Manik Mia : A legend stalwart of democracy
(From left to right ) Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, Ataur Rahman Khan, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Huq and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Damdam Airport from Karachi on 30th May 1954 just after the United Front Ministry was dissolved by the central govern
I can hear him till now. He was speaking by the side room. The room was crowded. The talk might be centered on any problem of the country. Or there might be some critical arbitrations or problems to be solved and settled down. The arbitrators and the people in the audience came from different strata in the society. Some of them were famous politicians, law practitioners and pressmen. Some professors, young political leaders and activists were attending the meeting. Beside that some other people of different opinions were present. All came to a man, as if all roads lead to Rome. Almost everyone came to him. Why? Is he an authority of the higher echelon? Did some expect donation or gift from him that they crowded around him? Only answer to these questions is no. He was one of the commoners. He was of us a journalist and an Editor of a newspaper. He had no power to distribute gifts or gains. He had no state power overhead. He had a pen only in his hand. Is the pen powerful than the state power ? We don't know. But we are convinced first that his daring writing had extraordinary attraction. That magnetised the people to come to him. They came to him to get rid of the crisis they faced. They came to be inspired by him. They had faith in him that they would be given the right direction in their hours of crisis.
He had no less conviction and faith in himself. He believed in the invincible power of Democracy. This belief is as much as the light of a lamp, the flame of which remains steady even at the violent storm. He knew that democracy is that sovereign power the source of which remains at the wakeful heart and soul of the people. As one cannot uproot the people in all, likewise the power of democracy cannot be uprooted. It can be kept unworkable due to absolute power of an arrogant despot for the time being. But when time passes, the situation is exploded by the agitated masses and the arrogant despot is smashed asunder. The pride of power of those obdurate elements burn into ashes in that conflagration. Democracy is lighted by its own magnanimity. The unity of the people comes out victorious. This is the law of history, this is its dictum.
I am talking of Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia. He was confident of this law. He had that firm confidence for which he could stand keeping his head erect and could move against the current. Through his pen he could spread fire. This fire is not his alone. This is the fire of the agitated people of the entire country. This is of the crores of the agitated, bereaved and uprooted people. He was one of them. So he set fire on their behalf. Sometimes he threw gushing hatred and vehement irony over the face of those enemies of democracy as well as of those sycophants of the despotic regime. He found their hoods up and he was bled as they stuck him by their poisonous fangs. Yet he was never cowed down to them. Because he knew it well that their blows would never undo his firm conviction. He knew their unjust poisonous teeth of pride of fascism will be defeated by the invincible power of the people.
In spite of such formidable time he could speak against them firmly. He could speak with self-confidence. His indomitable personality and power of influence drew the people near at him. He never disappointed them. Also he never disappointed the readers of his 'Rajnoitic Moncho' (Political Platform). And herein lies the mystery of his outstanding popularity of the said column. Such popularity is seldom found among the most eminent politicians. It appears to be a matter of envy to many. He narrated the sorry state of the common people in a very simple language. So he got love from the simple common people, this love was great power to him and it was most dependable for his edited paper.
I am speaking about all these from my own experience. It's all for my close contact with him and experience, I express them all in fact. When I look at the dilapidated Ittefaq building, I find my Manik Bhai there till now. He is talking with someone. I hear the sound of his feet outside the room. His profound voice is felt in the air. Looking forward he is walking onward wearing white shirt and pant. He looks pale. But it's clear that his profound self-confidence lighted. His face looks to be a mirror.
That mirror reflects the face of the politics of the country. As if the countenance of the entire country is reflected there. The gloomy shades on his face identifies how clouds overwhelmed the nation's fate!
Because he had relation with the nation's destiny. He became restless having seen the ominous fate of the nation. But he won't fear. Everything came clear on his face. Sometimes his hands trembled (in deep sympathy with the suffering of the people) in anger (against the dictators and despots). Those scenes are still reflecting over my eyes.
