Emergency Files: How the students of JNU fought the Emergency

As students all across India are fighting the central government's nefarious attempts to curtail their political freedom, Bodhi Commons is republishing the Emergency Files, a series of pamphlets brought out by the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, during the period of the Emergency (1975-77).

The events of the last few days are indicative of the intensified repression, that the ruling classes in India have been unleashing on all voices of dissent. The police crackdown in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, the arrest of the JNU Students’ Union (JNUSU) President Kanhaiya Kumar on false charges, the repeated attacks on Kanhaiya, students, teachers, journalists and lawyers by RSS-backed “lawyers” at the Patiala House court complex (the second attack came in spite of the Supreme Court order to ensure security!), the shameless corporate media trial of students, the attacks on the offices of the SFI and the CPI(M) in different parts of the country, attacks on agitating students in various places, attacks on JNU students and anybody “who looked like JNU students” in the city of Delhi, all point in this direction. The attempt to “take over the city” (Delhi) has been characterized by Prabhat Patnaik as the mounting of an insurrection against the Constitution of India, which is supposed to begin with JNU and Delhi, and spread to the other parts of India. The struggle led by the students and teachers of JNU, therefore, is a struggle to preserve the democratic and secular fabric of the country itself, to prevent India from sliding into a second Emergency, declared or undeclared.

The police raids and witch-hunt of students in JNU are eerily reminiscent of the days of the Emergency. Imposed by the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government, the Emergency lasted from 25 June 1975 to 21 March 1977, and was characterised by widespread attacks on human rights and basic democratic rights of the vast majority of people. It was undoubtedly one of the darkest periods in the history of our Republic.

The SFI unit of Jawaharlal Nehru University played a vital role in fighting the Emergency and the attacks on the students’ democratic rights by the Indira regime and the University authorities. Students who fought the Emergency had to face arrests, jail terms, expulsions, and disciplinary actions. The pamphlets and documents brought out illegally by the SFI JNU Unit during the period of the Emergency are stark depictions of the difficult times that the students’ movement had to live through.

Today, as we fight an all-round attack on our cherished constitutional values and democratic rights by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government and backed by the communal-fascist RSS, the legacy of the Indian people's struggle against the Emergency would remain as a beacon of inspiration to us.

The SFI and the JNU Students’ Union led by SFI brought out many leaflets in the name of “The Resistance” to organise the struggle against authoritarianism in the campus. The SFI also brought out some leaflets in its own name. In the academic year 1976-77, the SFI took the initiative to form the 'Democratic Students Forum' which was used to unite all the students fighting the Emergency, and leaflets were issued in its name along with other JNU-based publications.

Today, as we fight an all-round attack on our cherished constitutional values and democratic rights by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government and backed by the communal-fascist RSS, the legacy of the Indian people's struggle against the Emergency would remain as a beacon of inspiration to us. Therefore we consider this an opportune moment to look back and draw the correct lessons as we resolve to strengthen our fight to defend democracy and secularism.

Over the next few days, we shall be publishing a selection of the pamphlets brought out by SFI in JNU in the name of various platforms and by the SFI-led Students’ Union during the Emergency. Here is how the first of these took birth.

Police Raid in JNU and Early Resistance

On the 8th of July 1975 at 5:00 in the morning, hundreds of armed police in jeeps and vans raided the hostels in JNU campus. They encircled the two boys' hostels, woke up the students from their beds and arrested 60 students. They detained 15 students and one karamchari (non-faculty staff member) and released the rest after interrogation in the police station. Among those arrested, four had been associated with the Students’ Union either in the past or at that time, including the sitting General Secretary of the Union. Despite all their best efforts, the police could not arrest the President of the Students’ Union. They also arrested the Secretary of the Karamchari Sangathan (Staff Association). Attempts to curtail the democratic rights of students were made by the Vice Chancellor in the subsequent days, prominently by seeking to make Students’ Union membership "voluntary", and by imposing a "Code of Conduct" which was to become notorious. A pamphlet detailing these was published by 'The Resistance', on 10th July 1975, which is reproduced below.


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(to be continued...)