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Vijaya Pushkarna
Vijaya Pushkarna


Gory Gate

Thirty-nine years after it was reduced to rubble, Turkman Gate is anything but picture perfect

"As desired by the Chief Minister, I called upon Shri Sanjay Gandhi and showed him the various plans for urban development of Agra. Shri Gandhi appreciated the programme and desires that the cleaning up of the city from stray cattle, unauthorised structures and beggars should be completed within the next six months so that during the cold weather which is the tourist season, the city presents cleaner appearance. He desires action on the same lines for Varanasi.”
―excerpts from a telex message sent by the resident commissioner, government of Uttar Pradesh, in Delhi, to the commissioner and secretary in Lucknow, with a copy to the chief minister.

Sanjay Gandhi was the man behind most of the demolitions that displaced and rendered people homeless across the country during the Emergency. Almost all the chief ministers went out of their way to execute demolition orders and please him. If Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal made it his government's “top priority”, the Himachal chief minister sought regular updates on it and the Karnataka chief minister decided to complete it in a month's time. The Rajasthan chief minister said that resettlement and rehabilitation should “not mean that work should in any manner be delayed on this account”.

It was done in the name of beautification. However, the Shah Commission, which was appointed in 1977 to look into the excesses committed during the Emergency, got complaints saying that the demolitions were not done following the due process of law. In the national capital 1,800 structures were demolished between 1973 and June 1975. Between June 1975 and March 1977, when the Emergency was lifted, 1,50,105 structures were razed and an estimated 7,00,000 people were displaced.

Turkman Gate, where Old Delhi meets New Delhi, became the centre point of the demolition drive. It was in this low-rise slum, whose residents also witnessed the horrors of forced sterilisation, that people were almost run over by demolition squads and fired at by the police.

The people in this part of the Walled City would like to forget the events of April 19, 1976, when their locality turned into a war zone after the police opened fire at a peaceful protest. A curfew was imposed a couple of hours later. The police admitted that six people were killed in the police firing and 146 injured, but not even an administrative inquiry was ordered. The densely populated area was reduced to rubble.

However, 39 years later, Turkman Gate is nothing more than a shabby concrete jungle of three- and four-storey structures connected by a maze of narrow lanes. There are two trees planted by a local resident. And there are three 'parks'. The first has a concrete floor, high boundary wall and grille above it. The second, earmarked for women, is a tiny park with a patch of grass and similar high walls. And, the third is a huge quadrangle, which also has a concrete boundary wall. However, it doesn't give a feel of being in an open space because it is surrounded by buildings that touch the boundary wall. “We use it for community functions,” says Habib Akhtar, a resident, who was in college when the demolitions happened.

Mohammad Shahid, president of Turkman Gate Welfare and Coordination Committee, says they brought back 720 families that had been moved to other parts of the city. “They had started the demolition on April 13. It was peaceful till April 19,” says Shahid. “The people were demanding better accommodation as part of the slum improvement programme in Delhi. It had gone smoothly in the Delhi Gate and Ajmeri Gate areas. Here the rules were not followed.”

Old residents believe that Sanjay Gandhi wanted to convert Delhi into Paris. He wanted to build a 50-storey hotel at the site and got approval for the plans.

Today, however, the area is under dispute with the Delhi Development Authority, Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board and Juggi Jhopri Scheme passing the buck on resolving ownership, maintenance and other issues. And, the scene is anything but beautiful.

Pen dropped, silenced
Shankar's Weekly was India's own Punch, a much gentler and possibly less head-on version of Charlie Hebdo. Political leaders of all hues and stature found themselves caricatured in the magazine.

K. Shankar Pillai, the founder-editor of the magazine, lampooned the Emergency regime, and when he realised that some cartoonists in the magazine would be proceeded against, he preferred to close down the magazine. He signed off with a telling edit. Excerpts from the last editorial of Shankar's Weekly, published on August 31, 1975.

In our first editorial, we made the point that our function was to make our readers laugh―at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what are the people who have a developed sense of humour? It is a people with a certain civilised norms of behaviour, where there is tolerance and a dash of compassion. Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because they may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn't do. In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody, or a spoof.

From this point, the world and, sadly enough, India have become grimmer. Humour, whenever it is there, is encapsuled. Language itself has become functional, each profession developing its own jargon. Outside of the society of brother-economists, an economist is a stranger, floundering in uncharted territory, uncertain of himself, fearful of non-economic language. It is the same for lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists and such-like.

What is worse, human imagination seems to be turning to the macabre and the perverse. Books and films are either on violence or sexual deviations. Nothing seems to awaken people except unpleasant shocks. Whether it is the interaction of the written word and the cinema on society or not, society reflects these attitudes. Hijackings, mugging in the dark, kidnappings and plain murder are becoming everyday occurrences and sometimes lend respectability by giving it some kind of political colouration.

But Shankar's Weekly is an incurable optimist. We are certain that despite the present situation, the world will become a happier and more relaxed place. The spirit of man will in the end overcome all death-dealing forces, and life will blossom to a degree where humanity will find its highest purpose discharged. Some call this God. We prefer to call it human destiny. And on that thought, we bid you goodbye and the best of luck.

By hook or by crook

Constitution was mangled during the Emergency, to borrow BJP leader L.K. Advani's words.

The 40th amendment to the Constitution, numbered 39th after enactment, made it impossible to challenge in court the elections to the posts of president, vice president, prime minister and speaker of the Lok Sabha. Following the amendment, the elections could only be challenged before a special forum to be created by Parliament. The amendment was introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 7, 1975, and was passed after a two-hour debate. It was introduced and passed in the Rajya Sabha the next day. The president gave his assent on August 10 after receiving ratification by the states.

An attempt was made to amend article 361, which gave the president, vice president and prime minister life-long immunity against criminal proceedings. While the article originally conferred immunity on the president and governors when they held office, the amendment wanted to add prime minister to the list and give them immunity forever.

The 42nd amendment changed the basic structure of the Constitution, including the Preamble. It extended the terms of the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures to six years, curtailed fundamental rights and made almost all government actions unchallengeable in courts. It gave the president power to amend the Constitution through an executive order for two years and abolished the need for quorum in Parliament.

When the Janata Party came to power after the Emergency, it passed the 44th amendment, undoing the changes.

Shredder for Shah

K. Brahmananda Reddy had the unenviable task of chairing the Congress Working Committee on December 5, 1977. Much of the discussion pertained to the Congressmen appearing before the Shah Commission appointed by the Morarji Desai government to inquire into allegations of abuse of authority, excesses and malpractices committed, and action taken during the Emergency.

Justice J.C. Shah was chief justice of India for only 36 days when he retired. During a Tata Memorial Lecture he delivered in 1971, Shah said, “Our Constitution doesn't reserve to any executive authority―however high―to overrule the Constitution.” He was the natural choice to conduct such an inquiry.

The CWC advised members of the party “to appear before the Shah Commission only at the appropriate stage and in case summons are issued”. Mrs Gandhi refused to take oath before the commission on the ground that she was bound by the oath of secrecy taken as a minister. But eleven Union ministers, seven chief ministers and the lieutenant governor of Delhi appeared before Shah.

His office received 48,500 complaints, of which 46,261 were inquired into, while clarification was sought for the rest. The commission held 100 sittings and examined 890 witnesses. The first interim report was submitted in March 1978, the next one in April and the final one in August the same year.

According to Shah, “The one single item which had affected the people most over the entire country was the manner in which powers under the amended MISA were misused at various levels.”

When Indira Gandhi returned to power, the report was consigned to the dustbin. Her government is believed to have recalled every published report of the Shah Commission and destroyed it.

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