48 years on, trauma of Emergency is still fresh in memory of many
When the Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975, most activists went underground and many took shelter in their home in Poochakkal, Cherthala.
ALAPPUZHA: Sundarambal still remembers the harrowing days of the Emergency. “Police teams used to search our house five to six times a day. I was threatened to furnish details of people hiding in the house and nearby places, on the presumption that we were harbouring opposition activists. Many went into hiding following the police action, on the direction of Jana Sangh and my husband Natarajan Vaidhyar.
The waterlogged paddy fields and the small islands they formed, and Olavaippu Lake was safe havens of party activists,” recounts the 90-year-old. Natarajan, who passed away in 2009, was a Sangh leader. When the Emergency was declared on June 25, 1975, most activists went underground and many took shelter in their homes in Poochakkal, Cherthala.
RSS-Sangh and Naxal activists and leaders were targeted. Many languished in jail and underwent persecution. Police launched a crackdown after political opponents, led by Jayaprakash Narayan, formed an organisation named Sasthra Sangharsha Smithi (SSS). Sangh, RSS, Sarvodaya Prasthanam, Sangatana Congress, and Socialist Party activists were members of the organisation. They held protests in different parts of the state, which led to the further arrest of many leaders.
“My husband also went into hiding and rarely came home. Before leaving, he advised me to keep a pot full of rice gruel next to the canal near our home. The canal drained into Olavaippu Kayal, part of Vembanad Lake, and could be accessed from various places in Cherthala taluk. Every morning just an empty pot remained. I don’t know who ate the food, but I suspect it was RSS-Sangh workers in hiding,” says Sundarambal.
“Police officers led by ‘Spade’ Gopi (DySP Gopinathan Nair, appointed to suppress agitators) regularly surveilled our home. They would threaten me for information on the whereabouts of Vaidhyar. My sons were very young then and the frequent police interventions left them terrified. Thankfully, many of the cops were sympathetic to our situation and advised us not to panic. Me and my children never underwent any physical torture. Their assurance was a confidence boost,” she remembers.
Those who opposed the Emergency were hounded and tortured, says Muraleedharan S, district secretary of the Emergency Victims Association.
“I was jailed for a month as an 18-year-old. But I managed to break out of prison. Authorities started to hunt down opponents. More than 150 people from Alappuzha were imprisoned and many suffered severe torture. The RSS was banned. Vaikom Gopakumar, an RSS elder was tortured in a police station for more than 14 days before being sent to prison. Later, he received treatment from Natarajan Vaidhyar, which allowed him to walk,” he added.