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In news: 1946 Royal Indian Navy Mutiny

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RIN Mutiny

Mains level : Significance of the Mutiny

 

Seventy-four years ago on February 18, 1946, some 1,100 Indian sailors or “ratings” of the HMIS Talwar and the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) Signal School in Bombay declared a hunger strike, triggered by the conditions and treatment of Indians in the Navy.

RIN Mutiny

  • A “slow down” the strike was also called, which meant that the ratings would carry out their duties slowly.
  • The morning after February 18, somewhere between 10,000-20,000 sailors joined the strike, as did shore establishments in Karachi, Madras, Calcutta, Mandapam, Visakhapatnam, and the Andaman Islands.
  • One of the triggers for the RIN strike was the arrest of a rating, BC Dutt, who had scrawled “Quit India” on the HMIS Talwar.
  • The day after the strike began, the ratings went around Bombay in lorries, waving the Congress flag, and getting into scraps with Europeans and policemen who tried to confront them.

Their demands

While the immediate trigger was the demand for better food and working conditions, the agitation soon turned into a wider demand for independence from British rule. The protesting sailors demanded:

  • release of all political prisoners including those from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA),
  • action against the commander for ill-treatment and using insulting language,
  • revision of pay and allowances to put RIN employees on a par with their counterparts in the Royal Navy,
  • demobilisation of RIN personnel with provisions for peacetime employment,
  • release of Indian forces stationed in Indonesia, and better treatment of subordinates by their officers

Upsurge of nationalism

  • The RIN strike came at a time when the Indian nationalist sentiment had reached fever pitch across the country.
  • The winter of 1945-46 saw three violent upsurges: in Calcutta in November 1945 over the INA trials; in February 1946, also in Calcutta, over the sentencing of INA officer Rashid Ali; and, in that same month, the ratings’ uprise in Bombay.
  • This chain of events led to the “mounting fever of excitement affecting the whole political climate”.
  • Soon, ordinary people joined the ratings, and life came to a virtual standstill in both Bombay and Calcutta. There were meetings, processions, strikes, and hartals.
  • In Bombay, labourers participated in a general strike called by the Communist Party of India and the Bombay Students’ Union. In many cities across India, students boycotted classes in solidarity.
  • The response of the state was brutal. It is estimated that over 220 people died in police firing, while roughly 1,000 were injured.

Significance of the events

  • The RIN revolt remains a legend today. It was an event that strengthened further the determination among all sections of the Indian people to see the end of British rule.
  • Deep solidarity and amity among religious groups was in evidence, which appeared to run counter to the rapidly spreading atmosphere of commuanal hatred and animosity.
  • However, communal unity was more in the nature of organisational unity than a unity among the two major communities.
  • Within months, India was to be devoured by a terrible communal conflagration.

Final nail in the coffin

  • This revolt was different from the other revolts in the sense that, after 1857 it was the first time that the British realized that the Royal Indian forces were no more obedient to the British commands and were in concurrence with the overall defiant nationalist sentiments prevailing in the entire country.
  • Mutinies are usually confined to a particular station, establishment or ship. However, this was the first instance when the entire service joined the revolt.
  • Most striking feature was that it was directed against the British government and not against superior officers – not a single officer, British or Indian, was harmed.
  • Fearless action by the masses was an expression of militancy in the popular mind. Revolt in the armed forces had a great liberating effect on the minds of people.
  • It displayed that the armed forces no longer obeyed the British authority rather it was the nationalist leaders who held sway over them. The RIN revolt was seen as an event marking the end of British rule.

Aftermath

  • The leaders realized that any mass uprising would inevitably carry the risk of not being amenable to centralized direction and control. Besides, now that independence and power were in sight, they were eager not to encourage indiscipline in the armed forces.
  • It was immediately after this revolt that PM Atlee dispatched the Cabinet Mission to India, so it is also inferred that the mutiny hastened the process of transfer of power to India.
  • It is also important to mention that the revolt came to an end after the nationalist leaders, Sardar Patel and Mohammad Ali Jinnah on receiving a request to intervene by the British, issued a statement calling upon the mutineers to surrender.
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