In the strict sense state violations of human rights in independent India’s first 55 years far surpassed those unleashed by the British rulers during two centuries of their colonial rule. If one finds this hard to believe, consider the following: The foremost State violation in British India was the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre of 1919 where the British forces, led by General Dyer, used .202 rifles. British army tanks never turned against our freedom fighters. However, it was independent India’s army tanks that fired the first cannons on our civilians – at the Golden Temple in Amritsar when Indira Gandhi was in power – in June 1984. The British air force never bombed the freedom fighters, but such bombings were carried out against the agitating Nagas who were led by Z.A.Phizo in the early 1960s when Nehru was at the helm of affairs.
There is a similar analogy when India ‘celebrated’ the 30th anniversary of the 1975-77 emergency recently. The three decades of the post-emergency period witnessed more human rights violations than those in the emergency period. Interestingly, all the forms of the major atrocities during the emergency period are still prevailing in different parts of India. Worse still, these are haunting us without a formal declaration of emergency. Apparently it is the unwillingness of our democratic milieu to take proper corrective steps that forces us to survive in an atmosphere of undeclared emergency.
Authoritarianism and Fascism: After declaring emergency to ensure her authoritarian dictatorship, Indira Gandhi termed all those whom she imprisoned as ‘fascists’, especially the RSS and the Jan Sangh activists. However, it was only after her death in October 1984 that her party followers showed their fascist character by massacring thousands of minority Sikhs in the national Capital.
On the other hand, Indira’s ‘fascist forces’ who were in prisons during the emergency took two years after Indira’s death to make steady advances with the reopening of the Babari Masjid in Ayodhya in 1986, Shilanyas in 1989, demolition of the Masjid in 1992 and to eventually capture State power in 1998. They also imitated and repeated what the Congress did to the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 by massacring the Muslims in Mumbai (1993) and in Gujarat (2002) and also unleashing onslaughts against the Christians. Such massacres of members of the minority communities by ruling party goons, duly abetted by the State machinery, never took place either during British colonial rule or during the 19-month long emergency period. Surprisingly, the post-emergency democratic system of governance miserably failed to award deterrent punishment to any of the ruling party culprits of the massacres.
The resurgent right wing Hindutva fascism in the post-emergency period was responsible for the unprecedented number of communal riots in different parts of India. The findings of at least three enquiry commissions, before and after the Babri Masjid demolition, drew this conclusion:
1) Justice Jitendra Narain’s Report on the Jamshedpur riots (April 1979) records: ‘The dispute on the route of the procession became sharp and agitated reactions from the group of persons calling themselves the Sinjuku Badgering Bali Akhara Samiti who systematically distributed pamphlets to heighten communal feelings and had organisational links with the RSS. A call for the defiance of the authority and the administration for one of the routes led to a violent mob protesting and raising anti-Muslim slogans and thereafter an incendiary leaflet doing the rounds of Jamshedpur that is nothing short of an attempt to rouse the sentiments of Hindus to a high pitch and to distort events and show some actions as attacks on Hindus that appear to be a part of a design. A survey had already established that all policemen, havaldars, home guards etc., were at heart ready to give support to them (Hindu communalist organisations).’
2) The Justice P. Venugopal Commission Report on the riots in Kanyakumari in March 1982 noted: ‘The RSS adopts a militant and aggressive attitude and sets itself up as the champion of what it considers to be the rights of Hindus against minorities. It has taken upon itself to teach the minorities their place, and if they are not willing to learn their place, to teach them a lesson. The RSS methodology for provoking communal violence is: a) rousing communal feelings in the majority community by the propaganda that Christians are not loyal citizens of this country; b) deepening the fear in the majority community by a clever propaganda that the population of the minorities is increasing and that of the Hindus is decreasing; c) infiltrating into the administration and inducing the members of the civil and police services by adopting and developing communal attitude; d) training young people of the majority community in the use of weapons like daggers, swords and spears; e) spreading rumours to widen the communal cleavage and deepen communal colour to any trivial incident.’
3) The Justice B. N. Srikrishna Commission report on the Mumbai riots of 1992-93 wrote: ‘Turning to the events of January 1993, the Commission’s view is that though several incidents of violence took place during the period from 15th December 1992 to 5th January 1993, large-scale rioting and violence was commenced from 6th January 1993 by the Hindus brought to fever pitch by communally inciting propaganda unleashed by Hindu communal organisations and writings in newspapers like Saamna and Navaakal. It was taken over by Shiv Sena and its leaders who continued to whip up communal frenzy by their statements and acts and writings and directives issued by the Shiv Sena Pramukh Bal Thackeray.
