On 25 June 1975, the prime minister Indira Gandhi declared Emergency. The subsequent months have come to be referred to as one of the darkest moments of Indian democracy—the period saw disturbing censures of the press, an excessive control over the government and the judiciary, and the implementation of policies such as a draconian family-planning scheme launched by Sanjay Gandhi, Indira’s younger son.
In their 1977 book For Reasons of State: Delhi Under Emergency, the civil-rights activist and writer John Dayal and the journalist Ajoy Bose recounted the travails of the common citizens during the Emergency. Dayal and Bose report on arbitrary arrests and detention, demolition of houses, and the forced sterilisation campaign that resulted in the deaths of thousands. The book has now been republished. The authors write in the introduction to the 2018 edition that “the time has come once again to recall the assault on the democratic rights of people more than four decades ago.”
In the following extract from the book, Dayal and Bose describe how the Delhi Police was forced to implement sterilisation targets, even among its own ranks.
Summer of 1976: With the advancing days and the soaring heat, the higher officials mounted the pressure. “Get the quotas. Get the figures. The need is dire.” The junior officials turned the screw further down. The jamedar in charge of the contract labour told the workers, “No advances till you get vasectomies. No advances and no more jobs.”
On 15 May 1976, the lieutenant governor’s order was repeated in a codified form by Reva Nayyar, the medical secretary to the Delhi Administration. The order was forwarded to all departments. Meanwhile, the officials held special meetings with their subordinate officers and exhorted them to fulfil the quotas. The education department which had been active during the April examinations in asking parents to volunteer had not been very successful. The teachers had asked the students to call their parents. The parents told the teachers that if they got vasectomised, it would be to get their own salaries, not to help the teacher with his. They needed the motivation slip themselves. In primary schools, the efforts met with slight success. This was because in the rural areas and in some of the colonies of Shahdara, parents agreed to do it for the good of their children, especially if the child happened to be in Class X and the only way to get him promoted to Class XI was this. This time, Class XI was particularly important because it was the last year of the three-year higher secondary course. From next year, the 10 plus 2 scheme would be in place, and if the child failed in Class X, he would have to waste not one but two years before he could get out of school.