Today is the 40th anniversary of 'the Emergency', a historical turning point for the history of Indian politics that led to a number of historical changes. It is referred to a 21-month period between 1975 and 1977 when the then Prime MInister Indira Gandhi had declared a state of emergency across the country to sort out the internal upheavels.
Issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed under Article 352(1) of the Constitution for "internal disturbance", the Emergency was in effect from 25 June 1975 until its withdrawal on 21 March 1977.
What happened during the Emergency?
The Prime MInister was given the authority to rule by decree, further enabling the office to suspend elections and curb even basic human liberties. In fact, the political opponents of the Gandhis were imprisoned and the press was censored too.
Apart from several other atrocities, a forced sterilisation camp (spearheaded by Sanjay Gandhi, Indira's son) was also conducted.
Cause of the Emergency
With growing political unrest, especially against Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, loyalist of the Gandhi family and the chief minister of West Bengal-Siddhartha Shankar Ray- proposed an internal emergency citing the recent spike in protests and 'bandhs', which was in turn hampering the economy. The economy was also said to be in bad shape due to the war and additional challenges of drought and the 1973 oil crisis.
Hence, Ray drafted a letter to the then President to issue the Emergency on the basis of the information that Indira Gandhi had received regarding danger to the security of India due to internal problems.
The criticism faced by the government
With the government elements growing in power, they were reckless in committing atrocities to any extent. To summarise what they were criticised for include:
- Abuse and torture of detainees and political prisoners
- Forced sterilisation
- Detention of people by police without charge or notification of families
- Use of public and private media institutions, like the national television network Doordarshan, for government propaganda
- Large-scale and illegal enactment of laws (including modifications to the Constitution).
- Destruction of the slum and low-income housing in the Turkmen Gate and Jama Masjid area of old Delhi
One of the most significant events during this period, Sikhs joined hands and conducted mass protests against the government. Fearing that the protests will spread across the country, the government resorted to forced arrests, torture etc. After one point, Sikhs were alienated and found themselves fighting alone. In fact, it is said that close to 1,40,000 were arrested or tortured to death.