When British troops revolted against colonialism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 22 07:50:03 MDT 2003

The 1946 rebellion of the sailors of the British Indian Navy
By Lal Khan

One of the most spectacular episodes of the intense revolt against the
British Raj was the uprising of the sailors of the British Indian Navy
in 1946. On February 18 of that year the sailors and shipmen of the
British Indian Navy battleship HMS "Talwaar", who were at the time
posted to the Bombay harbour, went on strike. They were protesting
against the bad food and adverse conditions.

Although on the first day it was limited to a peaceful hunger strike,
the signs of an imminent and much bigger rebellion against the British
rulers were evident. On February 19, the sailors announced the strike to
the Naval personnel stationed in the fortress and to those in the Naval
Barracks. They took over the Naval trucks, boarded them, hoisted red
flags on them and started patrolling the city of Bombay. They were
inviting the masses of the city to join in the struggle they had
started. As a result, anti British imperialist sentiments started to
spread like wildfire throughout the region.

On the eve of February 19 1946, much wider layers of the Naval personnel
had joined in this revolt. The union jacks on most of the ships of the
Royal Indian Navy in the Bombay harbour were torn down and the rebel
sailors hoisted red flags along with the flags of the political parties
that were involved in the struggle for independence.

Within 48 hours the British imperialists were faced with the largest
revolt ever of their Naval units. The message of this rebellion started
to spread by word of mouth and then over the radio (the radio station
had been taken over by the rebels) to military garrisons and barracks
across India. Some of the leaders of the sailors broadcast the message
of the uprising and revolutionary songs and poetry were also broadcast
round the clock. The revolt spread to 74 ships, 20 fleets and 22 units
of the Navy along the coast. It involved Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi,
Madras, Cochin and Vishapatam. On February 20 only 10 ships and 2 naval
stations were not in complete revolt.

In the beginning this revolt was considered to be spontaneous but that
is not completely true. On the eve of February 19 a strike committee had
been formally set-up. Signalman M.S Khan and petty officer telegraph
operator Madan Singh were elected unanimously to the positions of
president and vice president of the committee. Both of them were under
the age of 25. One was a Muslim and the other a Sikh, and this was a
conscious act to reject the religious divide being injected into the
liberation movement by the native bourgeois leaders and their British

Apart from the other tasks charted out for the strike committee, one of
the important objectives agreed upon was to involve the political
parties in this movement and gain their support. Tragically the
Communist Party of India (CPI) had lost the leadership of the
independence movement due to its disastrous policy of supporting the
British imperialists under the so-called "anti fascist front" policy
dictated by the Stalinist elite in the Kremlin. This had led to a rapid
diminishing of support for the CPI in the liberation movement. The
nascent Indian bourgeoisie and their leaders were at that time
negotiating a settlement with the British. They were as hostile as the
British to any revolutionary upsurge at this delicate juncture in the
history of the subcontinent.

full: http://www.marxist.com/History/1946sailors_rebellion.html


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