‘…Even after it became apparent that the leaders of the Shiv Sena were active in stoking the fire of communal riots, the police dragged their feet on the facile and exaggerated assumption that if such leaders were arrested the communal situation would further flare up, or to put it in the words of the then Chief Minister, Sudhakarrao Naik ‘Bombay would burn’, not that Bombay did not even burn otherwise.’
Preventive Detention (with and without Black Laws): The foremost dreaded words during the emergency were ‘MISA’ and ‘DIR’– the obnoxious black laws that ‘legally’ permitted the Indira regime to throw anybody into prison without trial for an unending period. However, more draconian laws like TADA and POTA, not to speak of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that rule the roost in North East and Kashmir, decorated the ‘democratic decades’ of post-emergency India. Both at the national and regional levels, different democratic rulers in the post emergency decades remarkably exhibited their efficiency to keep anybody in prison for an unending period without even depending upon such preventive black laws.
For example, a fortnight before observing the thirtieth anniversary of the emergency, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued notices on June 11 to the IGP (Prisons) and the Chief Secretary of Assam seeking details of five under-trial prisoners remaining in the LGB Regional Institute of Mental Health, Tezpur. They are: 1) Machang Lalung (77), an under-trial prisoner for the past 54 years; 2) Khalilur Rehman (70), under-trial for 35 years; 3) Anil Kumar Burman, an under-trial for 33 years; 4) Sonamani Deb (49) and 5) Ms. Parbati Mallik (both under-trials for 32 years). Notably, all of them were in jail much before the emergency was declared in 1975, and they convalesce as under-trials. Shockingly, different courts acquitted at least three of them, Rehman, Burman and Deb, very many years ago.
Under-Trial Prisoners: In deep South Kerala, protest is mounting against the Tamil Nadu government for keeping nine Keralites, including PDP Chairman Abdul Nazar Madani, in prison as under-trials since March 1998 for their alleged involvement in the Coimbatore serial bomb blasts. None of them was given parole or bail during the past eight years, nor were they kept under any preventive detention laws. They are not convicted prisoners, but mere under-trials. The whole scenario makes Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer’s famous ‘bail or jail’ Apex Court verdict of the late 1970s, stipulating jail only ‘as exception’ and favouring bail ‘as a rule’, a mockery even three decades after emergency. For example, according to B. S. Sila, Karnataka DGP (Prisons), as of June 10, 2005, out of the total 11,902 prisoners languishing in 97 state prisons, 8,500 are under-trials (8,264 males and 336 females). This is the overall rule prevailing in other prisons where the majority of the inmates are under-trials.
Custodial Killings: Custodial killings were rampant during the emergency period. The infamous killing of Engineering College student, Rajan, at Kakkayam police camp in Kerala in 1976 reverberated to bring down the first government headed by Congress leader K. Karunakaran in 1977. If one takes a cue out of the hue and cry on Rajan’s case, Kerala should have been free from custodial killings. However, custodial killings became rampant in Kerala throughout the last three decades of the post-emergency period during the dispensations of both the CPI (M) and Congress-led governments. According to the NHRC, there were a total of 54 custodial deaths in Kerala during 2002-2003, of which 4 were in police custody and 50 in judicial custody.
According to the latest 2002-03 annual report of the National Human Rights Commission, the number of custodial deaths went up from 1,037 in 2000-01 to 1,305 in 2001-02, the majority of them in judicial custody. While the total number of deaths in police custody went up from 127 in 2000-01 to 165 the following year, deaths in judicial custody rose from 910 to 1,140. Among the states, Uttar Pradesh topped the list registering an increase in custodial deaths, where the number of deaths in judicial custody increased from 121 in 2000-01 to 183 in 2001-02, and that in police custody from 10 to 11. In West Bengal, 54 people died in judicial custody in 2001-02 compared with 38 in the previous year.
Surprisingly, in areas of armed conflicts like Jammu and Kashmir, where human rights groups allege the rampant use of third-degree methods during interrogation of the arrested, negligent numbers of custodial deaths are reported by the respective State governments to the National Human Rights Commission. Thus, there was only one custodial death in Jammu and Kashmir in 2001-02, and none the next year, while Manipur and Nagaland did not report any custodial death in either of the years. Mizoram and Sikkim reported no custodial death in 2001-02, while figures from Assam, Gujarat and Punjab showed that death in police custody was declining.
