Of raitha recipes in print: the Emergency in Chennai

TV services were launched in Chennai just a few months after the imposition of the Emergency —File Photo  

Breaking the Indian stereotype, forty years ago, most people managed to get to office on time. Trains and buses too ran on time. The reason: the Emergency. The National Emergency which was imposed on June 25, 1975, that led to preventive arrests and press censorship, naturally had echoes in this city too.

Writer Gnani, who was the working as a reporter in a newspaper in Chennai, recalls how the city reacted. “Among the politically aware, there was confusion as to what will happen. However, normal life was not disrupted, unlike in the north. After the DMK government was dismissed, there were large-scale political arrests and people from the DMK, DK and CPI (M) were beaten up in prison,” he says. DMK leaded M.K. Stalin was arrested.

Press censorship hit publications. Newspapers and magazines had to get their pages approved before they were printed. “At times, pages went blank as the material was censored. There were occasions when magazines published ‘objectionable material’ but were let off after warnings. One magazine had published cartoons about the moustache ( meesai in Tamil) that were against the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA). Another had published a Bharathiyar song about freedom,” recalls a former official of the Press Information Bureau that acted as press censor for a few months.

Mr. Gnani recalls that an interesting side-effect of the Emergency was that the press started covering civic issues and human interest stories due to censorship. “The Censor wanted to kill newspapers by delaying approvals. Along with letting pages go blank, sometimes innocuous stuff like how to make onion raitha (salad) would be printed since political news could not be taken,” he says.

Former judge of the Madras High Court K. Chandru, who represented the CPI(M) before the Justice Ismail Commission that looked into the prison atrocities during the Emergency, recalls how the report of the Commission was not implemented. “The Commission had enquired into happenings where politicians were beaten up and ill-treated. It had recommended action against prison officials. However, the government did not take action,” he says.

“A sitting MP Chitti Babu died after he was released from prison. One lesson we learnt is that it is not enough to have an enquiry commission; we also need a government to implement it,” he adds.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 4:04:01 PM |

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