Democracy in Distress section


When Democracy was murdered and impunity reigned, 25th June in 1975, marked the beginning of the darkest phase in post independence India. Even after 43 years, we shrivel with fear and dismay that a popularly elected government could play with the destiny of a nation, the people fought so hard to win. Today’s generation has the memoirs, horror stories, trials and tribulations faced by people to learn from. As we dream of a New India 2022, it’s important to throw light on those 21 months of complete authoritarianism, media repression and suspension of rights and complete repudiation of constitutional sanctity. It was a watershed era and led to a new phase of Indian democracy by ending the one-party dominance over its polity.

At the stroke of midnight hour, a risen India was put to sleep

The event that triggered the Emergency took place on 12 June when the Allahabad high court found Indira Gandhi guilty of electoral malpractice. Raj Narain, rival in the Rae Bareilly constituency for the 1971 general elections, had filed a case against her – alleging bribery and the use of government machinery to manipulate the election. Found guilty, she was disqualified, and barred from holding an elected office for six years.

Opposition leaders led by Jai Prakash Narain, led huge protests in Delhi, leaders called for public rally after the high court judgment.  On 24th June, Supreme Court granted a conditional stay on the ruling and allowed Indira Gandhi to remain as Prime Minister until her appeal was reviewed. A few Minutes before midnight, a state of emergency was declared by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, starting 25th June, 1975. The supply of electricity to major newspaper offices was cut and opposition leaders were arrested and then ensued a story of unspeakable crimes against liberty and humanity.

The press vehemently opposed this. The Times of India published an obituary for democracy; The Indian Express carried a blank editorial while the Financial Express printed the Tagore Poem, ‘Where the mind is without fear’.

The press was muzzled with censorship and many media outlets includingHimmat, JanataFrontierSadhanaSwarajya etc. Journalists’ recount that they were threatened imprisonment and many had to bear the brunt of expressing their anger, eminent journalist Kuldeep Nayyar was imprisoned along with numerous other fearless journalists. According to the Home Ministry, in May of 1976, almost 7,000 journalists and media personnel were arrested. The Press Council of India was also abolished. Even entertainment industry bore the brunt with many artists who vociferously expressed resentment with the emergency facing wrath of the authorities.

Measures like forced sterilization shook the social fabric of the nation. “The villagers of Uttawar were shaken from their sleep by loudspeakers ordering the menfolk—all above 15—to assemble at the bus-stop on the main Nuh-Hodol road. With the menfolk on the road, the police went into the village to see if anyone was hiding… the men on the road were sorted into eligible cases . . . and they were taken from there to clinics to be sterilized.” (The Indian Express, 8 March 1977)

Even the economy of the nation suffered, inflation in 1974 touched a staggering 20.2 percent and reached 25.2 percent in 1975. Labour laws were made more stringent and these led to a near economic collapse coupled with large scale unemployment. Investment in the economy had taken a back seat. FERA was enacted and The Foreign Exchange resources in 1975 and 1976 were a mere 1.3 billion dollars (The Emergency Revisited – Part-I, Shri Arun Jaitley)

Opposition leaders in the crossfire

The Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) was imposed and thousands of people were arrested for opposing the government on pretext of public order. Many political organizations including the RSS were banned and its leaders put in jails. The time was one of immensely daunting for political leaders. Leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, Vijayaraje Scindia, V K Malhotra, Siddaramaiah were arrested for opposing the government. As per estimates and media reports, over one lakh were arrested.  


Talking to the veterans - Professor V K Malhotra remembers his days in prison during emergency

To gain deeper insights into what it was to experience such tyranny, we spoke to Shri VK Malhotra, a veteran politician. A member of the Bharatiya Janata Party during the 9th and 14th Lok Sabha in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, he held important positions such as Chief Executive Councillor of Delhi's Metropolitan Council in 1967; President of the Janata Party of Delhi in 1977; and President of the BJP of Delhi during 1980 to 1984 etc.

Arrested and kept in jail for 19 months during Emergency in 1975, he has a distinct tale to tell about how the emergency era was reminiscent of the British Raj, how political prisoners were subjected to physical and psychological abuse and how they stood strong and united in the face of every repression. Speaking to us about his experiences he had a mixed appeal of agony and pride. There was an agony of having to bear utter disgrace to our democracy but a pride of facing it with conviction and unity.

He said that even after 43 years, the bruises of emergency on the mind and heart are still fresh. Remembering his days in prison he narrated an event when he was admitted in Chandigarh AIMS for a back ache while serving his sentence, the stay was nothing short of a ‘solitary confinement’ and was also the same room where even Shri Jai Prakash Narayan was also admitted. He said, उस कमरे में पहूँचने के लिए तीन- चार दरवाज़े खोल कर जाना पड़ता था, रोशनदान और खिडकियों को सील किया हुआ था । सुविधाएं तो थी परन्तु चाहे डॉक्टर आये या नर्स साथ में CID के आदमी ज़रूर आते थे, न किसी को अन्दर आने की इजाज़त थी और न ही किसी से बात कर सकते थे, परिवार का भी कोई भी व्यक्ति नहीं मिल सकता था ।. It was often heard those days that the ‘detainees’ in the hospital were so socially isolated that they just had cleaners/sweeper to speak to. Narrating his sufferings he said, एक महीने तक मैंने न चाँद देखा, न सूरज देखा, न अन्दर से आवाज़ बाहर जाती थी न ही बाहर से कोई आवाज़ अन्दर आती थी । Suffering from such a mental torture he approached the courts and the only relief he obtained was one hour of walk in the jail premises per day. As ridicules it may sound, he approached the court again and after much struggle he was transferred to Chandigarh Jail