Extra-Judicial Killings: The emergency period witnessed massive fake encounter killings of Naxalites or suspected Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh under the then Chief Minister Jalagam Vengal Rao. This prompted Jayaprakash Narayan, who formed the People’s Union of Civil Liberties at the end of the emergency, to institute the Justice V. M. Tarkunde Commission to probe the veracity of such ‘encounter killings’. The Tarkunde Commission Report of 1978 shocked the nation by unambiguously terming all such encounter killings as ‘nothing but cold blooded murders’.
Despite this, the three decades of the post-emergency period witnessed encounter killings entering new heights, fresh areas and taking heavy tolls – in Punjab in the name of fighting Khalistanists, in Jammu and Kashmir in the name of fighting Pak terrorists, in Gujarat in the name of fighting Islamic terrorism, and even in the name of anti-goonda operations in cities like Chennai and Mumbai. Terming the extra-judicial killings resulting from ‘fake encounters’ as ‘extremely grave’, the NHRC report for 2002-03 said that the Commission was informed of 83 instances of police encounters by the authorities of various States, 41 of which in Uttar Pradesh, 10 in Maharashtra and 7 in Andhra Pradesh.
’Disappeared Persons’: Strikingly, a new phenomenon of human rights violations heralded in the post-emergency period in areas like Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab, which report no or less number of custodial killings, namely ‘disappeared persons’. Thousands of persons simply disappeared after they were taken into custody, mainly by the security forces like the BSF and the CRPF. Human rights groups in both these States are still agitating on behalf of the relatives of such disappeared persons.
Dealing with two writ petitions filed in 1995 on the issue, the Supreme Court said: Serious allegations were made in the writ petitions about large scale cremations resorted to by the Punjab Police of persons allegedly killed in what were alleged as ‘encounters’. The main thrust of the Writ Petitions was that these were ‘extra-judicial executions’ and hasty and ‘secret cremations’ rendering the State liable for action. The two writ petitions relied upon a Press Note issued on 16th January 1995 by the Human Rights Wing of the Shiromani Akali Dal under the caption ‘Disappeared’ ‘cremation ground’. The Press Note had
alleged that a large number of human bodies had been cremated by the Punjab Police after labelling them as ‘unidentified’.
The Supreme Court was apparently disturbed by the gravity of the allegations and it ordered an inquiry by the CBI into the allegations. Accordingly, the CBI, after completing its enquiry, submitted its fifth and final report to the Supreme Court on 9th December 1996. The Supreme Court after examining the report relating to cremation of dead bodies on December 11, 1996, after examining the final report (5th) of the CBI observed: ‘The report indicates that 585 dead bodies were fully identified, 274 partially identified and 1238 unidentified. Needless to say that the report discloses flagrant violation of human rights on a mass scale’.
Tribal Unrest And Naxalites: One of the major promises announced in the celebrated 20-point programme during the emergency was the upliftment of the tribals by solving their land issue. However, 30 years after the emergency, the forest belt throughout India remains tension-ridden. While the tribal land issue is unresolved, new encroachers, including giant corporate houses, occupied vast areas of forest belt with State abetment.
Kerala, where the tribal population hardly constitutes one percent, presents a classic example. The Kerala Assembly passed the tribal land Bill in April 1975 promising the tribals to restore their traditional land after seizing it from the encroachers who occupied it from January 1, 1960. With the support of Kerala’s two veteran communist leaders, C. Achutha Menon then the Chief Minister and E.M.S. Namboodiripad who was the opposition leader, the Bill was approved unanimously by the then Assembly. After its incorporation into the Ninth Schedule, it also enjoyed Constitutional protection. However, neither the ‘success’ of the 20-point programme during the emergency, nor the governance by the Congress-led UDF and the CPM-led LDF Governments in the post-emergency decades, saw implementation of this 1975 tribal land Act. Surprisingly, despite court verdicts, it was sought to be implemented in the breach as the two amendment bills of 1996 and 1999 exemplified. And, the whole issue is still pending before the Supreme Court.
The latest intelligence reports say that armed Naxalites have a presence in 170 districts in 15 States, and are spreading wide and far. The intelligence agencies have warned that Naxal groups are working with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) to create a ‘Compact Revolutionary Zone’ (CRZ) that spreads from Nepal through Bihar and the Dandakaranya region of Andhra Pradesh. The Naxals are now reportedly engaged in plugging gaps in north Bihar and North Chhattisgarh to complete the CRZ. Ever since the creation of the Jharkhand State in 2000, some 200 policemen and 1,000 civilians have died in Naxal violence.
