This article is being republished on the occasion of National Mourning Day
The Dhaka regional office of Bangladesh Betar at Shahbagh was the first target to be captured by the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975 when they also renamed it as Radio Bangladesh to match with Radio Pakistan.
“At 4am, I woke up hearing noise outside the office and then heard gunshots. Some army soldiers entered the premises at 5:45am and forced the members of the police in the barrack to surrender,” then radio engineer Pranab Chandra Rai said in his statement given to a court on November 10, 1997.
The engineer said that he was taking rest in his room on the premises after the end of Bangladesh Betar’s external service (programme for Bangladeshis living abroad).
He was the shift-in-charge of the station from 10pm on August 14 to 6am the next day. Then technical operator Mohammed Ali and mechanic Anwar Hossain were also on duty alongside Pranab.
“After two to three minutes, some armed officers and soldiers entered my room and enquired about the shift-in-charge. As Pranab identified himself, someone gave his identity as Maj Dalim and said: “Sheikh Mujib and all his gang have been killed, and the army has taken over power.”
Maj Dalim then ordered Pranab to switch on the equipment to make an announcement about the assassination. He also threatened everyone with death if the announcement would not be aired.
Pranab then said that nothing could be done until the Kallyanpur transmitter was operational. He was ordered to ask the shift-in-charge at the Kallyanpur station to switch on the transmitter.
When he called Abdul Latif at Kallyanpur through Magneto Telephone and informed him about the assassination of Sheikh Mujib and told him to activate the transmitter, Latif thought that Pranab had gone mad.
Realising the situation, Maj Dalim took the phone and hurled abuses at Latif.
As Latif complied with his order, “Maj Dalim started his announcement. He mentioned Bangladesh Betar as Radio Bangladesh several times and said ‘This is Maj Dalim speaking. Autocrat Sheikh Mujib has been killed and the army has taken over power under the leadership of Khandaker Mustaq Ahmed. A curfew has been imposed,’” said Pranab’s statement.
Then Maj Dalim enquired if the station had any power backup, fearing that the government might snap the commercial power connection.
As he was told that they had no battery to run the generator, Maj Dalim ordered his soldiers to bring a battery from the two trucks stationed outside.
Those trucks were brought by the Rokkhi Bahini (a special force named National Security Force formed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) tasked to ensure security for the Dhaka University convocation. Sheikh Mujib was supposed to attend the event.
“When the soldiers brought a battery from one of the trucks, I asked my mechanic to install it in the generator. At that time, I saw the soldiers forcing the Rokkhi Bahini members to surrender their arms and sit on the field in front of the police barrack,” Pranab said.
“Khandaker Mustaq Ahmed came to the radio office at 7am. After some time, I saw then state minister for information Taher Uddin Thakur sitting beside Mustaq and writing his speech.”
Mustaq’s recorded speech had been aired at 8am, Pranab said.
“After one hour, I saw Mustaq talking to the chiefs of the three forces, police’s IGP, acting chief of Rokkhi Bahini [name not mentioned], Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman, Brig Khaled Mosharraf at studio 2.”
Taher Uddin then wrote speeches of expressing allegiance, and it was read out by Army chief Maj Gen Shafiullah, Navy’s Rear Admiral MH Khan, Air Vice-Marshal AK Khandaker of Air Force, BDR chief Maj Gen Khalilur Rahman, police’s Nurul Islam and the acting chief of Rokkhi Bahini. Their recorded speeches were later aired one after another.
Pranab left his office for home at 10am upon permission of Maj Shahriar who was given the charge of the radio station.
In the eyes of the station chief
Dhaka Tribune also spoke to Bangladesh Betar’s then Dhaka regional director Ashfaqur Rahman Khan, who went to the Shahbagh station around 9:30am on August 15, 1975.
He had left office around 11:30pm the previous day after arranging the outdoor broadcasting team to cover the DU convocation.
“One of my colleagues, another regional director Alimuddin, called me on my land phone early in the morning. ‘Are you still sleeping? Wake up and tune on the radio,’ he told me loudly.
“I heard the announcement of Maj Dalim and was astonished. Then I called the control room of the radio engineers to learn about the latest situation of my staff,” Ashfaqur said.
“After hearing the announcement, I could easily understand the situation but was tensed about my colleagues who were on duty in the night shift.”
His colleagues told him that they had been safe but had to follow the orders of the army officers.
As a curfew had already been imposed, Ashfaqur did not have the chance to go to the office from his Gendaria home on his car. He thought that he might have been arrested but it was important to be present at the office. He started on foot, and took a rickshaw on the way to Shahbagh.
“Our office was cordoned off by the derailed army personnel at the main entrance. They allowed me to enter when the staff identified me as the station chief,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Ashfaqur observed that most of the rooms had already been guarded by the military personnel. “My personal assistant informed me to meet Maj Shahriar at studio number 2.
“Seeing me, Maj Shahriar addressed me as ‘Sir’ and offered me a seat. He said ‘Sir, I have been given the charge here. Please tell your officials and staff to coordinate with me to run the radio programmes.’
“Maj Shahriar instructed me and other officials not to use Bangladesh Betar, as ordered by Maj Dalim. I observed that even though Maj Shahriar addressed me as Sir, his Sten gun was kept on the table pointed at me.”
As Ashfaqur was also the head of programmes, he was instructed to air songs of popular singers like Runa Laila and others. “I was also told to run the regular programmes but we could easily understand that talking about Bangabandhu inside the office would not be allowed,” Ashfaqur said.
He, however, says many military officers had mixed expressions on their faces; some of them showed guilt and anxiety.
Another high official of Bangladesh Betar, seeking anonymity, told the Dhaka Tribune that on August 15 he had seen Maj Noor Chowdhury giving Maj Shahriar an envelop which had the photos of the assassination incident. Later those photos were sold to international media.
The official also said that in the next few days, the military personnel had brought some persons to the radio station and tortured them inside studio number 6, one of them was Tofail Ahmed.