Until, of course, Sanjay Gandhi caught onto the idea of male sterilisation to control the Indian population. But he was a man in a hurry and soon forced sterilisations were being carried out throughout North India and states like Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Quotas were set for different chief ministers. Navin Chawla, another known Sanjay crony, who rose to become the Chief Election Commissioner of India, and who was one of the bureaucrats helping Sanjay Gandhi implement his hair-brained scheme, said “One had to prevent poor people living like animals and breeding more poor people.”(As Vinod Mehta quotes him in The Sanjay Story).
Soon forced sterilisations were happening all over the place. Even the beggars around the Taj Mahal in Agra were rounded up and forced to undergo nasbandi. And this finally made people realise that an emergency was on in the country. As Mehta writes: “Before June ’76 the Emergency was a peripheral phenomenon in rural India. The constitutional changes, detention of opposition leaders, curtailment of fundamental freedoms, censorship of the press, were hardly likely to affect the life of the Indian peasant….This ignorance was rudely shattered with the launching of the sterilisation programme. And it was this which took Emergency to the heart of India, to its hamlets and small towns.”
When elections finally happened in 1977 this turned out to be a major issue and the Congress party was booted out of power for the first time since independence. The entire frustration of the emergency came to be consolidated largely around one issue and that was nasbandi. Mehta quotes author Sasti Brata as saying: “The elections have not proved that democracy flourishes in India, the elections have only proved that men don’t like to lay on tables and have their things cut off.”
Is something similar happening in an India, which is clearly more urban now than it was in the 1970s, right now? Has the frustration of being under nearly eight-and-a-half years of misrule of the Congress party-led UPA, all getting consolidated under the issue of a 23-year-old woman being raped in Delhi? The nation has forgotten the 2G scam. The Commonwealth Games scam. The nexus between Robert Vadra and DLF. The Coalgate scam. We have adjusted to the price of almost everything going up at a very fast pace and the fact that our salaries are not going anywhere. We don’t seem to mind the high EMIs.
But will we forget the fact that a 23-year-old woman who had her whole life in front of her and who was getting back home from watching a movie on a late cold Delhi evening, happened to board the wrong bus, only to be raped and almost killed by a set of goons?
That time will tell!
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org