At a stone’s throw away from the National Capital, Pipli on Delhi-Kharkhauda road could well pass on as the fabled Peepli village which provided the backdrop for Aamir Khan produced satirical film, Peepli Live. It is actually not.
The village remains a part of the dark period of Emergency imposed by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in June 1975. On a cold December 1976 morning, Pipli shot into bloody prominence when a heavy posse of Haryana police brutally assaulted and later opened fire to fix an irate crowd of villagers opposing forced sterilisation tooth and nail. Three persons, including a woman and a cop were killed and government vehicles were set ablaze in an incident which sent shockwaves across the country.
Says septuagenarian Raghbir Singh, one of the few persons alive to recount the incident, "Mhare gaam me nasbandi wale aa gaye thay. Jo dikhe use gherney lag gaye (government officials entrusted with the task of carrying out sterilisations started forcibly lifting people and make them undergo surgery). They were assigned targets and went overboard coercing unwilling individuals"
Villagers say forcible sterilisation in the garb of family planning was not only unconstitutional but violated an individual’s right to life and the way he wanted to live. "This was one of the most inhuman and cruel acts done during the Emergency. The officials would not even care whether an individual was actually eligible or fit for the vasectomy. They would humiliate them by forcing them into their jeeps. Even our sarpanch fled from the village," says Ramu (72) who was then employed with Public Works Department at Bahadurgarh.
Recalls another elderly Raghbir (80): "A block development officer (BDO) was assigned the task of picking persons for sterilisation and he started doing it forcibly. Several villagers, including women caught hold of him and he was thrashed black and blue. Had some elders not come to his rescue, he would have been killed."
A retired army man Bijender Singh (70), too chips in and says: "The BDO was locked in a room by elders to save him from crowd fury. He was later released and he boarded a bus back to headquarters. But while going back he announced that he would set Pipli afire. That’s how many villagers from surrounding villages travelling in the same bus came to know of an imminent clash."
Well before the break of the dawn on December 2, 1976, the BDO arrived with a heavy posse of cops. "It was about 4 am. My grandfather was summoned by the police at the dairy at Chopal. My tau (elder uncle) was thrown in a jeep and the BDO sat over him mercilessly. Women were cane charged. In no time, the police and villagers were ready for a bloody showdown. The police opened fire killing two persons, including a woman and a boy from Gopalpur. Infuriated villagers then burnt a police jeep and thrashed a constable to death. And what was all this for, one could not understand," says Om Prakash (60).
"It was an era of great terror. Villagers were so scared that they would not even smoke hookah together. Often they would remain hidden in fields," says Ajit Singh (62), recounting the dreaded incident and its aftermath.
Emergency recount in Haryana
*A sterilisation target of 74,300 was set by the Government of India for Haryana for 1975-76. It was later reduced to 45,000 after the state found the figure too high. Haryana, however, exceeded the revised target by performing 57,492 sterilisations.
*Chief minister arbitrarily raised the target to 2 lakh sterilisations in November 1976 against the advice of Health department. Even this target was exceeded as 2.22 lakh vasectomy operations were done. *105 unmarried persons and 179 persons over the age of 55 years were sterilised.
*428 persons were arrested for opposing sterilisations under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) and Code of Criminal Procedure.
*During a conference of Deputy Commissioners on July 23, 1976 it was decided to allot all ministers one district each for supervising family planning programme.
*No exemption for government servants from sterilisation on the grounds that her spouse had an intrauterine device (IUD) or claimed the use of condoms. Chief secretary ordered on November 23, 1976 that officials who fail to get themselves sterilised would be liable for punishment under Punjab Civil Services Rules. Salaries of employees refusing to undergo the knife were also stopped.
*It was ordered that annual confidential reports of officials would include an additional report on assistance rendered by the officer in family planning work.
*The key role of police in enforcing sterilisation was discussed in a conference of DIGs held on October 26 -27, 1976 at Madhuban. The police was extensively used to coerce people to undergo forced sterilisation. The cops used to round up and coerce people to undergo forced vasectomies. However, all the instructions given to cops were issued verbally only.
*Government officials, including the police and revenue officials in every district were given a target to achieve. They were asked to bring sufficient number of persons to family planning camps, Buses were diverted to these camps and passengers sterilised, persons were forcibly taken from villages, bus stands and railway stations for sterilisation to camps.
*Instances of organised resistance to sterilisation programme at Nagina village in district Gurgaon (now in Mewat district ) and Pipli in Sonepat districts where four persons lost their lives in police firing. A Commission was appointed by state government to inquire into the incidents and excesses at Pipli and Nagina.
(As per the information furnished by state government before Justice JC Shah Commission of Inquiry, constituted in 1977 to inquire into the excesses committed during Emergency)