It was October 1958. We faced a strange experience. A black hairy face drew our attention on our tele-printer at 11.59 hours. with a message inside. Earlier we had no knowledge of Martial Law or military rule. Only we heard of it by name. Now we find the entire subject of military rules on the tele-printer. Meanwhile we heard the sounds of heavy military boots in front of the gate of our office. The military rule takes away human sleep. We are in fear. There's shadow of terror at the wall. Fear overwhelmed everything. Martial law declaration was hooked on the bayonet. Rest of the night we could not sleep. We understood that Martial Law takes away peaceful sleep also. The body shivers with fear. The wall reflects the shade of panic. It's hard to walk away the road. It is understood that panic of military rule thrashed human freedom to speak, to write, and to walk abreast the wall. We closed all the windows of the room, so that sound could not pass through them. The sound of military boots was heard on the floor of the press on the following morning. The declaration of Martial Law censorship was hung on the bayonet head by the ugly-looking large mouthed apparitions.
The sword of do's and don'ts were hung over the shoulder. No news will be printed in the newspaper without the permission of the military authorities. Nothing sorts of editorial, news, essays, comments, news scripts, even the news of natural calamity and accidents could be printed without permission. Even the words of politics, democracy, peoples' wants and allegations were prohibited completely. Even articulating or signaling of any sort of news were restricted. Any violation of it would tantamount to long term jail or huge amount of monetary fines. Even the printing press along with the entire property could be confiscated. The agents of the censorship were engaged in the newspaper offices.
Instead of the pen they have their blunt swords. They occupy the seat of the Editor forcibly. They go through editorials, literary essays, poetry, stories, everything as they like and censor many a write-ups. Sometimes the entire editorials are cut by their blunt swords. Their words are law. They reject the write-up if there's any smell of politics or any word contrary to their law. They are the authorities of the newspaper. So helpless are the professional Editors of the newspapers.
No newspaper was allowed to be circulated without their red seal of censorship. There was no way out.
On the other side people were being arrested on any plea of Martial Law violation all over the country. The prison was filled in. Most of the dedicated political leaders were in jail. Many others went underground for they had been sought to arrest warrants. Some of the journalists were thrown in jail. Some were fugitives. Those who were out, kept their mouths shut. But even then Manik Bhai spoke highly. He looked seethe with anger. He told the people of the censorship that one day the Martial Law authorities will have to pay in all respect for destroying the freedom of the Press. He said, the write-ups on the walls would burst upon their heads as the cruel derision of it.
It comes to an event at that time. The Martial Law Administrator General Omrao Khan convened a meeting of the newspaper Editors. The office of the Martial Law Administrator in the Secretariat was a heavily guarded and well protected area. There the meeting was to be held. Military personnel were guarding strictly outside the gate. Many a star marked military officers crowded therein. All Editors of the newspapers took their front seats. In their midst Manik Bhai took his seat.
He was the focal point as the Chief of all. Being the representative of the Editor of another paper I went there. Omrao Khan talked about the Martial Law censorship. Gravely he dictated how to run the newspapers under the military rule. All Editors heard him silently. None spoke then. One or two of them looked at the face of Manik Bhai. Afterwards we heard his stern voice. Omrao Khan looked on his face. High ranking military officers looked stiff at him. Unequivocally said Manik Bhai, "If the people of censorship take over the responsibility of the newspaper, the newspaper cannot run. They have censored an innocent news by their blunt pen. The journalists are responsible people. They know what to write and how much to write. If someone takes over it all the time, there's no effective and meaningful result of newspaper publication."
We all were wondered. In such grave environment within the military circumvent how could he dare to say so firmly ? Omrao Khan also became no less stunt. His associates also became no less wondered. So silently General Omrao Khan heard the Editor of the Ittefaq. Afterwards he said, "I shall see into the matter."
After a few days he was bound to lessen the restriction of censorship to some extent. On that day I found on the face of Manik Bhai a brilliant gleam. He had that brilliant face I found in him till the end of his life.
Translated by M. Mizanur Rahman