“The Emergency” refers to a 21 month period from June 1975 until March 1977. Though officially issued by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the State of Emergency was declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi due to “internal disturbances”. It was called off in 1977 when Indira Gandhi called for fresh elections for March. During a state of Emergency, the citizens Fundamental Rights are taken away, they are forced to comply with the orders of the government. All media outlets are censored ruthlessly, taking away the citizen’s source of information about the state of the country. The Emergency of 1975 was the third state of emergency that had been declared in India, it was preceded by one declared in 1962 during the Indo-China War and another in 1971 during the Indo-Pak war. Both were declared on account of “external aggression”.
The Horrors of Emergency
The Emergency period saw the Indian democracy almost turn into a dictatorship and is often referred to as the “darkest phase of independent India”. Many political leaders of the opposing party were arrested, along with anyone who dared to oppose the government, without any trial. The media was heavily censored; anything and everything that was published had to be approved first by the government. This directly attacked the people’s freedom of speech.
Apart from a few, no other newspaper had the courage to defy this censorship. The Indian Express published a blank first editorial page and the Financial Express published Tagore’s poem “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”, in large print. The Emergency was a wake-up call for the press, and they realised how easily their freedom could be taken away. Hence, immediately after the withdrawal of the emergency, the Press Council of India was formed whose main aim was to safeguard the freedom of the press and to maintain and improve journalistic standards.
Cruelty of Mass Sterilization
During this period, Sanjay Gandhi organised a compulsory mass sterilization. If the people refused to obey, they would have to surrender their right to free medical treatments in government hospitals. Slums and low-income housing near the Turkman Gate and Jama Masjid were destroyed, and anyone protesting the demolition of their home was shot by the police or brutally assaulted. Indira Gandhi abused Article #56, and the Constitution was undermined blatantly. The 24th Amendment and the 26th Amendment were passed during this time which allowed the Parliament to dilute the people’s Fundamental Rights and abolished Privy Purse. Along with this, Indira Gandhi amended the Representation of People Act and ensured that the Supreme Court had no other option but to overturn the Allahabad High Court ruling, which upheld that the Parliament had no power to curtail Fundamental Rights.
It is evident that the Emergency of 1971 impacted the Indian society in more ways than one. The Central government abused its power so ruthlessly that even the sacred Constitution and the Supreme Court failed to protect its citizens. It was a reminder as to how effectively and swiftly the freedom of the citizens can be taken away from them.
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