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Necessarily, my own story must unfold within the framework of this dark and gloomy backdrop. By a chance of fate, my husband, George Fernandes, escaped arrest that fateful night of June 25-26, 1975 (when thousands of Mrs. Gandhi's political and trade union opponents, as well as many innocents, were arrested in the stealth of the night). Knowing full-well the risks of his action, he went underground in opposition to the deprivation of civil liberties and established trade union rights, the abolition of freedom of the press and other draconian measures.
When I returned to Delhi on June 30, 1975, with my seventeen-month-old son, I found India's capital a transformed place. Overtly, all appeared still and calm. But underneath was an all-pervasive panic reinforced by the mantle of silence that surrounded everything. Absence of news magnified small shadows into lurking monsters. Wild rumors were the order of the day. The cancer of fear as it gripped the townspeople was a terrible thing to witness, as it gnawed and ate its way into the very vitals of society.
We, my husband and I, had been bringing out an opinion newsweekly entitled "Pratipaksha," meaning "The Other Side," since October, 1972. George was the Chief Editor, and I, Publisher/Manager. In Jack Anderson style it had made exposés of many a skeleton in the Establishment cupboard. In September, 1974, in a daring front-page article, we had charged that the Indian Parliament was a den of thieves, deliberately inviting contempt proceedings upon our publication which we hoped to use as a lever to institute inquiries into certain scandals of gargantuan proportions in which high-ranking members of the Government of India, including the then Railway Minister, L. N. Misra, were closely involved. But realizing the catch, no proceedings were instituted against our publication despite its outrageous effrontery.
However, two days after the "Emergency" and imposition of press censorship, on June 28, 1975, the police sealed the editorial office and arrested the editor under Defense of India Rules. Released on bail in a few days, the young man, a father of two small children aged four and two years, was rearrested under MISA (Maintenance of Internal Security Act, referred to now as Maintenance of Indira and Sanjay Act). In all probability he is languishing in jail to this day. It was a tense and trying period. I was constantly shadowed by inept plainclothesmen. My phone was tapped and occasionally disconnected to prevent specific outside contacts. In mid-August, the police walked in unannounced to search for my husband and to interrogate me. Close friends urged that I hide or leave the country, fearing my arrest anytime. That I was not, I attribute to the premise that probably I was being used as a decoy to lead them to the big catch. Who knows what might have happened to me and my son had I lingered on.
I say this keeping in mind the sad fate that has befallen two of my brothersin-law. Michael Fernandes, an officer of the Indian Telephone Industries, Bangalore, was arrested under MISA in December, 1975. He belonged to no political party but was an office-bearer of the trade union at his factory. A far worse fate awaited another brother-in-law: Lawrence Fernandes, the details of which are to be found in Exhibit No. 6. What needs to be added is that Lawrence Fernandes was not concerned with politics. He was a small businessman, a bachelor looking after his aged parents. He got caught in the torture chains of the dictatorship in May, 1976, only because he was George Fernandes' brother. Having failed to track down my husband despite a massive hunt for the previous ten months, the police made Lawrence Fernandes a victim of their gruesome torture techniques.
After reducing Lawrence Fernandes to a physical and nervous wreck, he was put in Jail under MISA. Soon thereafter, in early June, 1976, my husband was tracked down by the secret police and arrested. The date of his arrest as announced by the state-controlled news agency was June 10, 1976. But I have since learned that he was, in fact, arrested under MISA on June 3, 1976-ironically, his birthday.
It is over three months now that news of my husband's arrest has been given out. These past weeks have been full of nothing except great misgivings and anguish. I have sent three cables personally to Mrs. Gandhi, two communications to the Home Ministry, and made two phone calls, written one letter and sent one mailgram to the Indian Ambassador in Washington, requesting each time to be informed of my husband's whereabouts. The first reply I received from the Home Ministry in response to my cable of inquiry to Mrs. Gandhi was profoundly shocking. It stated:
"How can you not be aware of the activities of your husband who has for the past several months been moving about instigating people to commit acts
of violence, subversion, sabotage and other serious crimes prejudicial to public order and security of the country. He was arrested in Calcutta on 10th of June and is in legal custody in connection with several criminal cases under investigation. He is in his normal health. Allegation of torture of his brother Lawrence Fernandes is totally false, baseless and mischievous." Home Ministry New Delhi.
