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Washington, D.C.

The subcommittee met at 2:20 p.m. in room 2255, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Donald M. Fraser (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.

Mr. FRASER. The opening of the hearing this afternoon is delayed by some votes on the floor but I think we can begin now.

The Subcommittee on International Organizations continues its series of hearings on human rights in India. We have two witnesses today who are especially qualified to discuss this subject.

Mrs. Leila Kabir Fernandes is the wife of George Fernandes, Chairman of the Socialist Party of India and president of the All-India Railway Men's Federation. He is presently detained in India. Mrs. Fernandes is trained as a nurse and in 1969 she became assistant secretary of the Indian Red Cross.

Mr. Shrikumar Poddar is a founding member of the Indians for Democracy. He has been a student of the United States for many years and heads the Education Subscription Service, Inc., in Lansing, Mich. Mr. Poddar had his Indian passport lifted recently because of outspoken criticism of the Indian Government.

We are delighted to have both of our witnesses today. Mrs. Fernandes, why don't you proceed.


Mrs. FERNANDES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Let me begin by thanking you, sir, and your committee for the concern that you have been showing for human rights in the world and more so in India. I understand this is the fourth in a series of hearings about human rights in India.

I am also grateful to the committee for giving this opportunity to testify before you. But I do so, I must confess, with a very heavy heart. The implication of my presence here is that I have no forum for redress in my own country. I am here today because of events in India from June 26, 1975, which I believe marks a great watershed in the history of India for the whole country and for me personally also.

On June 26, 1975, the emergency was announced in India by Mrs. Gandhi to counteract a so-called plot and conspiracy. It was a day when mass arrests were made throughout the country and it was by chance of fate that my husband escaped arrest and went into the underground. That is the last I saw of my husband, June 26, 1975, and since then life has been one of total uncertainty.

Before I proceed further I wish to say, Mr. Chairman, sir, that I have a prepared detailed written testimony along with 10 exhibits which I hope you will kindly incorporate in the record.

Mr. FRASER. We will include your entire statement in the record and, if possible the exhibits.1

Mrs. FERNANDES. Thank you, sir.

Before I proceed I think I should say a little bit about myself, my credentials. I come from a political family. My father, the late Prof. Humayan Kabir, was a nationalist Muslim who was a member of the Council of Ministers with Mr. Pandit Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, and Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, the second Prime Minister of India.

My mother was a freedom fighter in the days that India was under British rule and she served terms in prison as a political prisoner during the freedom struggle.

As for myself, as you have already stated, I am a trained nurse. I have been working in the health field in India. I have had a chance to work in the famine areas during the drought in 1967 and for the refugee relief program during the great exodus of millions of refugees in


My husband, George Fernandes, is the Chairman of the Socialist Party of India and the leader of innumerable unions in India, the chief of which is the All-India Railway Men's Federation. He had to go underground on June 26, 1975, and was then declared a fugitive from justice by the Indian Government. In that connection a massive manhunt was instituted from June 26 until he was arrested on June 10, 1976.

Now, it is very hard for me, involved as I am, to present this testimony about my husband's case which is intertwined with the destiny of India. We are told that my husband who has been jailed from June 10, 1976, is to soon go on trial. The case has been titled: The Union of India against George Fernandes.

Mr. Chairman, up to today I don't know officially where my husband has been detained. It is over 3 months now and I have had no letter from him. I have made any number of requests to the Government of India to be told where he is and I do not know. He has been portrayed since the emergency in various derogatory terms—as a rabble-rouser, as a man who is taking foreign funds, as a man who is an agent of Mao Tse-tung. It has even been suggested that he is a CIA agent.

Mr. Chairman, sir, all these charges have been made after the censorship was announced, that is after June 26, 1975, and the launching of the emergency.

The emergency was a way for Mrs. Gandhi to perpetuate herself in power when she felt herself directly threatened.

1 See selected exhibits in appendix 6, on p. 221.

Immediately preceding June 26, 1975, there was the June 12 Allalabad High Court judgment-a verdict of law which set aside her election. A plea was made for a stay order in order to elect an alternative leader to have a smooth transition. Instead, within a fortnight's time, a charge of a great conspiracy was made, and in the stealth of the night thousands of people were arrested and since that dark moment it has been, step-by-step, a progressive decline of all personal and civil liberties in the country, and briefly I will enumerate them.

