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The Story of the 1946 Indian Naval Mutiny

  • 18 Feb 2023

There have been lots of freedom fights and battles for independence in India. Although great leaders and the movements they led are respected, there are many unknown heroes whose contributions have only been mentioned in textbooks. The Royal Indian Navy (RIN) Mutiny, often known as the Indian Naval Mutiny, is one frequently forgotten revolt. The mutiny started on February 18, 1946. Indians from a wide range of backgrounds and occupations, including laborers, farmers, and others, soon joined in support of the revolt. The mutiny, which initially manifested as a hunger strike by Navy personnel, quickly evolved into a widespread movement of Indian citizens against the British Empire. This revolt has a significant role to play in the fight for Indian independence. It deserves to be remembered by every Indian citizen.

History of the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny

The Marines and the Indian people were organizing the revolt secretly. The entire nation was developing a revolutionary atmosphere. The workers, peasants, and youth of India were inspired to think that revolt is possible and that by ending British control, we can build the rule of peasants and workers thanks to the Soviet Union's strong leadership in the Second World War. Conditions for revolt were being established. Indian sailors, soldiers, police officers, and civilians rose in rebellion against the British administration in India. Over 20,000 sailors were eventually involved in the uprising, which began in Bombay and eventually extended and received support across British India, from Karachi to Calcutta. This included both ships and shore-based establishments, with over 78 ships and establishments being involved. British India lost command of its navy in just 48 hours. Twelve to thirty-six members from each of Bombay's ships and barracks made up the newly established Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC). M.S. Khan, a senior signalman, and Madan Singh, a junior officer telegraphist, were chosen as president and vice president, respectively.

A group of ratings (junior enlisted sailors) had landed at Bombay Harbour when the strike began. Both the INA (Indian National Army) trials and Subhas Chandra Bose's personality served as inspiration for the strikers. The strike quickly turned into a public rebellion as more cities joined the Bombay sailors. Food and living circumstances were the revolt's immediate concerns. There were 66 ships and shore services with sailors from Calcutta, Karachi, Poona, Vizag, Cochin, Madras, Mandapam, and the Andaman Islands participating. There was a lot of tension in Bombay in particular. Numerous protesters targeted British city officials and inhabitants. They even took over Butcher Island, which housed all of the Bombay Presidency's armaments.

The troops of the Royal Indian Air Force from Bombay and the loyal Gurkhas of Karachi, who did not open fire on the strikers, were other sources of support for the rebels. However, despite being so near to independence, the mutiny did not receive favor from the Indian authorities. The Muslim League and the Indian National Congress denounced the mutiny after realizing the political and military consequences of such unrest on the brink of independence. The leaders of the Congress believed that if an armed revolution occurred and had unfavorable effects, their notion of a peaceful conclusion to a freedom movement and orderly power transfer would have been lost. Only Aruna Asaf Ali of the INC and the Communist Party of India publicly backed the sailors.

Importance of the Indian Naval Mutiny

The overwhelming public support for the rebellion was the most remarkable aspect of this short revolt. On February 22, the city of Bombay, particularly the working class, went on strike. The public transportation system was ground to a standstill, trains were damaged, roadblocks were formed and business organizations were shut down. To manage the situation, a battalion of the army was called in.

The British officials were terrified by this movement, which turned out to be important to India's war for independence. The British came to see that the colonial Indian armies were not very obedient to their commands and joined the general nationalist rebellion felt throughout the entire country. The sailors have demonstrated strong togetherness throughout religions and different regions and have stoked patriotic feelings among the people, despite the imminent sectarian conflict in the nation. One of the Movement's most important contributions was its fight for the release of political prisoners detained as a result of the INA trials, which mostly reflected their inner intentions.

The army's assistance provided the leaders of India's independence movement more power in their fight against the British. The brave acts of the citizens were a result of broad extremism. The military coup had a significant impact on the public's thoughts. Typically, the Rebellions are limited to a single station, mission, or ship. But it was the first time the whole service had taken up arms. The revolt was also notable for being directed at the British government rather than senior officers; neither British nor Indian officers were harmed.

