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Remembering the Emergency

5 June 1975 - 21 March 1977 is often referred as the darkest chapter in the history of independent India. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in the country. What followed was a 19 month-long nightmare that left India shocked.

Many political leaders and social activists were arrested and subjected to torture. The press came under severe censorship. The state-run television channel Doordarshan was nothing more than the government’s propaganda medium. Hundreds of innocent people were arbitrarily arrested without any charge or notification. The political opposition was driven underground. Thousands of men and women were forced to undergo vasectomies and sterilization in the name of a family planning initiative. Many slums and low income houses in Old Delhi were destroyed without any prior notice, killing and displacing thousands of poor people. Even 35 years after the emergency permanent scars remain in the lives of many Indians. South Asia Wired spoke to some of those who lived through the black era. They share their vivid memories with us.

A K Singh, 58. Senior Government Official, Lucknow
“I remember the day the emergency was declared. The Hindi newspaper Aaj and   many others didn’t publish the editorial page. I was living in Varanasi at the time. I was surprised that people didn’t crowd around pan and tea shops for discussions and gossiping. It was very unusual as it’s an integral part of a Varanasi local’s life. Also many local politicians were arrested. and the other thing that I noticed was all government officials suddenly became punctual and disciplined, the railways started to run on time , probably due to the reign of fear.”

Vinita Vishwas Deshmukh, 50. Journalist-Activist, Pune
“I was a teenager then and my blood boiled  at this assault on democracy. When I got to know that senior Congress leader Mr Mohan Dharia (who changed his party due to the clamping of emergency) was  giving a speech near my college hostel, I slipped out with a friend to hear him. I  came back to the hostel, later than the permitted hour. My hostel superintendent reprimanded me - I pleaded that I was at Mr Dharia’s speech. And only then did she let me in. The day Indira Gandhi lost the elections, I took off on my bicycle to the nearest newspaper stall to buy all papers and read them to my heart’s content.”

Vijay Bhagirath , 48. Account Director with an outsourcing company, The Netherlands
“One thing which clearly stands out from the emergency period was to see strict working discipline being enforced in the government departments. I would hear many times from father how the attendance and the day to day working of the government offices was being controlled.  The offices which were known to be prone with late attendance and neglect of responsibilities were seen to be in full alert. You could see the difference even on streets - i.e. the general city maintenance departments would be working very hard (from hardly in the past) to clean the streets, clean the drainage etc.  As a young boy at this point of time it was really exciting to see these changes taking place each day.”

Govind Lele, 56. Businessman and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member, Pune
“As a college student and an RSS member I took part in the peaceful anti- emergency agitation. So I was imprisoned for two months. After my release I was given the task of helping political leaders who went underground. I was in charge of their accommodation and other logistics. I remember I had to once  remain with Subramanian Swamy till he moved to his next destination. He left the next day. A week later the police came to my house inquiring about my activities. In my opinion,  emergency  was unwanted, wrong and undemocratic. This lone act of Mrs.Gandhi washed out all her good doings past and post emergency.”

1 Comment on “Remembering the Emergency”

  1. #1 David Berridge
    on Jun 30th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    A K Singh said it best when remembering how the reign of fear brought more efficency to government and even brought the “trains to run on time”!! Benito Mussolini would be proud to know that he has something of a political legacy left upon India by way of Indira!! This only goes to prove that there is nothing new under the sun!!

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