It was June 25, 1975, and my college — Government Rajindra College, Bathinda — was closed for vacations. I had gone to my college junior Punjab Singh’s house at Goniana Mandi, who was an active member of the Punjab Students’ Union (PSU) of which I was the state leader. I spent a night there conversing with my host and returned to Bathinda the next morning.
As I alighted from the bus and walked towards Banwari halwai’s shop — a meeting place for union leaders and Leftists — opposite the district courts, college mates and union members dragged me inside saying, “Balli, how come you are moving around? Don’t you know the police are looking for you? It conducted midnight raids at various places, including your Rampura Phul residence, to arrest you. No idea how many have been arrested.” I was taken aback. “Why are police conducting raids? We haven’t done anything wrong. No agitation, no fight.”
“Something called the Emergency has been imposed by Indira Gandhi,” said one of the union members. It was beyond the ken. The word Emergency in this sense was new to us. Though we had experienced blackouts during Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971, Emergency was unheard of. Except the Congress, members of all other political parties and organisations had been arrested.
We dodged the police and managed to get a copy of The Indian Express. Its front page bore an image of scissors with word “Censored” printed on it. Later that day, we got to know that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had imposed the Emergency to suppress the mass movement launched by Jayaprakash Narayan under the pretext of thwarting threat to the internal security in the country.
All political opponents were put behind bars by charging them under the British-era law — Defence of India Rules (DIR) — wherein the government had the power to put anybody in the jail for a year without trial.
The PSU was in no way directly part of the movement led by Narayan. We were considered ultra-Leftists but still became the victims of the Emergency. Some of our colleagues, including Prem Singh Chandumajra, who was the PSU leader of the Patiala and Sangrur zone, were also put behind bars. The PSU members and revolutionary student leader Prithipal Singh Randhawa met and decided to oppose the autocratic step of the then Congress government in an organised way. The Shiromani Akali Dal also launched its “morcha” against the Emergency and we separately ran our movement against the draconian anti-democratic measure. Cases were registered against me, my brothers and a close relative under the DIR.
We used to paste handbills on college walls and public places calling upon people to oppose the Emergency. We used to carry out this activity during night to avoid being caught by the police. We also used to organise meetings and at times, hold protest rallies in colleges.
In deference to the PSU’s state committee decision, Randhawa courted arrest but I and some other union leaders remained underground. The police acted harsh in the beginning, continued raids on our residences but gave some relaxation after a year. The case under the DIR was withdrawn only after the Emergency was lifted in 1977.
That period is an unforgettable chapter of my college days and its memory is refreshed every year in June.
(The writer is editor of Baushahi.com)