'The truth of what had happened had to be told'
Amid the deaths of thousands of people came the obituary of British journalist Simon Dring, the torchbearer of Bangladesh's electronic media. Dring breathed his last on Friday, at the age of 76.
He headed the country’s first independent teevision station Ekushey Television (ETV). In 1997, Dring joined with partners in Bangladesh to develop, license, and build the TV channel in Bangladesh, as a joint managing director. The channel became popular days after its launch—but was shut down over what many critics term a political row. He was deported for a second time in 2002.
Then when did his first repatriation took place? Many even in the mass media today are not aware of the fact.
It all started with goosebumps. While covering the Liberation War, he had to leave Dhaka along with other western journalists who were reporting on the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani Army in the then East Pakistan.
Before that, he was among about 50 foreign journalists who were confined to the Hotel Intercontinental in Dhaka on the fateful night of March 25, 1971, which is dubbed as the darkest in the history of Bangladesh as countless people were massacred then.
Soon after the infamous “Operation Searchlight”, the Pakistani occupation forces locked up some 200 foreign journalists at the hotel so that they cannot witness how the atrocious was unleashed.
The Pakistan military, citing the safety of the newsmen, guided them to the Dhaka airport.
But Dring, then just 26, hid at the hotel lobby , kitchen and rooftop only to report the carnage being carried out on the Bangalees. He did it all despite knowing that it could even cost his own life. He spent more than 30 hours trying to figure out the extent of the barbarity.
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“For me, the night of Thursday, March 25, 1971, in Dhaka, is one of them—one of the most horrific and simultaneously most galvanising moments in my career as a journalist,” he recalled in an article published in a Bangladeshi newspaper earlier this year.
“Still today, 50 years later, the sounds and images of that terrible night, and what I was to witness in the days that followed, are as clear now as they were then,” he described.
Regarding his stay in the hotel despite a warning from the Pakistan Army, the British journalist mentioned: “So, I stayed. The truth of what had happened had to be told.”
Additionally, a 40-minute documentary on his Liberation War coverage was filmed and aired on a local TV channel.
The Bangladesh government expressed gratitude to him by recognizing his role in spreading the word on the Liberation War out in the world. He was conferred the "Friends of Liberation War Honour" in 2012.
Braving more risks
After the curfew was lifted the next day, avoiding the military patrol he left the hotel and hovered around the city riding a van to collect the evidence of genocide at Dhaka University, Rajarbagh Police Lines and parts of Old Dhaka.
Then he flew to West Pakistan dodging the red eyes of the Pakistani army in Dhaka. Despite being stopped by security personnel several times, he managed to escape and save the notes before reaching safely to Bangkok.
From the notes, Dring authored his famous report titled “Tanks crush revolt in Pakistan” which was published in The Daily Telegraph ran on March 30, 1971, as the first account of the brutal genocide in Bangladesh.
His description of the army’s crackdown on the civilians in Dhaka was horrifying and shocking-- but quite factual.
Interestingly, the rush of blood as a true and young journalist caused him to travel to Bangladesh yet again in December 16, 1971 through Mymensingh. Upon his return, a Pakistan Army officer told Dring that they might have killed him if found hiding in the hotel.
He became the UK Reporter of the Year for his eyewitness accounts in The Daily Telegraph of the massacres in Dhaka.
Marking the Independence Day of 2015, he recalled the harrowing moments through a small but significant note, which a newspaper published.
The words are as follows:
"It was at this hour 44 years ago today that the first Pakistani army units began moving into Dhaka - and a night of unimaginable horror began to unfold. It was my chance and my privilege to have been able to document genocide against the Bengali people that would follow. And my chance and my privilege to have played a small part in bringing this story to the world," he wrote.
"But it was also my privilege to have known the Bengali hotel staff whose bravery in helping myself and the late AP photographer Michel Laurent to hide and to escape the Pakistani army and to get around Dhaka to document and be the first to report the massacres at among other places the University, the Old City and Rajabargh Barracks. Those young Bengalis were truly among the first Freedom Fighters whose courage and commitment would bring Bangladesh its independence. My thanks to all of them on this night of all nights to remember," Dring concluded.