When other journalists crawled during Emergency, this Kerala scribe refused even to bend

Rajasekhara Panicker, the only journalist in Kerala who led an agitation against the Emergency

“The accused, M. Rajasekhara Panicker, uttered slogans which would instigate hatred in the minds of the people against the Ruling Government. He was also found distributing leaflet containing slogans which would tend to throw out the existing Government,’’ says Additional Judicial First Class Magistrate, Ernakulam.

It was 43 years ago, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi clamped the draconian Emergency.  All human rights, civil rights and democratic freedom were snatched away in the name of the Emergency. There was no internal riot or external aggression to call for an Emergency. What prompted Indira Gandhi to declare the Emergency was the adverse verdict of the Allahabad High Court that set aside her election to the Lok Sabha, invalidating her membership in Parliament.

She nullified all human rights that the UN Charter has assured, civil rights and freedom enshrined in our Constitution. Veteran leaders like Jai Prakash Narain, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani, Acharya Kripalani, Madhu Dandavathe and Morarji Desai were arrested and jailed. She silenced the media with stringent censorship. According to Shah Commission that probed the atrocities against people by the autocratic regime put the total people jailed to 1,73,000. In Kerala alone, 237 leaders were jailed under MISA and more than 7,000 under DIR. Twenty two publications, including Kesari weekly and Janmabhoomi were forcibly shut.

Press censorship was imposed. Freedom of expression curtailed.  Many newspapers like The Indian Express brought out the edition next day with blank editorial space. But most of the newspapers not only complied the order, but also to prove that they are more loyal than the king, vied each other to eulogize the `gains’ of the authoritarian regime. It was in this contest that former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said, “When they were asked to bow, they crawled.”

“At least, I did not bow or crawl. I fought against the regime. Perhaps, I was the only journalist in Kerala who waged a satyagraha against press censorship and the curtailment of seven freedoms enshrined in the Constitution,’’ says senior journalist M Rajasekhara Panicker. Many veteran journalists like P Rajan of Mathrubhumi, P. Narayanan of Janmabhumi, VV Dakshinamurthi of Desabhimani were put behind bars in the State under MISA during the Emergency. But, they were taken under preventive custody, ’’ says Rajasekhara Panicker.

“I had just started my journalistic career in The Indian Express when Lok Sangharsh Samiti led by Jai Prakash Narain made a clarion call to fight against the draconian regime that curtailed the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution.  

Narain organised Lok Sangharsh Samiti to wage a peaceful, non-violent movement to rescue the nation from this state. In Kerala, noted Gandhian Prof. MP Manmadhan was its president and Jana Sangh state organizing secretary K.Raman Pillai was its secretary.

“It was on December 9, 1975, I, along with a batch of satyagrahis including Raveendran,  Prakash, Dileep, Asokan, Sreedhara Pai, Govindarajan and Kaladharan from Kochi, entered the fast passenger boat shuttling from Ernakulum to Vypeen at 5 pm. We shouted slogans against the Emergency, distributed notice brought out by the Lok Sangharsha Samiti and I made a small speech against the Emergency inside the boat. From Vypeen we had travelled to Fort Kochi and disbursed without surrendering to police.

“The next day, on December 10, 1975, the same batch started our protest march from  Fort Kochi Harbour Masters Office around 10 am. We had distributed two leaflets, Return Human Rights and Second Freedom Struggle Spreading, Growing. Shouting slogans like Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai, Jai Prakash Narain ki Jai, Withdraw Emergency, Reinstate Civil Rights, Human Rights and Democratic Freedom, we marched through the New Road and reached in front of Samudri Sadan, Palace Road, near Anavathil, Mattanchery. Then a batch of policemen under Circle Inspector MM Abdul Rahman, Mattanchery SI VN Natesan, ASI C Rajagopal stopped us and asked us to disperse, uttering filthy language. When we refused, they beat us cruelly and forcibly took in a jeep to Palluruthy police station. There they asked us to undress and soon we were on underwear. Policemen started cruel torture methods like caning, kicking with hands, knees and heels. Police stood in a row and asked us to pass through. When we were passing policemen were thrashing us with fists. To top it all, we were asked to bend and policemen took our heads in between their legs and severe blow was inflicted on our back with elbow. And one by one, we were asked to bend and they kicked on our back with the butt of the rifle. All these torture went on for almost two hours and then the policemen took us again in a jeep to Mattanchery police staion. There also they repeated the torture. Police added one more torture item “dogmating’’ in police parlance. Two of us were asked to stand back to back, bend and asked to catch each other hands and pull with great force. Then policemen inflicted blows on our back with hands as in karate. It continued for hours,’’ he says.

