The brutal oppression that formed the core of the Emergency in 1975 was not limited to cutting the flow of information and putting the leaders of other political parties in jail. It caused grave injuries to people’s psyche, as several of them were subjected to torture in an attempt to break the will of these free-thinking individuals. Here, we recall a few such instances that explain how draconian the Emergency was and how it brought human sufferings at all levels.
Snehalatha Reddy – Pathetic Prison Condition Killed Her
Snehalatha Reddy along with her husband Pattabhi Rama Reddy who was director and mathematician, were socialists and staunch followers of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia.
Both took part in the underground movement against Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial steps, and as a result she was put in jail on May 2, 1976. Snehalatha was arrested along with George Fernandes in the Baroda Dynamite case. Though the final charge sheet did not contain her name. She was guilty by mere association.
In prison, despite suffering from chronic asthma, she received irregular medical treatment. On two occasions during her incarceration, she went into an asthmatic coma.
Amidst all these, she stood for the rights of the prisoners. Her prison Dairy provides an account of how prisoners, including women, were badly treated and how Snehalatha stood for them to improve the situation.
Pic credit- The Better India
“At least I have achieved something here. I have stopped the horrible beatings the women prisoners used to get. The food has slightly improved for them. And though the water supply is appalling, yet there are promises for pipes to be connected, and that is not bad at all. And most of all, I have made them unafraid a little. I went on a hunger strike until the food improved slightly.”
Nevertheless, the prison conditions took heavy toll on her health.
She was released on parole on January 15, 1977 on the ground of worsening health. Five days later, she passed away. The chronic asthma and lung infection took her life, as regular medical treatment was not provided in the prison.
Muzaffarnagar Nasbandi Goli Kand – Killing of People Protesting Against Sterilization
This picture of ‘massacre’ lies buried in the pages of history, and very few accounts like this one are available to reveal the story.
Forced sterilization was at its peak during the Emergency, and naturally people protested and tried to escape from it. On October 18, 1976 Police force surrounded Muzaffarnagar area and opened fire. In the next few minutes at least 35 people reportedly died, though the true figures never came to the fore.
Their crime? They resisted sterilization. Such was the brutality of Congress at that time. The distraught it brought to so many families are harrowing to recall. For instance, Hasina was eight months pregnant when the administration allegedly gunned down her 30-year-old husband Mohammed Saddique, who was leaving for the steel factory where he worked.
The Personal Attacks
Journalist Coomi Kapoor has written a book ‘The Emergency- A personal History’. Her husband Virendra Kapoor, who was also a journalist, was picked up and thrown into Tihar Jail. Reason? He ran into a minor altercation at a public meeting with Ambika Soni. Ambika back then was part of the close circle of Sanjay Gandhi’s Youth Congress.
As Coomi recalls, “It is indicative of the terror prevailing at the time that no Indians, not even colleagues, were prepared to give evidence on the circumstances surrounding Virendra’s arrest.” Although briefly released on bail, he was soon rearrested under MISA, a routine practice at the time.
Life as a prisoner’s wife, with a small child and meagre resources made Coomi’s life hard. Soon her husband was out of the blue transferred to Bareilly jail, after an outlaw and his gang made their escape from Tihar. Travelling in overcrowded trains with a sick baby to visit her husband, Coomi also shed light on the appalling conditions in the provincial jail.
Singer Kishor Kumar Faced A Ban
Since Kishor Kumar refused to sign the ‘co-operation’ agreement with administration which was nothing but a support for the Emergency excess. As retribution, officials at the I&B ministry not only banned his songs across AIR and Doordarshan, but also listed all the movies he acted for ‘further action’ and ordered a freeze on the sale of his gramophone records.
What more one can do to take away the basic means of livelihood than this? If the famous singers of that time were subjected to such suppression, one can only imagine the fate of lesser known activists and people who raised their voice against emergency.