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Kamal Lohani succumbs to Covid-19

  • Published at 10:53 am June 20th, 2020
Kamal Lohani Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
The prominent cultural activist and journalist dies in hospital care at the age of 86

Legendary journalist Kamal Lohani has passed away from Covid-19 in Dhaka, just six days before what would have been his 87th birth anniversary

An epic figure in Bangladesh's political and cultural history, Lohani breathed his last while undergoing treatment at the intensive care unit (ICU) of Sheikh Rasel Gastroliver Institute and Hospital at around 10:15am yesterday, Bonya Lohani, daughter of the veteran journalist, told Dhaka Tribune.

Kamal Lohani was admitted to a Dhaka hospital with kidney and old age related complications on June 17. He tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday and was taken to Sheikh Rasel Gastroliver Institute and Hospital.

Doctors put him on life support yesterday morning before he passed away, Bonya added.

Kamal Lohani and his wife Dipti Lohani (who passed away a few years ago) are survived by daughters Bonya and Urmi Lohani, and son Sagar Lohani - all of whom are also involved in journalism and cultural activism.

Kamal Lohani was buried in Sontala Central Graveyard, Sirajganj on Saturday. 

Within moments of his death, people from all walks of life began paying homage to the cultural figure on social media.

President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock and sorrow at the death of the Ekushey Padak winning journalist, renowned cultural activist and freedom fighter.

In a condolence message, the president said: "Apart from journalism, Kamal Lohani made great contributions to our great language movement, liberation struggle and the Liberation War.”

The country has lost a great journalist and cultural figure and his death is an irreparable loss to the cultural arena of the country, he added.

He also also prayed for salvation of the departed soul and conveyed deep sympathy to the bereaved family members.

"We have lost a personality with a progressive mindset and an extraordinary fighter of a non-communal spirit," Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in a condolence message.

The prime minister said Lohani was an idealist with many virtues all human beings should have. She particularly referred to his contributions to establishing the spirit of the Liberation War and upholding non-communal harmony, noting that Kamal Lohani had been a leading figure in disseminating the culture of Bangladesh.

Deputy Leader of Parliament Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury, senior cabinet members, including Road Transport and Bridges Minister and Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, Health Minister Zahid Maleque, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Shahab Uddin, Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun, Science and Technology Minister Yeafesh Osman, Fisheries and Livestock Minister SM Rezaul Karim, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) Mayor Atiqul Islam and Dhaka South City Corporation Mayor Barrister Sheikh Fazle Nur Taposh, Cultural Affairs State Minister KM Khalid, State Minister for Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak, and Jatiya Party Chairman Ghulam Muhammad Quader expressed sorrow at the demise of Kamal Lohani.

Bangladesh Health Reporters' Forum mourns death.

A commentator, orator and anchor

Lohani waged a long struggle in his efforts to establish freedom of thought in the country, and his illustrious career in journalism inspired many others with hope and confidence.

Born on June 26, 1934, Kamal Lohani grew up witnessing India's independence movement, the partition of 1947 and the Language Movement of 1952.

Lohani had his first job as a journalist with the Daily Millat in 1955. In 1962, he joined the cultural organization Chhayanaut as its secretary. He was jailed and tortured several times for his political activism during the Language Movement and the Liberation War.

Throughout his six-decade-long career, Lohani also worked as a commentator, orator and anchor.

He worked as chief news editor for Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra in 1971. In the post-war period, he served in important positions in many journalist unions and relentlessly worked for establishing their rights and demands.

His activism and commentaries laid the foundation for many social movements that helped shape the country's democratic trajectory.

A committed activist and writer, Lohani produced many books, including Edesh Amar Gorbo, Bhasha Sankskriti O Ganomadhyam, Amader Sankskriti O Sangram and Rajniti Muktijuddho Swadhin Bangla Betar.

Awarded the prestigious Ekushey Padak, Kamal Lohani at a particular stage served as president of Dhaka Union of Journalists.

He also served as director general of Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and was president of Bangladesh Udichi Shilpi Goshthi, as well as general secretary of Chhayanaut.

He was also involved with Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, a forum campaigning for a secular Bangladesh and trials of the war criminals of 1971.

‘Without Swadhin Bangla, people of the country would have died of strain’

There are few who do not know of the voice of the liberation movement - Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra - and the crucial role it played during 1971.

During those turbulent times, with people living in fear in a country under Pakistani military occupation, the only words of inspiration and the hope of a better future came from Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra.

The radio station kept the spirit of the nation alive during the nine months of the Liberation War of 1971 by connecting the government-in-exile with the struggling people of the country, acting like an unseen thread that held the whole nation together.

Besides relaying messages of the government and updating people about the situation on the battleground, the activists of Swadhin Bangla Betar broadcast motivational songs and satirical programs.

“It was like psychological warfare that was fought in the communication medium,” Kamal Lohani said in an interview with Dhaka Tribune in 2018.

They were under constant threat of being gunned down. Despite that, whenever there was a chance, four or five people would huddle around a radio and tune in to Swadhin Bangla Betar.

“It gave them the inspiration to keep on living,” said Lohani.

“Without this radio, the people of the country would have died of the strain. It was the main tool for us in psychological warfare,” said Lohani in the interview.

During the interview, Kamal Lohani noted that the main objective of the radio station was to “fend off the propaganda and misconception created by the enemy."

“The radio used to broadcast Bangla language programs in the beginning. Later on, we resorted to producing programs  in English and Urdu as well, to battle against misconceptions,” he said.

The station was conceived on March 26, 1971 just before the declaration of independence was broadcast from the Kalurghat transmission centre in Chittagong. 

 “We played mass songs that became popular during the anti-government democratic movement,” Lohani said.

"During the nine months of the war, the most memorable moment was when I took the responsibility to prepare the news script of our victory. The last two lines carried the message of our victory. I read it myself, at 4:30pm, just after the surrender of the Pakistan military in Dhaka.

“Right after I had finished reading the news, a freshly composed song was aired – Bijoy nishan urchhe oi.  It was written by Shahidul Islam and set to music by Sujeo Sen in just 20 minutes,"