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World Press Freedom Day 'Remembering Summer of 1975' : India during Emergency

Published On: 03 May 2019 | Hollywood | By:

World Press Freedom Day 'Remembering Summer of 1975' : India during Emergency
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The freedom to liberty, expression and dissent ceased to exist. Civil liberties were suspended and Press, the fourth pillar of democracy came crashing under the suppression of Press rights. Government said 'News are plainly Dangerous'

On the occasion of World Press Freedom we owe a remembrance to one pivotal point in the Press history in India which defines what Press stands for in a democratic country- The Emergency of Indira Gandhi government in the summer of 1975 which lasted for 21 months. It is this moment in Indian History which made us realise the importance of freedom of expression and press. That summer was marked an introspection in our the ideals of Democracy that we had erected as a nation not far long before. To those with memory still fresh of British rule, this seemed like a deja vu.

I remember my Grandfather telling me stories about his father, who was a Freedom Fighter, talked about the British Rowlatt act or the Black Act and how that summer he witnessed something very similar. My cousins would all sit around him listening as he told us how there was a sense of suspicion everywhere, you were supposed to overlook a corpse showing up on a railway track stabbed and how certain timings of the day were unsafe. As told us how as a young man his blood boiled to go and march alongside J.P. but he was dissuaded by his mother as young activists were disposed off rather than getting jailed. For him, sitting in one corner of the country, “Bihar was burning” but newspapers carried very little to tell you what was happening in the rest of the country. How while listening to the Radio people stared at one another with a sense of terror. The preventive measures taken by the government against the imagined threat was ‘preventive’ in every sense of the word.

George Fernandez arrested during Emergency, along with Tamil Nadu's Chief minister K. Kamaraj and BJP leader LK Advani

I can’t recall reading about it in my history book, later in my life this amnesia of CBSE was rectified through the BBC documentaries and independent journalists, who gave press new ethos to swear by and function in order to emerge as the fourth pillar of the our democracy. The press was for forced to bend but it crawled as L.K. Advani, who was jailed during that time said addressing the journalists of independent media. The consequences of emergency were severe with censorship, torture, arrests, and freedom mercilessly taken away.

Resistance cartoon by R.K. Laxman, December 1976. Reproduced from Satyavani, an underground newspaper published in New York and London during the Emergency.

Jayaprakash Narayan, popularly known as JP was yesteryears Freedom fighter launched a movement against the democracy-turned-dictatorship of Indira Gandhi. He called in for ‘Total revolution’, one may be confused as to what this revolution seeked to achieve but JP had already cleared he is not on roads again for change of government rather change in their governance.

The police beat Jayaprakash Narayan while his Gandhian protest in Delhi

The rampant gagging of Press, compulsory sterilization, political arrests and killings were common throughout the country. Some newspapers like ‘Himmat’ were practicing ethical journalism even in those dark times. Kalpana Sharma, former Editor of Himmat said by the time they came to know what exactly was happening in the nation, many leaders and activists were in jail. She said among many rules laid out by the government, one was- “Where news is plainly dangerous, newspapers will assist the Chief Press Adviser by suppressing it themselves. Where doubts exist, reference may and should be made to the nearest press adviser.” Himmat, Janata, Frontier, Sadhana, Swarajya all were threatened to be thrown out of the publishing. The Information and Broadcasting minister of that time was removed by Sanjay Gandhi for not revealing the ‘news bulletin’ prior to its printing. Mark Tully, the voice of BBC, was also withdrawn by the channel. According to the Home Ministry, in May of 1976, almost 7,000 journalists and media personnel were arrested.

Movies like ‘Aandhi’, a powerful political film, where Suchitra Sen plays Mrs Gandhi's role, was banned by Indira Gandhi during that time but got released post emergency in 1977 and ‘Kissa Kursi Ka’, another political satire, underwent the same fate.

This chapter of our history needs a quick revision everytime the ethics of journalism needs revision. We need to remind ourselves that freedom has not happened by chance but was fought for in every manner and form. To cherish the same you need to be an active participant in it.

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