Opposition to the Emergency was growing, even though the authoritarian regime seemed able to suppress it.
With the passage of time, things do change, and fear, like all other human emotions, begins to subside. So it did in the case of the Emergency that the country had accepted without a word of protest. Indira Gandhi and her younger son, Sanjay — whose fast-growing power had earned India the moniker “Land of the Rising Son” — went on boasting about the “gains” of the Emergency, of which the dawn of the “era of discipline” was supposed to be the best. But the people at large were losing their patience with the “pains” of the Emergency, generally called its “excesses”.
It was shocking enough that 1,00,000 Indians were detained without trial. This number was considerably more than the arrests the British Raj had made during the Quit India movement of 1942. Barring Morarji Desai, who was detained in a dak bungalow, political prisoners were lodged with and treated as common criminals. JP, initially given the same facilities as Desai, had to be shifted to a government hospital because of ill health. He was later released but remained in bed in Bombay’s Jaslok Hospital. Twenty-two political prisoners died in jail, including a young engineering student in Kerala who vanished without a trace. Millions were harassed routinely by not only the arrogant and corrupt functionaries of the authoritarian regime, but also Sanjay’s stormtroopers.
Since the press was under strict censorship — even quotations from the Mahatma, Tagore and Nehru were disallowed — rumour took over and the government’s misdeeds, gory enough, got magnified as word passed from mouth to mouth. Anger against the Emergency spilled out of the privacy of homes into coffee houses where friends, trusting one another, started speaking up. Humour, the weapon of victims of all oppressive regimes, also came into play. MISA, the law under which tens of thousands were detained, said the critics, was not the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, but the “Maintenance of Indira and Sanjay Act”. Meanwhile, underground literature that the Russians call “samizdat” had also made an appearance. On top of it all the Hindi, Urdu and Bengali services of the BBC kept their Indian audiences informed of whatever the coterie of rulers ensconced in the prime minister’s house, not in her secretariat (as the prime minister’s office was then called), tried hard to suppress.
It was in this atmosphere that the first known resistance to the Emergency regime — in fact to Sanjay’s capriciousness on two fronts, population control through forced continued…