The British rulers were deeply affected by the popular revolt. They now understood that they could no longer rely on armed troops, one of the key tools used to retain power in the subcontinent. This uprising forced the British to consider India's demand for total independence. Additionally, they began to believe that they would no longer remain in India. The army, their greatest asset, started to rise against them. It is also believed that the rebellion accelerated the transfer of authority to India since Prime Minister Attlee dispatched a cabinet mission to India soon after the uprising.

Causes of the Indian Naval Mutiny

The mutiny took place at a time when Indian nationalism was at its peak nationwide. There were many causes of the Indian Naval Mutiny. First, the British military discriminated against HMIS Talwar's rating based on race. HMIS (His Majesty's Indian Ship) Talwar was a British Royal Indian Navy shore complex located in Colaba, Bombay, during World War II. Even for the same position, the salaries of the Indian and British troops were different. Compared to Indian soldiers, British soldiers were paid more and had better access to facilities and food, which greatly angered the Indian soldiers. As Indian soldiers received just Rs. 16, Anglo-Indian soldiers received a salary of Rs. 60. Second, the ratings were subjected to terrible living and working conditions that were difficult for them to tolerate for a single day. It is claimed that this evolved into the main cause of the naval revolt. Thirdly, the detention of BC Dutt, who had written in HMIS Talwar, "Get out of India," was the cause of the RIN strike. Dutt was a prospective nationalist and five-year Royal Indian Navy veteran. He was redeployed to the HMIS Talwar, the naval facility where he had gotten his basic training, at the end of the war. He was angry over the racism he had experienced during the war. The qualifiers traveled by vehicle to Bombay the day after the strike started, flying Congress flags and facing up against European and police personnel. Lastly, the freedom of all political prisoners detained in connection with the INA trials, including Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, was the protesting sailors' main demand. They even demanded the release of Indian soldiers that were being imprisoned by British forces in Indonesia. The Indian troops' anger about learning that there was a plan to have the Azad Hind Fauj detainees tried and executed in the Red Fort was another factor in the mutiny.

Over 200 people had died and more than 1000 people injured, in addition to the 7 sailors and 1 commander who were killed. The revolt led to the dismissal of 476 sailors. After independence, neither the Indian nor Pakistani navies accepted them.

Conclusion

The Navy Mutiny ended the British Empire's ambitions in India, putting the final nail in the coffin. The RIN Revolt was one of the factors that accelerated the fall of British authority in India. Leaders realized that any popular uprising necessarily runs the risk of preventing the central government from retaining more power. Additionally, they did not want to encourage indiscipline in the army now that Freedom and authority had been established. It's also vital to remember that the uprising came to an end after nationalist leaders Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Sardar Patel demanded the rebels' surrender and released a statement demanding their submission in response to appeals for British intervention. A meeting was held between Sardar Patel and M. S. Khan, President of the Naval Central Strike Committee (NCSC). It was assured that no one would be punished. In a statement issued on behalf of the Muslim League in Calcutta, Muhammad Ali Jinnah supported Patel's plea for the strikers to put a halt to their action. The rebels gave up on February 23, 1946. All segments of the Indian population are now more motivated than ever to witness the demise of British rule.

The naval mutiny in 1946 significantly contributed to ensuring civilian supremacy over colonialism and it posed the ultimate challenge to the British government's capability to command its military forces.

Sources:

https://thewire.in/history/freedom-on-the-waves-the-indian-naval-mutiny-70-years-later

https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/royal-indian-navy-rebellion-causes-and-significance/

https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/mj2aFxWkWrLwae44ANxrEO/Revisiting-the-1946-Royal-Indian-Navy-mutiny.html

https://zenodo.org/record/894568/files/article.pdf

https://infinitylearn.com/surge/english/article/royal-indian-navy-mutiny/

Aarifa Nadeem

Aarifa Nadeem is from Jhansi, UP. She has qualified UGC NET in Tourism Administration & Management and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Tourism from Bundelkhand University, Jhansi.

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