According to an Emergency fact-file, based on reports of Amnesty International, UNDP Annual Report 1975-76, Emergency recorded an estimated total of close to 175,000 detentions under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act); close to 6000 deaths in custody due to police torture and brutalization; hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly sterilized and an equally high number were displaced and relocated.
In Delhi alone, the official figure for people forced to relocate due to slum demolition programmes was a staggering 700,000, and the official figure for sterilizations was 161,000. In March 1976, Amnesty International’s report on political prisoners across the world indicated that majority of them were actually in India.
The emergency is synonymous with authoritarian repression, however, in a lot of ways it merely affirmed the authoritarian practices, which were part of the nation’s public and social life right from the beginning. As early as 1948-49, the Communist Party was banned across several states and cities. In 1949, railway workers were arrested and imprisoned in large numbers to compromise the railway strike. In 1950, trade unionists, socialists, radical activists were indiscriminately arrested under the Preventive Detention Act. Police firings against demonstrations of workers and peasants have been a common feature in India, a continuation of practices of feudal as well as colonial powers.
In fact, the DIR (Defence of India Rules), which during the British regime, was only sparingly invoked and that too, only during times of war, became a permanent fixture in the Indian administrative system. In 1959, the democratically elected Communist Party government in Kerala was arbitrarily dismissed by the Congress regime at the Centre, even when the former enjoyed a clear majority. In 1965, the draconian DIR was invoked to crack down upon agitating students, peasants and urban workers. During the late sixties and the seventies, around 5000 students and intellectuals disappeared in West Bengal, as the state rounded up suspected naxals.
Give these facts and fugures, the Emergency needs to be seen not as an exception, but only an officially proclaimed continuation of repression and violence, and by that logic there are various kinds emergencies, undeclared and silent, that cannot be limited to 1975-77. In this sense, it is astounding how the last few years are a mirror image of what transpired in 1975-76 during the Emergency.
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