This reply disturbed me on several counts. The tone and language of the cable was meant to intimidate and demoralize. It gave the impression that my husband was being treated like a criminal. I responded by asking for the specific charges against him. I have been repeating this request in all my communications with the Government of India-all to no avail.
My alarm and disquiet was intensified when I learned that from June 11 until June 22 George had been kept in police custody and prevented from sleeping for ten successive days. I was also informed by my sources that on June 23 my husband was taken to the Military Compound of the Red Fort in Delhi and kept in the torture chamber for two days. I was also told that the Indian Government employs highly sophisticated methods of torture which leave no signs of physical mutilation.
I cannot describe the anguish and helplessness I experienced when I learned sometime in mid-July that on June 25 my husband had been whisked away from Delhi to an unknown place; that, in the meanwhile, the preliminaries for a show-trial entitled "Union of India vs. George Fernandes and Others" had started in Delhi. Whereas my husband was produced before the magistrate on June 11 and June 23 for purposes of obtaining remand in police custody, he was not produced at any of the hearings in July. No lawyer or relative was permitted to visit him. Mr. Fernandes' lawyer alleged that he was being kept away to put pressure on him and that he was being tortured with electric shocks. The Indian Ambassador at Washington, in his letter of August 26, 1976, wrote that "family members are allowed to see the detenues once a week. ." In late July, the Home Ministry stated I could write letters to my husband c/o The Chief Secretary, Delhi Administration.
But Mr. Chairman, Sir, the truth is that no relative met my husband in June or July. I am too dumbfounded to react to these communications. George was taken away from the jurisdiction of the Delhi Administration on June 25 and taken to Hissar Jail in Haryana State. I have not received a single letter from him since his arrest, although he has stated in his letter to another relative in India that he has written to me and my son. There can be only one purpose in asking me to write letters c/o The Delhi Administration-to scrutinize and censor. I have written just two letters under these discouraging circumstances, enclosing many paintings of our two and one-half year old son, but perhaps they have not reached him.
As for the weekly family visits, no permission was granted, despite application, until August 19, 1976-almost two and one-half months after arrest. Meanwhile, the following report has been received from unnamed sources in India regarding my husband's physical environment:
"Mr. George Fernandes is kept at Hissar Jail . . . Mr. George is kept in a solitary cell. It consists of a flooring and roof but it is not covered by walls but pipes and wires. So there is no protection from sun, winds and rains. At night, powerful flood lights are focused on him. He is not getting sufficient rest or sleep. He is tortured with this type of cruel treatment
Under normal circumstances one rejects anonymous reports. But in the India of today, where reprisals are harsh and severe, those who volunteer information perforce remain anonymous.
If these reports are all untrue, why then does Mrs. Gandhi's government not welcome an open inquiry? The request of Amnesty International, a world-wide organization concerned with prisoners of conscience and respected for its neutrality and objectivity, to inspect the conditions of such prisoners in Indian jails has been turned down. What can be the reason for not letting me, the wife, know my husband's place of detention? What can be the purpose of not letting me or, for that matter, the general public know what the charges are against him? The judiciary in India is emasculated. The legislature also is about to strip itself of its sovereignity by permitting the executive wing to alter the constitution as thought fit over the next two years. I am plagued by nightmares and questions. Can the executioner also be the judge? Can a fair and open trial be possible in India today? I am not a student of law but it seems to me that the basis of a fair trial presumes that the total burden of proof which establishes the guilt
of the accused beyond doubt, rests on the prosecution. All evidence should be recorded in a manner that is easily accessible to the public. The accused should have complete opportunity to cross-examine witnesses; the government should guarantee the personal safety for the defense counsels. The defense must have the right to examine all the evidence presented by the prosecution. Proceedings should be public and be fully reported by the press, and the accused must be considered innocent until guilt is proven beyond every doubt. I confess I have serious misgivings that any fair or open trial can be held in the prevailing political climate of authoritarianism and repression.
