Department or the Foreign Service had known in advance of the China trip, not even the Secretary of State who was not informed until Kissinger was about to board a Pakistani aircraft for Beijing.”  In his book, ‘White House Years’, Kissinger admitted that the US kept silent about the genocide in East Pakistan by the military junta because of Pakistani help for opening up US’s channel of rapprochement with China.

Serajuddin Hossain was able to pivot the world public opinion, especially that of the US, by his incredible courage to deliver the Blood Telegram to the exile government of Bangladesh who in turn made that telegram public through its clandestine radio station thus igniting the outrage of the world.  No wonder the barbaric Pakistani horde and its sub-human collaborator Al-Badr gangs picked Serajuddin Hossain up, killed him, and left no trace of his body.

THE FATHER OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IN BANGLADESH

In early 1960s there was an organised child kidnapping and trafficking network in East Pakistan. Serajuddin Hossain as the news editor of ‘Ittefaq’ started a crusade against this heinous crime. ‘Ittefaq’ was publishing the news of kidnapping with significant coverage over many months.  At the very beginning of this long news cycle, there was a public outrage initiated by news report of Serajuddin Hossain. But the police chief of East Pakistan downplayed this abominable crime and denied that this was an organised crime in a press conference. According to Rokonuzzaman Khan, ABM Musa, Moynul Alam in three separate articles (Ref: ‘Smritipote Serajuddin Hossain’), Serajuddin Hossain took the challenge of proving that the Police Chief was wrong. He dispatched two reporters and one photo journalist to Gaforgaon, Trishal, and Valuka. The vast geographical area of these three administrative units was the wetland of Brahmaputra River and its distributaries covered with tall grasses and at that time uninhabitable by humans. Herders from the surrounding areas used to bring their cattle for feeding grasses. There were very few temporary huts for overnight resting of cowherds. The kidnappers reportedly used this remote wilderness for forceful training of their victims how to pickpocket. These sub-human beasts used to rape the children and sell them as sex slaves to Gypsy bands.  Sometimes they used to maim them and used them as perpetual beggars. These perpetrators were much worse than Fagin of Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’. The daily ‘Ittefaq’ kept reporting these horrible crimes until the perpetrators were rounded up and the children were rescued.

With the help of police forces, Serajuddin Hossain’s investigative team risked their own lives to rescue 64 children. Four hundred alleged perpetrators were rounded up by police. About two thousand children were ultimately saved. The indelible record of Hossain’s contribution to making people happy forever remains (Ref: ‘At the tomb of the Unknown Citizen’, Editorial, Sunday Times, Apr 2, 1972). Serajuddin Hossain with bold investigative journalism was able to completely put an end to this horrific crime. This had been a very successful 1962 application of the lessons he learned in a seminar on investigative journalism organised by the International Press Institute (IPI) at Lahore in Pakistan in March, 1961. The International Press Institute, located at Vienna in Austria, published in its Monthly Bulletin in 1962 an article, entitled “Editor’s ‘Crusade’ Which Rescued Sixty-Four Children”, authored by George Gordon Young in which he highly praised the extraordinary investigative journalism done by the great editor Serajuddin Hossain that saved innocent children from unfathomable misery.  Mr. Gordon in his book ‘IPI – The First Ten Years: The Story of the International Press Institute’ published in 1962 also highlighted the incredible achievements of Serajuddin Hossain.  His news report on this, although it is in the Bangla language, got international press coverage. As a testimony to his phenomenal contribution to investigative journalism, he was nominated to the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award on journalism (Ref: 1. ABM Musa, ‘Smritipote Serajuddin Hossain’, First Edition, p. 128; 2. Moynul Alam, ‘Smritipote Serajuddin Hossain’, First Edition, p. 224). The legacies of Serajuddin Hossain and international recognition for his monumental achievements as an investigative journalist have survived the test of time. Harold Evans, Editor of the Sunday Times, began his lecture on investigative journalism citing the work of Serajuddin Hossain in 1976. This course was attended in Germany by Rahat Khan who expressed his proud feeling and gratitude for Serajuddin Hossain (Ref: Nurul Hossain Talukdar, ‘Smritipote Serajuddin Hossain’, First Edition, p. 263).   Strongly, I would like to echo the conclusion of ABM. Musa that Serajuddin Hossain is the Father of the Investigative Journalism in East Pakistan – the present day Bangladesh.

SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN: A SECULAR HUMANIST

Serajuddin Hossain was a secular humanist with incredible courage. In 1964, there was a communal riot in Jabalpur, India. In order to thwart an anti-government political movement, on Jan 7 the ruling military junta of Pakistan incited a violent reaction using its criminal and racist operatives in Narayanganj and Dhaka. Many minority Hindus were killed in this communal riot. To resist this horrible hate crime, many volunteers sacrificed their lives including Amir Hossain – the President of International Nazrul Forum – and Father Novak – Professor of Notre Dame College. The political leaders, journalists, and other members of civil society of East Pakistan called a meeting and formed a committee for resisting communal riots. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who later became the Father of the Nation of independent Bangladesh, also attended this meeting with other leaders. This meeting adopted a motion for drafting a declaration against communal riot and formed a committee for implementing this resolution. The main responsibility was bestowed on Serajuddin Hossain and Abdul Gaffar Choudhury. This was published in several newspapers; especially it got a six column banner headline “Purbo Pakistan Rukhia Darao” on the front page of Daily ‘Ittefaq’ on Jan 16, 1964. Serajuddin Hossain was the news editor and the de-facto copy editor. In English it would translate, “East Pakistan, Resist.” In his entire career, Serajuddin Hossain through his powerful pen as a journalist fought relentlessly against hate crimes and communal riots.

SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN: AN AUTHOR AND PHILOSOPHER

Serajuddin Hossain was not only a famed journalist, he was also a great author. He published nearly hundred books, which include both original contributions and translations. His original books such as ‘Look into the Mirror’, ‘Itihash Kotha Kow’, ‘Mahioshi Nari’, ‘Bir o Birangona’, and ‘Choto Theke Boro’ earned tremendous acclaim from readers. ‘Look into the Mirror’ could be considered as a treatise that gives rationally the historical background and political foundation of the existence or being of the Bangladesh. Serajuddin Hossain was not formally a philosopher in an academic sense. But this remarkable book transcends him beyond the formal academic boundary, and makes him from ontological standpoint the pre-eminent political philosopher of Bangladesh.

Serajuddin Hossain was awarded posthumously Ekushey Padak for journalism in 1977 and Manik Miah Gold Medal in 2010. The people of Khajura, Jessore, – from where he began his life journey – named for him the Shaheed (Martyr) Sirajuddin Hossain College as a memory for his enormous contribution to the Bangladesh Revolution as an Editor, his authorship, and his love for the suffering humanity. A public library was named for him in Aarpara, Magura.

SERAJUDDIN HOSSAIN’S LEGACY

In his personal life he was a decent man, a loving husband, and an affectionate father. He married Noorjahan Begum in 1949. They had eight sons. Serajuddin Hossain had a wonderful life with his family. After coming back from work, he used to spend a lot of time playing with his children. Many visitors to his residence at 5 Chamelibagh later wrote in glowing adoration of how he became like a child when playing with his children. On the fateful morning of Dec 11, 1971 he was taken away forever by the beastly assassins. Noorjahan Begum was left helpless and miserable, but she was a smart and determined lady. She alone navigated with honour and courage through the stormy waters of raising eight children without a father in a very conservative society.  Her dedication paid off well. Their children are college graduates. All are writers keeping the legacy of the martyred father. Shameem Reza Noor joined Bangladesh’s Liberation War as a freedom fighter. Now he lives in New York. Shaheen Reza Noor is now the executive editor of the ‘Daily Ittefaq’ – the same newspaper where his father held the same position. Fahim Reza Noor is an author, journalist, cultural activist and Bangla language TV anchor in New York. Dr Zaheed Reza Noor is a famed journalist – the feature editor of the Bangla daily ‘Prothom Alo’ and a renowned author of mystery novels for young adults in which his children are fictionalised as the private investigators. Remember Serajuddin Hossain is the father of investigative journalism of Bangladesh and saved the lives of innocent children from child traffickers. Dr Tawheed Reza Noor is a professor of economics at Dhaka University. Nasim Reza Noor and Shaheed Reza Noor are famed engineers. Saleem Reza Noor studied English Literature at Dhaka University and earned a Master of Arts. Now he is a staff at US Department of State – Language Services. Serajuddin Hossain’s legacy lives on in his children.

Mostofa Sarwaris associate provost, director of the University Honors Program, and professor of geophysics at the University of New Orleans.

One Response to “Martyred editor Serajuddin Hossain and the Bangladesh revolution”

  1. Anwar A Khan

    Noted journalist Serajuddin Hossain and the likes of him are the patriots in the truest sense of the word. Thomas Campbell said, “The patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s tree.” The bloods of these honourable patriots’ are still warm in our veins. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the supreme sacrifices of these great sons of this sacred soil. Patriotism is a kind of religion; it is the egg from which wars are hatched and won. This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the braves like our great intellectuals who embraced their martyrdoms in 1971.

    Great people have great minds and great thoughts. Majority of the great people not only achieved their goals but also they have left their precious words and sayings behind for others to follow and to give them a path of success. If we read their teachings and words from the depth of our heart, we shall come to know that they have given us formulas to live a successful and meaningful life. Our fallen intellectuals are our constant inspirations.

    A grand salute must go to the writer of this opinion piece from a bantam FF of 1971 battle-ground and ciao.

    Reply

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