The actress who became a heroine during Emergency of 1975

Emergency of 1975 was the darkest period in post-independence India. Everything about it was shameful. The reason for imposing it was greed of power. The manner of imposing it was dictatorial, even the President had to proclaim it in the middle of night. The conduct of govt during emergency was barbaric. One victim of such barbarity was Snehlatha Reddy, the actress who became a heroine. This is her story.

Baroda Dynamite conspiracy

The duration of emergency is known for its suppression of politics in the country, apart from moves like forcible sterilization and censoring of newspapers.

A major leader opposing Indira Gandhi at that time was George Fernandes. He had famously defeated Congress Veteran S K Patil in Lok Sabha elections in Bombay in 1967. He had led the famous Railway Strike of 1974.

George was a friend of Snehlatha Reddy
George Fernandes in an iconic photo after his arrest.

George went underground during the emergency and in Baroda tried to procure dynamite. It was to be used for blowing up govt toilets and to be detonated in night so as not to injure anyone. He also planned to create a scare by setting off bombs the night before Indira Gandhi’s public meetings.

He was however unsuccessful and police was putting pressure on his associates to get his location.

Snehlatha Reddy

Snehlatha was a famous actress in Telugu and Kannada industry. Her husband was famous director Pattabhirama Reddy. Her movie Samskara had already won National Award in 1970.

Snehlatha Reddy
Snehlatha Reddy

She was a good friend of George Fernandes. As govt was looking for George, she was arrested in May, 1976 to get information from her. She was held without trial in Bangalore Jail for eight long months.

Torture in jail

Her status as a prominent actress or the fact that there was no FIR against her did not matter. She was brutally tortured in jail. Madhu Dandavate, who was also in the same jail, writes in his memoir, “I could hear the screams of Snehalata from her cell in the silence of the night” To deny her any human contact, she was kept in a solitary cell.

Snehlatha was an asthmatic. She did not get proper care in the jail and twice slipped into asthmatic coma. Due to her brutal treatment and being kept in inhuman conditions, she also contracted lung infection.

Death of Snehlatha Reddy

As her situation worsened, the govt was apprehensive of her death in custody. Although she did not give them any information, George had already been arrested. She was broken in body and no use to the govt now. She was released on 15th January, 1977. She died within 5 days on 20th January, 1977.


Snehlatha Reddy was a martyr for freedom in ‘Free India’. Her sacrifice and the sacrifice of several other heroes and heroines spelled the end for Congress domination in India.

Out of that suppression, a new generation of political leadership emerged in India in BJP and also in many regional parties.

The communist parties supported Congress during emergency. Today they raise a storm on lawful arrest of riot instigator Safoora Zargar on basis of her pregnancy and against arrest of urban naxals like Varvara Rao, but they have never spoken a word against murder of Snehlatha. Incidentally, she was from a minority community. She was a Christian by birth.

Incidentally, the impact of emergency on media was opposite. L K Advani said : “when asked to bend, the media crawled during Emergency”. The media is still crawling in front of Congress leadership. They cannot even hear the real name of Sonia Gandhi before being outraged. Attempts to relaunch Rahul Gandhi continue after many failures.

Snehlatha Reddy, a symbol of barbarity of Indira Gandhi, is largely forgotten due to media apathy. It is our duty to honor her memory.

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