A sordid tale of Emergency: The illegal detention and torture of George Fernandes’ brother

It appears to be in bitter taste that the Congress party is offering condolences to his family now that George Fernandes has passed away without offering an apology for the immense trauma that they had to endure during the Emergency due to mere politics.

The former Defense Minister of India, George Fernandes, passed away earlier in the day. A lifelong socialist, he emerged as one of India’s tallest leaders through his resolute opposition to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency and stellar leadership afterwards.

Tributes started flowing once the news broke out and the Congress party was quick to offer its condolences as well.

It appears that the Congress party has forgotten how it treated the great man when he was alive. In this article, we shall explore how Fernandes’ brother, Lawrence Fernandes, was wrongfully arrested and tortured by the Police during the Emergency as described in the Shah Commission report.

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Lawrence complained to the Commission that he was taken from his house on the 1st of May, 1976 by two policemen, Inspector Narayan Rao and one other officer of the Corps of Detectives of the Karnataka Police, Bangalore. He was then interrogated about the whereabouts of his brother and when he failed to produce the answers that satisfied the Police’s curiosity, he was “brutally assaulted” by a group of 8 to 10 policemen which caused immense injuries to his body.

Lawrence’s account was corroborated by a report lodged by his father, J.J. Fernandes with the Police Control room on the 2nd of May, 1976. The “Crime and Occurrence Sheet” dated May 3, 1976, also mentions the father’s account that his son was missing since the 1st. The Commission report states, “Shri Jacob Fernandes has stated that he had in his complaint to the police control room informed that the police had taken away his son from his house on the night of May 1, 1976, and the enquiries conducted by him with the various City Police stations had yielded no results. The police control room record relating to the “Crime and Occurrence Sheet” dated May 3, 1976, mentions only the complaint made by Shri Jacob Fernandes that the complainant’s son, Shri J.J. Fernandes was missing.” The Commission notes that J.J. Fernandes in the police record actually stands for Lawrence Fernandes.

Lawrence’s mother also made submissions of petitions and telegrams dated 5th and 6th of May, 1976 addressed to various authorities complaining about her missing son. The copies were sent to the Chief Minister of Karnataka, the Prime Minister, the President and the Chief Justice of India.

Apart from statements by his parents, various other people, including a Times of India correspondent, corroborated Lawrence’s account of the events that transpired.

The Commission also mentions Lawrence’s allegation that on the 3rd of May, his condition had worsened considerably due to torture by the Police and a physician was called upon to check on him. Dr Rajagopal, who was examined by the Commission, stated that he did examine Lawrence on the said date and was advised by the constables not to ask any questions but only to examine the patient. He further stated that he had advised to have the patient “hospitalized and X-rayed”. According to him, “injuries must have been due to some external violence or some such thing” and that he suspected fracture in the left foot and thus, recommended an X-ray. He said that he had seen the same patient at the K.C. General Hospital on the 13th of May but was not aware of his identity until he saw news of Lawrence’s detention.

The Commission also noted that Inspector Parameshwarappa of the Malleshwar Police had lied outright during his deposition to the Commission to “save himself and his colleagues from the probable consequences of the illegal police detention and torture of Shri Lawrence.” The Commission also concluded that it was “established beyond doubt” that Lawrence was held in illegal custody by the Police.

The official police record showed that Lawrence was arrested on the 10th of May, 1976 in Davangere and was later produced before a local court. The Commission report states that the official record “bears a clear impress of fabrication and untruth.” He was arrested in connection with explosions on railway tracks by unknown people, however, his complicity had not been established in any of the case files pertaining to the explosions.

The circumstances of his arrest were described as ‘incredible’ by the Commission. The Commission noted that Lawrence had no money with him at the time of arrest, no bus ticket was recovered from him which would corroborate the Police’s claim that he was travelling to Hubli from the Davangere Bus Stand. Lawrence did not have any spare clothes with him either and neither did he have the bare necessities of daily life. He apparently did not have any money either to procure them.

In conclusion, the Commission observes that the case “highlights not merely the illegal detention and torture of an individual by the police, but the subversion of an entire legal system including the Judicial process by senior and responsible Government officers.” It also concluded that some of these officials had colluded with the police to ensure that the matter is not revealed to the public.

The report states further, “They (the police) resorted to illegal detention and torture, and to cover up a series of illegal and indefensible acts, some of them fabricated public records, gave false testimony and otherwise acted in a manner unbecoming of the high and responsible offices they held.”

Lawrence Fernandes was treated in the most despicable of ways by the Police merely because his was known to be a vocal critic of the Emergency. The CBI had charged George Fernandes and others of smuggling dynamite and blowing up government establishments as well. They were also charged with waging a war against the state to overthrow the government. They were arrested in June 1976 and kept in Tihar jail, Delhi.

In the heart-rending letter to the President dated May 24, 1976, by Alice Fernandes, mother to Lawrence and George, reveals a mother’s helplessness and sorrow and misery when her innocent son is suffering unimaginable torture in prison. After narrating the brutal torture that her son had to endure, she appeals, “I urge upon you in the name of all that is good in the civilised conduct of human beings and their governments, and in the name of justice, to order a thorough judicial enquiry into this barbaric torture, and take suitable action against concerned authorities. I also urge that he should be transferred to a good hospital, and specialist medical and psychiatric treatment be given to him, and daily visits to him be the family allowed so that he may regain his mental and physical health and become a human being …”

The letter can be read here.

Under such circumstances, it appears to be in bitter taste that the Congress party is offering condolences to his family now that George Fernandes has passed away without offering an apology for the immense trauma that they had to endure during the Emergency due to mere politics.

We have documented various other excesses committed by the Congress government under Indira Gandhi during the Emergency which can be read here and here.

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