Next day, on December 11, he was presented before the Court of the Additional Judicial First Class Magistrate, Ernakulam and filed a case for waging war against the existing regime. All others were left out.

Additional Judicial First Class Magistrate C Radhamma on February 23, 1976 sentenced M Rajasekhara Panicker to undergo simple imprisonment for two months on a complaint from the State, represented by the CI of Police, City Crime Branch, Ernakulum. Cr. 190/75.

The judgment stated that the “accused stands charged by the Circle Inspector of Police, City Crime Branch, Ernakulum for an offence punishable under Rule 43(1)(a) & (e) of the Defence and Internal Security of India Act 1971 read with S.3(1) of the Defence and Internal Security Act of India Act and Rule 36(6) (a) &(e) and 7 and rule 5 of the Defence and Internal Security of India Rules, 1971’’.

“On 10th December, 1975 at 11 am M. Rajasekhara Panicker, age 24, uttered slogans which would instigate hatred in the minds of the people against the Ruling Government. He was also found distributing leaflet containing slogans which would tend to throw out the existing Government.’’

The court further said, “A charge was framed against the accused under S3(1)of the D.I.S.I. Act read with Rule 36(6)(a) and (e) and 7 and Rule 43(1) (a)and (e) & 5 of the D.I.S.I.Rules, 1971. He is sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for two months. The period of his detention during investigation and trial will be set off against the term of imprisonment awarded.’’

“Uttered slogans which would instigate hatred in the minds of the people against the Ruling Government’’ means open defiance of the draconian regime which put curbs on the freedom of speech. The charge that the accused “found distributing leaflet containing slogans which would tend to throw out the existing Government’’ was an effort to expose the government’s anti-democratic steps and dethrow the authoritarian regime.

“I was on probation and The Indian Express terminated my services when I was in jail for two and a half months citing `absence without leave.’ Indira lifted the Emergency on March 21, 1977 and general elections declared. People threw her out and Janata Party came to power. The Indian Express reinstated me after one-and-a-half years following Janata Government order to reinstate those who lost their jobs due to the Emergency excesses. I had served the Indian Express for another 30 plus years and resigned to take up an assignment as Senior Editor, The Sunday Indian magazine in Malayalam. At present, I am the Executive Editor of the Malayalam monthly Chithi,’’ Rajasekhara Panicker says.

Since the media had shamelessly succumbed to the government pressure, no news of the severe violations of civil rights, human rights and democratic freedom was published. So underground news bulletin, “Kurukshetra” was brought out by Lok Sangharsh Samiti. Kurukshetra reached the houses in Kerala from eight centres. Sangharsha Samiti had entrusted me the job of editing “Kurukshetra’’ from the 13th bulletin till the Emergency was lifted.

The Congress and CPI were in power in Kerala. They used this opportunity as a ruse to suppress their political opponents. Thus, Naxals and RSS were targeted for brutal torture. Kozhikode Engineering College student Rajan was one among many victims of that torture.

The CPI(M), the main opposition party also conducted protests against the declaration of Emergency in the beginning and its leaders like EMS Namboothiripad were arrested. But soon they were released and since then they remained silent.

Panicker is the president of the Association of the Emergency Victims, representing those who opposed the Emergency in 1975. “Technically, though the Emergency lasted only for 21 months, thousands of people who underwent police torture and imprisonment are still in a state of Emergency. At present, Khilafat Movement, Mopla Rebellion. Malabar Special Police Strike (MSP Strike), besides Communist uprisings like Punnapra-Vayalar Movement, Karivelloor Movement, Kauvambai Movement, Kayyur Movement and Morazha Movement are receiving under `Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme,1980’ (SSSP). Hence, the Association seeks the Central Government and the state government to declare the movement against the Emergency as Second Freedom Struggle,’’ says Panicker.


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