Emergency Files: How the students of JNU fought the Emergency

Newspaper reports declaring Emergency - The Hindu frontpage

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.

"Fight this Attack on the Union"

(Undated pamphlet; likely to have been brought out in late July or early August 1975)

IMMEDIATELY after the police raid on the campus on 8 July we had pointed out that this was only the beginning of a deliberate attack on the Students’ Union and the democratic forces on the campus. Nine students and one karamchari arrested in the raid have been charged under section 69 of the D.I.R. (Defence of India Regulations Act) on the totally false pretext that the students had held a meeting at Kaveri hostel on the 7th night. Everybody knows that this is a bogus charge and that no meeting was held or planned. We had pointed out in our first leaflet that the attack is concentrated on the Union, which the Government and the University authorities are bet on disrupting because they know it is the most powerful forum of the students expressing their united interests. The police action carried out under the Emergency exposes the character of the Indira Gandhi regime today. Who is the Emergency directed at? Is the Students Union right reactionary? Are the nine students falsely charged under D.I.R. right reactionaries?

Now the Vice-Chancellor at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Secretariat has announced in the latest prospectus that Union membership will henceforth be voluntary. It is in order to cripple the Union and destroy its representative and democratic character that this move has been made under the cover of the Emergency. The V.C., willing stooge of the Congress that he is, has further published a brochure for the new students in which the infamous ‘Code of Conduct’ imposing an unacceptable discipline on the student community has been put forth. It is untruthfully claimed that this has been formulated in consultation with students and faculty. The General Body of Students and the students Council not only rejected outright this contemptible code but condemned even the move to discuss it.

Nag Chaudhari and the authorities are playing with fire by adopting this course. Unable to terrorise us by sending in 1200 armed police, they are now manoeuvring to undermine the Students Union constitution and put shackles on the students movement. The Union derives its legitimacy and sanction not from Nag Chaudhari or the University authorities, but from the democratic will of the students. Any attempt to tamper with the Union on the part of the V.C. is a threat to our democratic rights and will be met with stiff resistance, Emergency or no Emergency.

We call upon the students to prepare for a big struggle even at short notice to force Nag Chaudhari to end his nefarious activities. We warn those elements on the campus who support this emergency and act as paid agents of the Administration to stop their conspiracies or they will also face the anger of the students.


— The Resistance

(to be continued...)