Thank you Mark Dummett, for the report in BBC today paying tribute to Anthony Mascarenhas, the brilliant and courageous Pakistani journalist who had to flee abroad in order to be able to tell the truth – Bangladesh war: The article that changed history.
“Eight journalists, including Mascarenhas, were given a 10-day tour of the province (East Pakistan). When they returned home, seven of them duly wrote what they were told to,” writes Dummett.
“But one of them refused.”
That was Mascarenhas, who died in 1986 in London.
His wife Yvonne Mascarenhas told Dummett that she remembers him coming back distraught: “I’d never seen my husband looking in such a state. He was absolutely shocked, stressed, upset and terribly emotional. He told me that if he couldn’t write the story of what he’d seen he’d never be able to write another word again.”
“Clearly it would not be possible to do so in Pakistan. All newspaper articles were checked by the military censor, and Mascarenhas told his wife he was certain he would be shot if he tried,” writes Dummett.
Here is a case of a journalist who rose above what was no doubt being touted as the “national interest”. His subsequent reports in The Sunday Times made him a “traitor” to West Pakistan and a hero to the Bengalis. But I think he was a hero to the cause of journalism.
“There is little doubt that Mascarenhas’ reportage played its part in ending the war. It helped turn world opinion against Pakistan and encouraged India to play a decisive role,” writes Dummett… “Not that this was ever Mascarenhas’ intention”.
He was, simply, as editor of the Sunday Times, Harold Evans wrote in his memoirs, “just a very good reporter doing an honest job”.
It speaks volumes for the mainstream Pakistani narrative about the events of 1971, that I, as a journalist with a deep interest in human rights issues, never even heard of Anthony Mascarenhas until just a few years ago, and then too, quite by chance.
My uncle Zawwar Hasan, a retired journalist now over 80 years old, mentioned “Tony Mascarenhas” while reminiscing about how he ended up in this profession. Unsuccessful in getting a job in his own field, marketing, he had landed a job as a sports reporter with the government-controlled news agency Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) in Karachi in 1948. After his first assignment, a cricket match, he went to the India Coffee House with a new friend, another sports journalist, M. Akhtar.
“We wrote our reports there, and he gave me a lift to my office at APP.… Tony Mascarenhas was there – he later ended up with London Times,” said my uncle, remembering how Mascarenhas, who was editor of APP, had told him off for not coming straight back to the office after the match to file his report.
“Do you realise this is a news agency and every minute is precious. Anyway, show me what you have.”
Mascarenhas the editor then himself typed up the handwritten report (because the rookie reporter didn’t know how to type), telling him only to “come early tomorrow and learn to type.”
Being interested in the contributions of non-mainstream Muslims to Pakistan’s struggle for democracy, I was intrigued by the obviously Goan Christian name Mascarenhas. I started looking him up. I also learned how he “ended up with London Times” –initially as their correspondent in Pakistan.
According to the Times obituary of December 8, 1986, he was born Neville Anthony Mascarenhas in “Belgaum, near Goa, on July 10, 1928. A Roman Catholic, he was educated at St Patrick’s College, Karachi, before joining Reuters in Bombay in 1948.
“At the time of partition he was sent to Karachi to start their operation in the new state of Pakistan. He then helped to found Pakistan’s own news agency, APP. In 1958 he joined the Times of Karachi as assistant editor… From 1961 to 1971 he worked for the Morning News, mainly as assistant editor, though for two years (1963-5) he was its correspondent in India, and in 1965 was interned there with his family for three months while India and Pakistan were at war.
“In 1970 he was recruited by The Sunday Times, for which paper he wrote, the following year, the report from East Bengal which profoundly influenced opinion in the outside world, and which changed the course of his life.”
Read Dummett’s article for fascinating details about how Mascarenhas and his family escaped from Pakistan.
Later, in Cambridge MA, with access to the Harvard libraries, I found his books, The rape of Bangladesh (Delhi, Vikas Publications, 1971) and Bangladesh: a legacy of blood (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1986). As far as I know, neither is unavailable in Pakistan although I hear that there have been some translations.
Some years ago I asked a senior journalist who had been posted in Dhaka during 1971, why no one in West Pakistan wrote the truth about what was happening. “We were not allowed,” he said simply. “There was strict censorship.”
But Mascarenhas had the courage, and the opportunity, to follow his conscience.
As I wrote in an essay for the Economic and Political Weekly, the State controlled Pakistan Television, that started broadcasts in 1964, has remained very much ‘his master’s voice’.
Along with a few newspapers and the government controlled Radio Pakistan, PTV reported only what the government allowed. This censorship was particularly evident when it came to the growing unrest in what was then East Pakistan. The news censorship and slanting was so extreme that even on Dec 16, 1971, when the Pakistan army surrendered to the Indian, the West Pakistan media was still predicting victory. An exception was Anthony Mascarenhas, the Goa-born, Karachi-educated journalist…. In 1970, recruited by The Sunday Times, London, his reports on the happenings in East Bengal “profoundly influenced opinion in the outside world, and changed the course of his life”, as his obituary in The Times notes.
“He and his family had to leave their home and all their possessions in Karachi. He arrived in Britain on June 12, 1971, and the following day his three-page story appeared in The Sunday Times. It was quoted all over the world and won him awards from IPC and What the Papers Say. But it also earned him the bitter hatred of Pakistan’s military regime, and for a time he had reason to fear for his life.”
Ironically, or perhaps tellingly, he had become an Indian citizen in 1976 –obviously Pakistan had disowned him — although at the time of his death he was intending to apply for British citizenship, according to the Times obituary.