He further narrated the mental and physical torment they were put through while in prison. He said that political prisoners were exclusively subjected to mental harassment in comparison to regular prisoners. बहुत तरीकों से यातना दिया जाता था, जैसे की भयानक गर्मी में पंखे बंद कर दिए जाते थे, बारिशों में तरह-तरह के जंतु जैसे कनखजूरा, सांप इत्यादि हमारे बैरक में घुस आते थे। लोग भय में जीते थे और अपने अपने ईश्वर को याद करने लगते थे। मानसिक तौर पर भी प्रताड़ित किया जाता था, जैसे घरवालो से अकेले में न मिलने देना और दूर बिठा के बात करवाना इत्यादि।said Mr. Malhotra reminiscing the hard days in prison.

While the leaders were incarcerated, they continued their campaign and protest against the emergency. Narrating some interesting tales of how they maintained contact with collaborators/family members outside through some innovative means and sympathizers within the prison. He candidly remembered the innovative means employed, बाहर सन्देश पहूँचाने के लिए हम नए-नए तरीके अपनाते थे जैसे डंठल को अन्दर से खोखला करके उसमें चिट्ठी डालकर भेजते थे, फलों की टोकरी के नीचे चिट्ठियां रखके उसके ऊपर फलों से ढक कर चिट्ठियाँ पहुचाई जातीं थीं, पुस्तकों के बीच में (जिल्द) सन्देश छुपाना इत्यादि । ऐसा हमने कईं बार किया पर एक बार पकड़े भी गए ।

On 18th January, Indira Gandhi called for fresh Lok Sabha elections and all political prisoners were released before the emergency was officially withdrawn on 21st March. Professor V K Malhotra said that even after that there was an atmosphere of fear all around and they were afraid that owing to the looming threat people would not openly come out in support but the manner in which people came out in support truly gave us the determination and confidence to go ahead. ‘…….हमने तय किया की 30 जनवरी को रामलीला मैदान में बैठक होगी, वहां हमने बड़े -बड़े पात्र रख दिए ताकि लोग उसमे चंदा डाल सकें। यह याद करके अच्छा लगता है की लोगो ने इतना समर्थन दिखाया की पात्र में जमा राशि एवं वस्तुएं जैसे घड़ियाँ, कड़े, मंगलसूत्र और कई कीमती चीज़ों को संभालने में पूरी रात बीत गई । मदद करने के लिए लोग चुपके से जेब में नोट डाल देते थे।’

Speaking to Professor VK Malhotra helped us live through the trying times our democracy went through and reinstates the need for protecting the democratic fabric of the nation. Yet another veteran and forerunners in struggle against declaration of emergency, Former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, poetically and succinctly summarized the emergency.

अनुशासन के नाम पर, अनुशासन का खून
भंग कर दिया संघ को, कैसा चढ़ा जुनून
कैसा चढ़ा जुनून, मातृपूजा प्रतिबंधित
कुलटा करती केशव-कुल की कीर्ति कलंकित
यह कैदी कविराय तोड़ कानूनी कारा
गूंज गा भारतमाता- की जय का नारा।


डाक्‍टरान दे रहे दवाई, पुलिस दे रही पहरा
बिना ब्‍लेड के हुआ खुरदुरा, चिकना-चुपड़ा चेहरा
चिकना-चुपड़ा चेहरा, साबुन तेल नदारद
मिले नहीं अखबार, पढ़ें जो नई इबारत
कह कैदी कविराय, कहां से लाएं कपड़े
अस्‍पताल की चादर, छुपा रही सब लफड़े।

'इंदिरा इंडिया एक है: इति बरूआ महाराज,
अकल घास चरने गई चमचों के सरताज,
चमचां के सरताज किया अपमानित भारत,
एक मृत्यु के लिए कलंकित भूत भविष्यत्, 
कह कैदी कविराय स्‍वर्ग से जो महान है,
कौन भला उस भारत माता के समान है?


दिल्ली के दरबार में कौरव का है जोर,
लोकतंत्र की द्रौपदी रोती नयन निचोर, 
रोती नयन निचोर नहीं कोई रखवाला, 
नए भीष्म द्रोणों ने मुख पर ताला डाला, 
कह कैदी कविराय बजेगी रण की भेरी, 
कोटि-कोटि जनता न रहेगी बनकर चेरी।

दंण्‍डवत मधु से भरे, व्‍यंगय विनोद प्रवीण; 
मित्र श्‍याम बाबू सुभग, अलग बजवें बीन;
अलग बजवे बीन तीन में ना तेरह में;
लालकृष्ण जी पोथी, पढते हैं डेरा में; 
कह कैदी कविराय, जमीन थी खूब चौकड़ी; 
कोट-पीस का खेल जेल में घड़ी दो घड़ी।  



By- Vidushi Sahani (Fellow - PPRC) and Shraddha Tripathi (Intern- PPRC)


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