Gemma Scott - Doctoral Student

India’s internal Emergency (1975-1977) has not been analyzed from a gendered perspective. These nineteen months of authoritarian rule occupy an ambiguous space in India’s national history, as they do not fit easily within constructions of India as the ‘world’s largest democracy’. Further, the years from 1947 to the late seventies have often been seen as the ‘silent years’ in the history of the women’s movement and women’s activism in India.  During the Emergency, the Government instituted one party rule, imprisoned large numbers of the political opposition and other resistors, imposed press censorship, and intensified programmes of coercive sterilisation and slum clearance. A number of recent works analyse these events, yet women do not figure in these histories. Accounts of Emergency sterilisation focus almost exclusively on vasectomy. Indira Gandhi’s position as a female figurehead and the impact of this on Emergency power has not been analyzed at length, and accounts of the organised opposition fail to consider the involvement of women, despite the fact that a number of high profile female leaders were imprisoned.

This thesis will explore and challenge these silences using a variety of sources, including extensive archival work and interviews. This project will demonstrate that women did participate and often played significant roles in organised resistance to Emergency rule, the suspension of rights and the government’s various repressive measures. It will also explore the reactions of pro-Emergency women’s groups and their engagement with the state’s use of power. Part of the thesis focuses on the Emergency Government’s programme of coercive sterilisation and its implications for women’s health and status in this period. The analysis will also draw from fictional sources, emphasising their valuable role in challenging silences in historiography, particularly when women tend to be absent from the archive and in the context of the Emergency Government’s use of censorship.