What is the law in India today? Where is the sanctity of law? The concept of equality before the law has been shred in the winds. Where was the reverence for law when the Allahabad High Court delivered its judgment on June 12, 1976, setting aside Indira Gandhi's election and debarring her from holding public office for six years?
When her lawyers obtained a 20-day stay order from the High Court Judge, it was on the plea that time was required to elect another leader for the Congress party and ensure a smooth transition. It was upon this reasonable request that the judge granted the stay order. But we all know what happened. Instead of stepping down, Mrs. Gandhi staged a constitutional coup within 48 hours of the Supreme Court of India's granting of a conditional stay order.
In justifying the "Emergency," Indira Gandhi said there was a sinister conspiracy to overthrow her government. No evidence was produced to substantiate the charge, and the "chief conspirator," Jayaprakash Narayan, was hastily released in November, 1975, when he was almost at death's door, for fear of consequences in case he died in detention. Amongst the countless others still kept in detention without trial is Morarji Desai, who was Deputy Prime Minister of India from 1964 until 1969.
So we know how much reverence for law there exists in Indira's dictatorship. A new version of the "Divine Right of Kings," propounded by the Stuarts in seventeenth century England, has been formulated by Indira Gandhi. The 41st Amendment to the Indian Constitution gives to the Prime Minister, President, Vice President and Speaker life-long immunity from criminal proceedings against past and present actions. Now this is a strange view of the concept of equality before the law. While those who dissent are branded traitors and criminals, the Prime Minister confers absolution upon herself for past misdeeds and puts herself beyond judicial inquiry. I wish to draw attention to two very recent examples of political persecution. They concern persons whose patriotism, loyalty and commitment to India are beyond question. The first is Mr. Ram Jethmalani, President of the Bar Council of India, against whom a warrant under MISA was issued, and who has recently obtained political asylum in this country. The other is the noted Indian economist, Professor Subramaniam Swamy, a member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of Parliament. Professor Swamy's criticism of Mrs. Gandhi's government over the past year has now resulted in a House Committee being set up to investigate his conduct and activities, which include "anti-Indian propaganda . . . evasions of law and fleeing from justice and legal processes. . ., etc."
And finally, while those who dare to disagree are being branded as traitors and enemies of the state, we observe the meteoric rise of the son of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay, who is being projected as the successor. To quote The Economist of May 29, 1976:
"Did Mrs. Gandhi put many thousands in jail, remove freedom of speech and habeas corpus and muzzle the press not just to preserve a throne but to build a dynasty? The answer to that, after 11 months of one-mother-one-son rule, seems to be yes."
This is the backdrop to the dark drama unfolding for India as a whole; for me, personally. India voted for adoption of the International Declaration of Human Rights way back in 1949. It has criticized other countries, like South Africa, for violation of these rights. Today India is flagrantly violating the principles enshrined in this noble document.
As I stated at the beginning, I have come before your Committee to testify. I have testified in the hope and confidence that you will heed my testimony and my cry of anguish and move the government of this great country to speak out.
I repeat once again, violation of human rights should be a matter of concern to everybody. The United States is celebrating its Bicentennial. The United States is a leader in the Free World. The United States must take a stand on this matter. Mrs. Gandhi has taken India along a perilous path and made the
position explosive for herself also by shutting off all the outlet valves. I fear for my country's future as I fear the fate of my husband. The world community that cares has a great responsibility to discharge under these circumstances. Thank you.
Mr. FRASER. Thank you.
Very forthright and very clear.
I will turn now to our second witness, Mr. Poddar.
STATEMENT OF SHRIKUMAR PODDAR, FOUNDING MEMBER OF THE INDIANS FOR DEMOCRACY
Mr. PODDAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am delighted to be here in front of your committee and must thank you for the opportunity to bring the cause of freedom and justice in India to the attention of the American people.