According to the 2004-2005 Annual Report of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) ‘Naxal violence led by the CPML-PW (Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist -People’s War) sharply increased during 2004 in Chhattisgarh … primarily on account of coordinated Naxal attacks on the police as a part of the CPML-PW/MCCI (Maoist Communist Centre of India)-led poll boycott campaign.’ It further stated that, there were 37 fatalities in Naxalite violence in 2001; 55 in 2002; 74 in 2003; and 83 in 2004. According to the Institute for Conflict Management data base, in 2005 till May 28, a total of 16 security forces (SF) personnel, 11 civilians, and 3 Naxalites have been killed in different incidents in Chhattisgarh.
Speaking to the media in the Bastar forest region in May 2005, a senior CPI-Maoist leader, Ayatu, said: ‘Who said we are running parallel administration? We have liberated some of our areas through our sustained people’s war in the Abujhmad (Abujhmar) area of Dandakaranya zone (of Bastar region) where we have established people’s governance.’ The local media has often substantiated this claim with reports of the Naxalites administering a ‘taxation’ system in their ‘liberated areas’; of police not venturing into the villages after dark; and of government officials traveling in vehicles that bear a ‘Press’ sticker to avoid Naxalite attacks.
Before Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November 2000, the Madhya Pradesh’s Commissioner (Land Records) and Chief Conservator of Forests (Land Management) had admitted in a report that the Naxalites had forcibly occupied 20,000 hectares of forest area in the Bastar division and were running a parallel government there by appointing their own ‘rangers’ and ‘deputy rangers’.
While almost the same Naxalite situation prevails in Bihar, the Naxalite movement is steadily advancing in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and other parts of Central India. These are also areas where India’s most precious assets are located. ‘All these areas (are) where greater part of India’s mineral resources, hydro-electric and other resources are located,’ Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently admitted.
Clearly, the three decades of the post-emergency scenario in India provides a Golden Lesson: It is the socio-economic and political problems that are unresolved by the process of democratic governance through the constitutional rule of law that give scope to various shades of extremist and terrorist activities. If the withdrawal of the constitutional rule of law and democratic governance during the emergency period failed to solve all such basic problems confronting the people, the situation differed little in the post-emergency decades. Neither can the State apparatus curb people’s movements emanating out of such social maladies through draconian laws or armed power or cosmetic changes.
Press and Freedom Of Expression: Freedom of the press and expression was one of the major emergency victims through the introduction of pre-censorship. The situation differed little in the post-emergency decades with various forms and shades of threat confronting this arena. Of course, in the days prior to the thirtieth anniversary of the emergency the President of India gave his recognition to the much debated and awaited Freedom of Information Bill. An increasing number of attacks on journalists both by State and private armies are the order of the day in different parts of India. Shooting of films like ‘Water’ was thwarted by the organised Hindutva goons. The widely acclaimed director Anand Patwardhan made his first film, ‘Waves of Revolutions’ on JP’s Bihar movement in 1974 and a second one on ‘Political Prisoners’ soon after emergency in 1977. However, in recent years, Patwardhan had to engage the film censors in long-drawn battles to get his recent films released as they dealt with the sensitive Hindutva psyche of Ayodhya and Gujarat.
Everyone, including the leftists, seem to have neatly forgotten the protests over the banning of the ‘Kissa Kursi Ka’ film during the emergency. How else one can describe a typical scenario that took place in Kolkata in the same week when we observed the 30th anniversary of emergency? On June 20, the avid film-goer Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadev Bhattacharjee, went to the State-run ‘Nandan’ theatre where he reportedly took exception to the screening of a film, ‘One Day from a Hangman’s Life’ which started on June 18 and was scheduled to run till June 24. The film, directed by Joshy Joseph, was critical of the West Bengal government’s stand on the hanging of the rape and murder convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee. Soon, the ‘Nandan’ managers summoned both Joseph and his producer, ‘Drik India’, to inform them that the film had been withdrawn due to ‘under sales’. Vouching that the film was withdrawn at the behest of the Chief Minister, Joshy Joseph said: ‘The cinema hall had nothing to do with sales since it serves only as a platform to promote alternate cinema. As the Chief Minister was away, we have had the chance of freedom of expression for four days. We thought the government was open to a debate on capital punishment, but now it appears we were wrong.’ Incidentally, in the course of the raging controversy, the Chief Minister’s wife shared the platform with Dhananjoy’s hangman in debates in support of his hanging.
Indian Currents, Issue 27, 3 July 2005.