Anthony Mascarenhas was a respected journalist in Karachi, West Pakistan and on good terms with the ruling elite. He was a member of the city’s small community of Goan Christians and he and his wife Yvonne had 5 children. Elections were held in 1970 in Pakistan and the Awami league led by Sheikh Mujibar Rehman won stunningly in East Pakistan. It also emerged as a single largest party in the Pakistan National Assembly. The Awami League wanted greater autonomy for the region of East Pakistan. However, it was turned down by Gen Yayha Khan. The Awami League then launched a civil disobedience campaign in East Pakistan. The Pakistan Army reacted by flying in thousands of reinforcements and on 25 March 1971 launched ‘Operation Searchlight’ against the Awami league, members of intelligentsia and Hindu community who made up 20% of the population of then East Pakistan.
Initially, the plan seemed to work and the Paki Army decided to invite some Pakistani reporters from West Pakistan to the region to show them the success of Operation Searchlight as foreign journalists had been expelled from East Pakistan.Anthony Mascarenhas and seven other journalists formed a part of the group and were given a ten day tour of East Pakistan. When they returned home to West Pakistan, the seven others dutifully wrote what they were told to but Anthony Mascarenhas was totally distraught. He was absolutely shocked, stressed, upset and terribly emotional. He confided in his wife Yvonne that ‘if he couldn’t write the story of what he had seen, he would never be able to write again’. This was not possible in Pakistan.
Pretending to visit his sick sister in London, he approached Harold Evans, the editor of Sunday Times. Mascarehnas told him that he had been an eyewitness to a huge systematic killing spree and some Army officers of Pak Army describing the killings as a final solution. He maintained that what the Pak Army was doing was altogether worse and on a grander scale. Evans promised him that he would run the story but first his family had to escape Pakistan.To avoid suspicion, Mascarehnas returned to Karachi and moved his wife Yvonne and children to London. He himself could not accompany them as the Pakistanis that time were only allowed one foreign flight in a year. He himself sneaked out of the country crossing by land into Afghanistan.
The day after the family was reunited in their new home in London, the Sunday Times published his article under the headline Genocide. It exposed for the first time the scale of the Pak Army’s brutal campaign to suppress East Pakistan.This article helped turn world opinion against Pakistan. PM Indira Gandhi told Harold Evans that the article had shocked her so deeply that it had set her ‘on a campaign of personal diplomacy in the European countries and Moscow to prepare the grounds for India’s armed intervention. In a swift move, India liberated Bangladesh on 16 December 1971 after a 14 day campaign and 93000 Pak Army soldiers led by Lt Gen AK Niazi surrendered to the Indian Army.
Though the Bangladesh Government puts the figure of those killed for liberation at three million, the independent researchers think that between 4 and 5 million died. He is very fondly remembered in Bangladesh till today and his article is still displayed in the country’s Liberation War Museum.From Pakistan’s point of view, it was a huge betrayal and he was accused of being an enemy agent. However he still maintained excellent contacts there and in 1979 became the first journalist to reveal that Pakistan had developed Nuclear weapons. In 1972, he was awarded the lifetime achievement award in journalism and International publishing company’s special award for reportingon the human rights violations committed during the Bangladesh Liberation War. He also wrote two books ‘The rape of Bangladesh’ (1971) and ‘Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood’ (1986).