John Pilger, as foreign correspondent, covered Bangladesh’s Liberation War. His front-page report ‘Death of a Nation’ alerted the world to the life-and-death struggle of the Bengali people. He has been a war correspondent, author and documentary filmmaker who has won British journalism’s highest award twice.
For his documentary films, he has won an American Television Academy Award, an Emmy, and a British Academy Award given by the British Academy of Television Arts. He has received the United Nations Association Peace Prize and Gold Medal. His 1979 documentary, Cambodia Year Zero, is ranked by the British Film Institute as one of the 10 most important documentaries of the 20th century. He is the author of numerous best-selling books, including Heroes, A Secret Country, The New Rulers of the World, and Hidden Agendas. In an exclusive (electronic) interview with Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star, Pilger talks about his coverage of Bangladesh’s Liberation War, the state of journalism today, and the current political shifts happening in the West.
Eresh Omar Jamal: In an article for The Guardian in 2008, you wrote that when you came to cover Bangladesh’s Liberation War in 1971, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s wife Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib had asked you, “Why have you come when even crows are afraid to fly over our house?” But you didn’t write your answer. Can you share what it was?
John Pilger: I had spent much of 1971 based in Calcutta reporting on the seven million refugees coming from what was then East Pakistan. Their journey was along what we reporters called a “corridor of pain”. The previous year, I had witnessed the devastation caused by the great tidal wave that engulfed the unprotected Bay of Bengal. What had struck me was the lack of real concern by the government in Islamabad, which sent the army to impose martial law on the people of East Bengal.
Clockwise from top left; Martyred Intellectuals Memorial, Bangladesh Forces howitzer, Surrender of Pakistan to Indian and Bangladesh forces, the PNS Ghazi. (Source: CC BY-SA 3.0)
This was a dangerous corner of the world for ordinary people and dissenters from the colonial power that touched all their lives;