The emergency in India: some reflections on the legibility of the political
Mary E. JOHN
AbstractThis paper reflects on existing writing about the National Emergency in India that took place between 1975-77. The birth of many social movements during the 1970s including the women’s movement, have been marked by certain default notions of the political that hail from that time, especially given the nature of the repressive power of those years. The paper seeks to reopen the all too legible understanding of power and politics that has become prominent and does so by reviewing some of the major writing on the Emergency. Far from being a suppressed or silenced topic, what is noteworthy, when we look at the wide array of approaches among scholars concerned with the Emergency, is the extraordinary divergence in interpretations that have been put forward but which have hardly been discussed. Some have viewed the Emergency years as having been a relatively insignificant moment in post-independence history, others see it as an illustration of the specific nature of “Caesarist” power, while others have characterised it as being a “critical event,” a “watershed” or even a time when progressive change could be initiated. Taken together these views demand a rethinking of politics on the part of social movements that goes beyond a repressive notion of power.
Keywords:National Emergency, India, power, politics, social movements
Mary E. John is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi, India. Prior to that she was Director of the Centre from 2006-2012. She has written widely in the fields of feminist politics and women’s studies. Recent publications include the co-authored report Planning Families, Planning Gender, and the edited volume Women’s Studies in India: A Reader. She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Feminist Vocabularies in Time and Space: Perspectives from India.