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Harold Evans: The man behind the Mascarenhas bombshell

  • Published at 12:16 am September 25th, 2020
Harold Evans
File photo: Reuters Editor-at-Large Sir Harold Evans speaks at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York, September 9, 2019 Reuters

‘Your article in The Sunday Times made me do that. That’s why I sent in the [Indian] army, because I’d read the story of the massacre,’ Indira Gandhi told Harold Evans

Sir Harold Evans, the British-American editor whose 70-year career as a hard-driving investigative journalist, magazine founder, book publisher and author made him one of the most influential media figures of his generation, died on Wednesday at the age of 92.

Evans, who is widely regarded as having been the finest British newspaper editor of the 20th century, was at the helm of The Sunday Times from 1967 to 1981. 

It was during his editorship of The Sunday Times that Evans took the decision  to publish Anthony Mascharenas' story detailing the genocide in Bangladesh in 1971 that helped turn the tide of the Liberation War.

He recounted the epochal decision in a 2017 interview with Tunku Varadarajan in Open Magazine.

“Speaking of East Pakistan—or Bangladesh—I’d love to talk about Anthony Mascarenhas. He broke the story of the horrors there in your newspaper,” asked Varadarajan in the interview.

Evans replied: “That’s an inspiring story, if ever there was one. A brave, literate man.”

Evans recalled that Frank Giles, the then deputy editor of The Sunday Times, had come into his office, asking him if he would like to meet one of their Pakistani freelancers, Anthony Mascarenhas.

Giles told him that Anthony had a story about what was happening at the time in East Pakistan.

Also Read - Trailblazing journalist Harold Evans dead at 92

“Giles said, ‘It’s almost unbelievable, he’s talking about the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people.’ So, I saw him, and I thought immediately, this man tells the truth. I said to him, ‘Make arrangements for your family to get out of Pakistan, in the light of what you’re telling me is happening, and is likely to happen there.' 

“We financed Mascarenhas; going back. He duly sent us a cable saying that ‘the apples were on the way,’ which meant that his wife had escaped. His wife walked over the mountains. 

“When Mascarenhas’s story arrived about what was going on in East Pakistan, it was absolutely mind-blowing.” 

The Sunday Times back then made it a double-page spread with the term “Genocide” across the top (on June 12, 1971). "But The New York Times wouldn’t touch it. They wouldn’t even go near the story," recalled Evans.

“Much to my rage, I wrote to them and said this is a major, major happening, and you’ve got to come in on this story. But they didn’t. It was very, very dozy on many stories.

“Mrs Gandhi sent in the Indian Army, as you know. And then when I had lunch with her a year or so later, she said, ‘Your article in The Sunday Times made me do that. That’s why I sent in the Army, because I’d read the story of the massacre.’ 

“I thought maybe she’s being disingenuous, that she wanted an excuse to intervene. Or maybe it was a genuine incitement for her to do what she’d already wanted to do. I don’t know. But she certainly made it clear that The Sunday Times story was crucial.” 

The full interview was published in Open Magazine and can be found online here.

Tunku Varadarajan is executive editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

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