In my presentation to you this afternoon I would like to focus not only on the harassment of members of the Indian community living in this country, but put it in the context of the events that led to that harassment and some note on why so many Indians who are living in the United States still retain their Indian citizenship.
I, myself, as you know, have lived in the United States continuously since 1959 and people often ask the question, why I have not taken U.S. citizenship and also bring out what the impact of the passport impoundment has been on the Indian community in this country.
Mr. Fraser, there are three other colleagues of mine, all of them founding members of Indians for Democracy-Mr. S. R. Hiremath of Chicago and Dr. Ram Gehani and Mr. Sharan Nandi, both of Washington, D.C., whose passports were lifted at the same time.
I came to the United States as a student and later I became an immigrant. This is the first year that I would be eligible for U.S. citizenship. If India and the United States recognized dual citizenship, not only I but many other Indians living here would opt for dual citizenship.
I am also being in regular contact with my country. I made frequent trips to India and just prior to the declaration of the state of emergency I spent 4 months in India and a good portion of that was spent studying the new movement started by young students first in the State of Gujarat and then in the State of Bihar.
I had the opportunity to meet with many of these student leaders and also the mass movement under the leadership of Shri Jayaprakash Narayan, affectionately known as JP. JP assumed the leadership of the movement at the request of the students and under his leadership the movement became a broad based mass movement getting support from all political parties in India with the exception of the Communist Party of India, pro-Moscow oriented. Even many members in the Congress Party were supporting the movement. The objectives of this movement were visionary. The movement aimed at nothing less than a total revolution, transforming the entire society by peaceful means, keeping in mind the necessity of securing the socioeconomic rights of particularly the weaker section of the society, in eradicating political corruption which had become rampant.
JP was a student in the United States in the 1920's. He spent 7 years here. Since 1972 he had been warning the country on erosion of democratic practices and dangers of fascism coming to India.
When I met him in February 1975 he expressed his fears that his warnings may come true and the movement may be forced to go underground. I asked him what we overseas Indians could do to help. He refused any offer of financial assistance but he said it is very important that not only people of India living abroad but people of America know the truth about the events in India and are not taken in by the propaganda of Mrs. Gandhi.
Just 1 month prior to the declaration of the emergency situation in May 1975 I went on a speaking tour of the United States meeting members of the Indian community in small groups and telling them of JP's warnings and at the end of my speech I would always end by asking a question: What will you do if dictatorship should emerge in India? My friends from India would never respond to this question, they were not prepared to deal with this question. This was an entirely alien question and they did not think it was possible that India would become a dictatorship.
There are over 200,000 Indians residing in this country and the majority of them are professionals-engineers, doctors, and scientists and most of them came here as students like I did and have stayed here for a variety of reasons.
The foremost reason for their staying in this country is the lack of suitable job opportunities as well as increasing corruption at every level of Indian society. However, many of them, like myself, have not given up hope of returning some day back to India and participating in the building of the nation. This dream is one of the main reasons why I and thousands of others still retain our Indian citizenship.
The majority of Indians living in this country have strong reservations about the events in India. Several thousand have signed petitions addressed to the President of India asking for release for release of prisoners detained without trial, lifting the state of emergency and restoration of all the fundamental rights, including the freedom of the press.
There have been demonstrations in at least a dozen major cities in front of Indian consulates, Embassy travel offices of Indian Government.
We have organized several national conferences and one international conference in London and a half a dozen newspapers published by various Indian groups. Speaking tours of prominent Indians such as Hon. Subramanian Swamy, a member of the Upper House of India's Parliament, and Mr. Anandkumar, an activist student leader of the JP movement who is at present a Ph. D. candidate at the University of Chicago.
Indians for Democracy has also filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Commission on torture of political prisoners, documenting specific instances of torture.
One of the members of our group who was in India during the 1 year preceding the emergency has produced an excellent film entitled "Waves of Revolution," a documentary of the people's movement in Bihar which shows police brutality against unarmed and peaceful student demonstrators as well as against the 74-year-old Gandhian leader JP.
What was happening in Bihar during the year preceding the emergency is now happening on a nationwide scale throughout my country.