As India recalls the Emergency imposed on the nation by Indira Gandhi 45 years ago on this day, memories of those dark days come calling. I was a student back then and, the chance discovery of an old photograph, hidden in a family album, triggered memories of the turbulent days of political struggles during the Emergency.
At Sir Syed College at Taliparamba in Kannur, 19 boys had been arrested following a demonstration in the college protesting against the Emergency. The protest demonstration, called by opposition student organisations in the state, was held on July 11 across Kerala.
At the Sir Syed campus, police swooped down and took custody of 19 boys who led the demonstrations—six from the pro-CPI (M) Students Federation of India (SFI), five from the Parivarthanavadi Congress owing allegiance to M A John, and eight from the pro-Kerala Congress Kerala Students Congress (KSC).
Among them, 18 survive today and most of them came together for a get-together recently at Kannur, at the residence of an incarcerated fellow.
It was a demonstration that became memorable for a photograph—of eight of those boys tonsured by the police while in custody. They were picked up from the campus by the town sub-inspector Aboobacker and his party. All of them were taken to the police station and locked up for a day—they were stripped down to their underwear and then summarily tonsured.
Two of them— SFI district committee member K Jayarajan and KSC leader Zachariah—were sent to jail under the draconian law of DIR and the rest were let off, with an undertaking to report at the police station every week for several months to follow.
Most of them were present at the get-together at Kannur, and among them was well known lawyer P K Vijayan, local journalist K Sunil Kumar, and others. They reminisced about those emergency days and the experiences of the internal emergency in the country.
I had known P K Vijayan from the days he had come to Calicut (now Kozhikode) as a law student at the Calicut Law College, immediately after the emergency. We both were with the SFI those days. Now past 63, Vijayan happens to be a senior lawyer based in Tellicherry, with a good practice and reputation as an excellent criminal lawyer. Sitting at his home near the old Sessions Court in Tellicherry, one of the earliest courts in Malabar set up during the days of the East India Company administration in the region, Vijayan spoke to me about the incidents and the developments that took place in the wake of the students’ demonstration and police action.
“We were very few in the SFI those days and also in the opposition students’ movements,” he said. There were rumblings of protests against the emergency, but only stray incidents. He was a second year degree student, in the zoology stream, and he was the Area Secretary of the SFI in Taliparamba. They held protest demonstrations mostly at night, with the college hostel inmates taking part putting up posters on the wall painted in red: Down with Indira, Down with Emergency.
The police had taken note of this and on July 11, during the open demonstration in response to a statewide call issued by the united front of various organizations. They lost no time to apprehend the students and were charged with holding unlawful demonstrations in violation of emergency regulations. They were all young and had only their defiance as their armour as they sat with tonsured heads in the police lock-up.
The incident would have all been forgotten but for the intervention of the legendary Communist leader A K Gopalan. AKG had reached Taliparamba a day or two later and sent word to the boys to meet him at the party office. “At the time comrade K K N Pariyaram was Area Secretary of the party and he sent me a message that AKG wished to meet us urgently,” recalled Vijayan. Only eight of them could be contacted at short notice and they were soon face-to-face with AKG who made inquiries about the incident. AKG then got them photographed the way they were at the police station at the local photo studio.
“When the Parliament session began soon after, AKG made a fiery speech on how the police were making life miserable for ordinary people under the emergency regime,” Vijayan said and recalled AKG had waved their photograph in the Lok Sabha to demonstrate how even young students were being harassed for simple acts of defiance and peaceful demonstrations. The rare incident of public protest by the students and the police action had been noticed by the senior political leadership in the state, despite the fact that no newspaper reported anything on protests and demonstrations.
A few months later, EMS Namboodiripad, who was one of the few senior leaders outside jail and active at the time, came to Taliparamba. The veteran leader met the young students at the CPI (M) office in the town. “EMS asked for details and while explaining things, I complained that the party did not give us any support,” Vijayan reminisced. EMS, in his characteristic way, responded that the party had to support many and so naturally they could expect little. “The next day I received a scolding from comrade Pariyaram for complaining to EMS instead of telling him about it,” said Vijayan.
Advocate Vijayan, also a writer who recently published three novels on the lives of legendary characters in Mahabharata and Ramayana, recollects many such incidents of police harassment from his days as a student activist in the seventies. “We fought against heavy odds and with little support from the leadership,” he remembered how he and a few others in the SFI had been caught by the police on another occasion when a poster with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was defaced with a smear of cow dung. “I really did not know how the poster came to be smeared with cow dung, but the Police caught us anyway and wanted me to lick the dung away with my tongue and clean up the prime minister’s face,” said Vijayan. But he refused, insisting he had not done it and did not know who the culprit was. The police Inspector was insistent but another policeman intervened with the suggestion, “Sir, let him clean it up with his clothes,” which was accepted by the inspector.
“That saved me tasting the cow dung. While reporting to the station every week to sign the register, we had become quite chummy with some of the cops and that saved us a lot trouble in the days of police terror,” Vijayan chuckled as he walked down the memory lane of his rebellious student days during the Emergency.