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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 27, June 25, 2011

Emergency: What it meant

Tuesday 28 June 2011


Lest We Forget

Thirtyfour years ago on June 26, 1975, Emergency was proclaimed throughout the country as the ruling leadership bared its fangs nakedly displaying its dictatorial proclivities. We present here write-ups and poems that bring back the nightmare of those dark days when our freedom was sought to be snatched away and our voice throttled. —Editor


Not a leaf stirs in my kingdom without my leave. See how quiet my people sit.
—Atahuallpa the Inca

To those whose only preoccupation in life is to survive, June 26, 1975 was like any other day in oppressive June—the sun cruel, the wind searching, the dust blinding. But to some at least of those who heard the Prime Minister on the radio that morning, had no paper to read before they went to work, and learnt about the midnight arrests only by way of rumour, June 26 looked ominous, terrifying. And to some whose homes had been visited by Mrs Gandhi’s police at the dead of night and a son or a brother or a husband taken away to some unknown place for unknown reasons, June 26 was the end of the world.

As the day advanced one saw the police everywhere—in street corners, at bus-stands, in market-places and shopping centres; armed police guarded important road junctions, carrying walky-talky sets, the Border Security Force stood by the Secretariat and other Government offices. Who were they guarding and against whom? What news could they be passing and against whom, one wondered. And whom are they watching and for what? “It could be me”—that would be the creeping, gnawing fear—for something one had said, something one had written, some remark one had passed, some meeting one had attended when the country was free. Many went underground, not for hatching plots to destroy Mrs Gandhi and her family but out of sheer panic. Life became one long dreary monotony. One avoided one’s friends—who knows who is an informer? Visits became few; telephones were not safe to use. Conversations which used to add zest to one’s life became halting. The radio blared forth one stupendous lie after another. And the newspapers gave no news which had not been censored.

Strict censorship had cut up the country into innumerable bits, each insulated from the rest against spread of news. One lived in a silent island of one’s own, not knowing what was happening in another part of the city. Then there was the omnipotent MISA. Was the son alive, the father whisked away by the police for indefinite detention? Are they being tortured? When will they be produced in the court? Vital questions, but one had lost the right to know the answer. June 26, 1975 introduced a new era, not merely of human suffering and pervasive fear but also of an awareness of the loss of all human rights and human dignity, and all because of one individual’s lust for power.

(From The Press She Could Not Whip: Emergency in India as Reported by the Foreign Press, edited by Amiya Rao and B.G. Rao)

The Editor’s Notebook in Mainstream (June 28, 1975) after the promulgation of Emergency and the imposition of press censorship appeared as follows:

Tagore for Today

Somewhere in the excitement of National Emergency, the editor has lost his notebook. However, Rabindranath Tagore has, in the abundance of his generosity, lent him his own notebook:

Freedom from fear is the freedom I claim for you, my Motherland!—fear, the phantom demon, shaped by your own distorted dreams;
Freedom from the burden of ages, bending your head, breaking your back, blinding your eyes to the beckoning call of the future;
Freedom from shackles of slumber wherewith you fasten yourself to night’s stillness, mistrusting the star that speaks of truth’s adventurous path;
Freedom from the anarchy of a destiny, whose sails are weakly yielded to blind uncertain winds, and the helm to a hand ever rigid and cold as Death;
Freeom from the insult of the dwelling in a puppet’s world, where movements are started through brainless wires, repeated through mindless habits; where figures wait with patient obedience for a master of show to be stirred into a moment’s mimicry of life.

June 27 N.C.

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