Friday, January 25, 2019

Memories of an Emergency Past and the Days of Turbulent Youth

IT WAS the chance discovery of an old photograph hidden in a family album, that triggered the train of memories of a youth in the seventies spent in the  turbulent days of emergency and political struggles all over the country.

The 19 boys at the Sir Syed College at Taliparamba in Kannur had been arrested following a demonstration in the college in protest against the emergency declared on June 25, 1975. The protest demonstration, called by the opposition students organisations in the state, was held on July 11 all over the state. At the Sir Syed campus, police swooped down and took into custody the 19 boys who led the demonstrations-- six from the pro CPM Students Federation of India, five from the Parivarthanavadi Congress, and eight from the pro Kerala Congress KSC-B. Among them 18 survive today and most of them came together for a get-together the other day at Kannur, at the residence of one of those incarcerated those days.

Ity was a demonstration that became memorable because of the photograph of eight of those boys tonsured by the police while in custody. They were picked up from the campus by the town sub-inspector Aboobacker and his party, all of them taken to the police station, kept there for the whole day with their dress removed except for their underwear, and then summarily tonsured with a trimmer. Two of them-- SFI district committee member K Jayarajan and KSC leader Zachariah-- were sent to jail charged under the draconian law of DIR and the rest let off, with an undertaking to report at the police station every week for the next many months.

Most of them were present at the get-together at Kannur, and among them well known lawyer P K Vijayan, journalist K Sunil Kumar, and others. They reminisced about those emergency days and the experiences of the internal emergency in the country, in the presence of a young brood of journalists who had barged in to cover the old boys’ get-together.

I had known P K Vijayan from the days he had come to Calicut, as a law student at the Calicut Law College, immediately after the emergency. We both worked in SFI those days. Now past 63, Vijayan happens to be a senior lawyer with his offices in Tellichery, with a nice practice and a reputation as an excellent criminal lawyer. Sitting at his home near the old sessions court in Tellichery, one of the earliest courts in Malabar set up during the days of the East India Company administration in the region, Vijayan talked to me about the incidents and the developments that took place in the wake of the students demonstration and police action.  

“We were very few in the SFI those days and also in the opposition students movements,” he said. There were rumblings of protests against the emergency, but only stray incidents. He was a second year degree student, with zoology as main subject, and he served as the area secretary of SFI in Taliparamba those days. They held protest demonstrations, mostly in the night with the students living in the college hostel taking part and put up wall posters painted in red: Down with Indira, Down with Emergency...

The police had taken note and on July 11 when the open demonstration  was taken out in response to a statewide call issued by the united front of various organizations, they lost no time to apprehend the students who were causing troubles for them. They were charged with holding unlawful demonstrations in violation of emergency regulations. They were all young and with a tonsured head and a defiant look, they spent the whole day in the lock-up room with nothing on them except their underwear.

The incident would have been long forgotten, but for the intervention of the legendary communist leader A K Gopalan who hailed from Kannur and represented the Palghat Lok Sabha seat at the time. AKG had reached Taliparamba a day or two later and he sent word to the boys to meet him at the party office.

“At the time comrade K K N Pariyaram was area secretary of the party and he sent me a message to the college that AKG wished to meet us urgently,” remembered Vijayan. He searched for all the 17 who were let off by the police, but could manage to find only eight of them and soon they were in the presence  of AKG who made inquiries about the incident, how the police treated them and such matters. He then asked them to get themselves photographed in the  dress they were in at the police station and they did so at the local photo studio, handing over a copy to AKG.

“The Parliament was in session soon after and AKG made a speech on how the police were making life miserable for ordinary people under the emergency regime,” Vijayan said and recalled AKG had raised their photograph in the  House as an example of how even young students were being harassed for simple acts of protests and peaceful demonstrations.

The rare incident of public protest by the students and police action had been noticed by the senior political leadership in the state, despite the fact that no newspaper reported anything on protests and demonstrations.

“A few months later, EMS Namboodiripad, who was one of the few senior leaders outside jail and active at the time, came to Taliparamba,” Vijayan said. The veteran leader sent word to the young students to meet him and they met him at the CPM office in the town. “EMS asked for details and while explaining things, I complained the party did not give us support,” Vijayan recalled. EMS, in his characteristic way, responded that the party had to support many and so naturally they could expect little! “The next day I received a scolding from comrade Pariyaram for complaining to EMS instead of telling him about it,” said Vijayan.

Advocate Vijayan, a writer who recently published three novels on the lives of legendary characters in Mahabharata and Ramayana, remembered many incidents police harassment as a student activist in the seventies. “We fought against heavy odds and with little support from the leadership,” he said and remembered how he and a few others in the SFI had been caught by the police later on when a government poster with prime minister Indira Gandhi was seen defaced with a smear of cow dung. “I really did not know how the poster came to be smeared with cow dung, but the police caught us anyway and wanted me to lick the dung away with my tongue and clean up the prime minister's face,” he said. But he refused, insisting he had not done it and did not know who did it either. But the police inspector was insistent, but then a policeman intervened with a suggestion, ” Sir, let him clean it up with his clothes,” which was graciously accepted by the inspector.

“That saved me tasting the cow dung at time, and you know why? During the days when we were reporting at the station every week to sign the  the register we had become chummy with the cops and that saved us a lot troubles in those days of police terror,” Vijayan chuckled as he walked down the memory lane on the student days in a period of youth turbulence against emergency rule in the country.