First of all, the entire political opposition, virtually speaking, was cast into jail and no news was given of their whereabouts in that midnight sweep on June 25-26. Immediately thereafter or rather simultaneously, press censorship was instituted for the first time in independent India. Although the citizens in the country were assured that the emergency was going to be of short duration and wasn't going to be permanent, events have proved otherwise.

Step-by-step there has been an erosion of all the liberties and freedoms in the land through process of law. The new law of the land-I use the word law because it is so easy to make the law today in Indiais made by a rubberstamp Parliament. So many members of the Parliament belonging to the opposition are in jail. Those who are allowed to remain and may still speak on the floor of the House do not have one word reported in the press.

Then there has been the postponement of the general elections. Well, if Mrs. Gandhi is so popular, why are the elections being postponed? Then two state governments which had opposition parties in power Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have been dissolved summarily. But another state government-Kerala-which is run by Mrs. Gandhi's party, and which was due to have its assembly dissolved because the time had expired has had its term extended by an additional period. So there is a double standard operating all the time.

I had to leave India because it was impossible to remain there. From June 26, 1975, I was constantly followed around, my phone was tapped, my mail was looked into, the police walked in unannounced to interrogate me, looked for my husband.

We were running an independent news weekly which was shut down 2 days after the emergency was announced and the editor was thrown into the jail. I was the publisher-manager. There was just no guarantees for me, and with my small son, with $14 in my pocket and a suitcase I ventured out. This was the state of affairs for me. And I as a mother with a small child took a plunge into the unknown to escape from this impossible situation.

Today my husband is in jail and he is supposed to be going on trial. The question that arises in my mind is this: Why? Today, 50,000 or 100,000, or is it 200,000 people, the political prisoners of India, are being detained without charge or trial under the draconian law called Maintenance of Internal Security Act (referred to nowadays in whispers as a Maintenance of Indira and Sanjay Act)?

Whereas all these political prisoners are languishing without charge or trial, why is it that my husband is being singled out for a trialthe Union of India against George Fernandes and others?

This is a question that I am not able to find an answer to. The thoughts that come to my mind are very dark and somber because it seems to me there is hardly any law in India today.

I think the fundamental premise when we think of rule of law is that all should be equal before the law. But today the law of India has made certain persons above the law. It is a new version of the Divine Right of Kings which could be talked of as the Divine Right of Queens where the Prime Minister, the President, the Vice President and the Speaker are supposed to be beyond judicial inquiry for past and present wrongs during their lifetime.

This is a very strange concept. Whereas, on the one hand, some people are exempt from judicial review, others who have been in the forefront in working toward reestablishment of democracy, and whose whole life has been a record of public service are being projected as enemies of the state, as people who are waging war against the state and the government.

Well, I have to admit that it is part of this new "law" where it is a crime for more than five people to assemble together, where it is a crime to speak up, where you may not publish anything critical and there is a whole list of subjects, which one may not write about so there are absolutely no freedoms and there is a double standard operating. Under these conditions I have very serious misgivings about the outcome of this trial.

If this is the situation where one person out of thousands and thousands is being singled out for a trial, the conclusion that I draw is that it is like trying to settle old scores with an old political enemy. The background to this is the railway strike in India in 1974 which was another historic landmark and which has been quoted often, and which has been in fact officially stated in the bluebook of the Government of India, as one of the reasons that the emergency had to be brought about. It has been stated in that bluebook that Mr. Fernandes received a large amount of foreign funds in May 1974 toward the support of that railway strike.

Now, I think it best that I let some of these exhibits that I have presented along with my written testimony speak for themselves.

The first one, exhibit 1,1 is the letter my husband wrote from the underground to Mrs. Gandhi on July 27, 1975, where he saysbriefly I will give the summary-where he says that why did it take you so long, Mrs. Gandhi, to say that I was receiving funds in 1974? Why didn't you arrest me for it then? And he counters several other slanderous charges which were publicized after the announcement of the emergency and the establishment of press censorship.

My exhibit No. 2 is a document prepared by my husband 6 months before the launching of the emergency situation which gives some idea of the way my husband thinks, what his commitments are toward democracy, civil liberties, development of the country, his concern for the poor and his ideas about reforms and so on.2 This is to show to you, Mr. Chairman, that my husband is a very responsible man, he is not at all the destructive person that he is being made out to be. In fact, another reason why it really gets me very upset about this forthcoming trial-I don't know what term to use, Mr. Chairman, whether to say forthcoming trial or the trial that has already started--is that

1 See exhibit 1 in appendix 6, p. 221.

Exhibit No. 2 is not reproduced in this document.

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