As we all wait for the next election, I would like to take a moment to muse over the PATRIOT ACT and another so-called state of emergency that happened in 1975. Both events began with a dubious election leaving the elected in a position that required mostly adroit but sometimes overt maneuvers to distract an uninformed and somewhat unquestioning public into believing that government actions were done in an effort to preserve the freedom of the people. Most of us are well aware of the implications of the USA PATRIOT ACT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) and its progeny the Patriot Act II, but fewer of us are aware of the state of Emergency that had been declared by the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi, on June 26, 1975. Like George W. Bush, Mrs. Gandhi faced allegations of election fraud, unlike Bush she was found guilty of using illegal campaign practices by the High Court of Allahabad (similar to our Supreme Court). Calling for her removal, Jayaprakash Narayan and other opposition leaders launched a widespread civil disobedience movement. She responded with the Emergency; her justification being a vague statement describing the need to protect the country from a dangerous threat that could destroy everything. Rather dramatic yet strangely familiar; I recall Bush blatantly blabbing about terrorists, crusades, and holy wars.
PART XVIII of India's Constitution allows the governing body to temporarily suspend civil rights and other federal norms. A declaration of a state of emergency has been exercised many times in India's history since the independence from British colonialism in 1947, but never to the extent exploited by Mrs. Gandhi. When faced with opposition she took immediate steps to eliminate it and all members of opposing factions were arrested. The Maintenance of Internal Security Act initially established in 1971 was rewritten in 1975-77, during the Emergency to allow the government to arrest individuals without declaring charges. Typically arrests were made under the charge of "internal disturbance" (later the act was rewritten with the charge being "armed rebellion"). The number of people arrested and detained in secrecy skyrocketed. The media was censored and those publications that refused to be censored were shut down and those associated were arrested. These seizures required no justification under the Emergency and the Supreme Court of India ruled that the government had a right to detain people without trial in 1976.
The poor suffered most under the Emergency. Low-income housing was bulldozed while those that lived in the shacks watched, unable to retrieve their belongings until the destruction was completed. All this under a plan to improve the state of the nation through a program termed "beautification." These people were often thrown into police trucks, carried off to unknown locations, and forced into slave labor. One of the significant "threats" to the state of India was overpopulation and under the Emergency, people were given monetary compensation for tubal ligations and vasectomies. Not surprisingly, payment rarely occurred. Later police and government workers, in an effort to make quotas (and remain employed), began rounding up people for mass sterilizations. Elderly men and women past childbearing age, adolescents not yet married, and people who had already endured the surgeries were operated on. Many people died or lost limbs caused by blood poisoning and infections in the family planning camps where haste overcame hygiene.
Fortunately, Mrs. Gandhi announced elections in 1977 and was shocked when she was not reelected. Some believe that democracy in India never recovered from the Emergency declared in 1975.
The terror of those years was an incredible force in response to a sudden and severe amputation of civil rights. In the United States, the encroachment on civil rights is subtle and subversive. So much so that most American's believe that the Patriot Act and the Patriot Act II are for the good of the American people. Here are a few good reasons for them to think otherwise. Corporate media may not be directly censored but a media of four major corporations spewing out the same stories obviates the need for censorship. Citizens of America are punished when they rise up to protest; the very same freedom of expression that thousands of American soldiers have died to protect. Protestors implementing the freedom of speech are sprayed with chemicals (with unidentified propellants), beaten, shot at with wooden and rubber bullets, and jailed. Individuals are being detained in unknown places as possible terrorists without trial. And no one knows what exactly constitutes terrorist behavior. But Americans feel protected knowing that the government has a right under the Patriot Act to tap their phones, read their email, monitor their internet activity, and sift through their reading lists at libraries and bookstores; all while they live under the grim state of Code Orange. This is a disturbingly sly version of the Emergency instituted by Mrs. Gandhi. Fortunately, the family planning of India's Emergency has not been implanted in middle America, although the Bush administration is determined to infringe on reproductive rights with religious fanaticism and an urgent desire to create an overpopulated America, further burdening the world with an unsustainable need for resources.
To view my sources on the Emergency:
For more information on the Patriot Act and the Patriot Act II: