Upset that their long-pending demand for a monthly pension found no mention in the state budget that was presented on March 3, more than 3,000 people who were detained during the Emergency in Kerala plan to intensify their agitation for a pension and to be declared freedom fighters – which would make them eligible for benefits extended to these veterans.

The detainees first raised this demand in 2010, when India marked the 35th anniversary of the Emergency. They complain that successive governments have neglected their demand. Several states like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana give such detainees a monthly pension under different schemes. The organisations agitating in Kerala have asked the government to emulate these schemes.

Several members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the ruling Left Democratic Front coalition, were detained during the Emergency in Kerala. This includes Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan as well as Finance Minister Thomas Isaac.

“CPI(M) hasn’t discussed the issue so far,” MA Baby, the party’s politburo member told this reporter. “CPI(M) is against claiming financial benefits for political struggles. Plenty of CPI(M) workers were sent to torture camps during the Emergency. The party considers it [this experience] to be a political activity.”

Baby said that the state should extend financial support only to those who are finding it difficult to make a living or are struggling to bear their medical expenses.

Emergency excesses

During the Emergency, the Communist Party of India shared power with the Congress in Kerala. The government was headed by C Achutha Menon of the CPI, while K Karunakaran of the Congress (I) handled the crucial Home portfolio.

At that time, thousands of members of the CPI(M), the Naxalite movement, the breakaway Congress (Organisation), Bharatiya Jana Sangh (precursor to the Bharatiya Janata Party), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, All India Muslim League, and Jamaat-e-Islami in Kerala were jailed under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act and Defence of India Regulation Act – laws that gave sweeping powers to the Indira Gandhi-led Congress government at the Centre to make preventive detentions and arrests without a warrant.

One of the most shocking incidents during this time was the custodial death of P Rajan. The Menon government drew a lot of flak after the student from the erstwhile Regional Engineering College in Kozhikode was killed at a torture camp in Kakkayam in 1976.

An illustration of police excesses during the Emergency in Kerala. (Photo courtesy: Emergency Victims Association.)

Chief Minister Vijayan was then a member of the Legislative Assembly. In 1975, the state police tortured him till he fainted in the lock-up. After he was released, he went to the Assembly where he made a powerful speech during which he held up the blood–stained shirt he wore during the assault. “This is a shameful chapter in the history of modern Kerala,” he said in his speech.

During its Bhatinda Congress in 2015, the Communist Party of India admitted that its support to the Emergency was wrong.

Victims’ demands

Two organisations with diametrically opposite political views are currently fighting for the cause of Emergency victims in Kerala.

The Emergency Fighters Association, the older of the two, is a collective of Left-leaning victims, while the Association of Emergency Victims, formed recently, comprises members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Despite their political differences, both the outfits demand that victims of police excesses during the Emergency be granted freedom fighters status, that the Emergency be included in the school curriculum, and a museum be set up at the site of a torture centre in state capital Thiruvananthapuram.

“Those who stood against the Emergency had protected democracy,” said TN Joy of the Emergency Fighters Association. “So it should be considered as a freedom struggle...Including the Emergency in the curriculum would help students understand the importance of the struggle. A museum would remind Malayalis about the police torture during Emergency.”

The organisations have asked the government to emulate the pension schemes implemented in other states. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the Loktantra Rakshak Senai Scheme provides financial assistance to around 5,000 Emergency victims since 2006. Madhya Pradesh launched a pension scheme for 4,500 Emergency victims in 2008, while Bihar implemented the JP Senani Samman Pension Scheme in 2009, which covers 3,100 people. More than 2,000 Emergency detainees benefit from the pension scheme launched in Rajasthan in 2008 while Haryana launched a pension scheme for 2,000 Emergency detainees in 2015.

Going slow

M Rajasekhara Panicker, RSS leader and president of the Association of Emergency Victims, explained why he thought the state government was not keen on starting a similar pension scheme in Kerala.

“The CPI(M) might be worried about legitimising the role of RSS workers who had participated in the fight against Emergency,” he said. “They might also be worried about opposition from the CPI, which was ruling Kerala at the time of Emergency.”

The Communist Party of India is a member of the ruling Left Democratic Front coalition.

CPI state secretary, Kanam Rajendran, told this reporter that his party has not discussed the issue so far. “However, I don’t think there is no need to declare it as second freedom struggle,” said Rajendran. “The detainees should be treated as political prisoners.”

But the CPI(M)’s Baby disagreed. “Of course, it is the second freedom struggle,” he said.

Panicker said his organisation was ready to join hands with the Emergency Fighters Association to achieve their common goal. “Plenty of RSS workers who fought the Emergency are living in a miserable condition,” he said. “We are ready for a joint action to force the government to wake up.”

Workers from the RSS and Jana Sangh who were jailed during the Emergency were felicitated during the BJP’s National Council Meeting that was held in Kozhikode last year. At that time, the veterans submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The prime minister received our memorandum, but he didn’t make any promises,” said Panicker.

The Emergency Victims Association will organise a meeting in New Delhi in April to take up the issue with the Union government. “Union ministers, human rights activists and Emergency victims will attend the meet,” said Panicker.

The Emergency Fighters Association also plans to continue its protest for its demands. TN Joy of the association said that the CPI(M) should reveal why it decided not to honour Emergency victims, and added that the association would conduct a march to the secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram on June 25 as part of its protest. “Emergency victims who are able to travel will take part in the march,” he said. “We have no other option but to continue to fight till we get justice.”