The Great Naval Mutiny of 1946

In this post under the section ‘Indian Communist Photos’, we present photos from the great Naval Mutiny of 1946.

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The revolt of the Royal Indian Navy in 1946 has a special place in the revolutionary history of Indian people. The sailors of the Royal Indian Navy started this mutiny which spread to all parts of India and intensified the revolutionary tide. It shook the very foundation of the British colonialism.

The revolt started on 18 February from the naval ship “Talwar”. This ship was a signal training school. Barbaric exploitation of oppression of the Indian people by the British colonialists had enraged the sailors. Barbaric exploitation and oppression of the people by the British colonialists around the world had affected them. The fact that there was a conspiracy to hang the prisoners of war from Azad Hind Fauz who were being tried in Red Fort in Delhi, had also influenced them. This inspired them to take up arms to liberate their motherland. Initiating their revolt they wrote slogans “Jai hind”, “Quit India” on the walls of the “Talwaar” ship. Looking at the slogans painted on the walls of the sheep it was evident that they had developed a deep national conscious and anger against the regime.

The sailors were secretly preparing for the uprising and a revolutionary fervor was developing across the country. The defeat of fascist forces in the II world war and the decisive role played by Soviet Union enthused the workers, peasants, and youth of the country with the possibility of revolution, ending rule of the British and establishing the rule of workers and peasants. Revolutionary situation was developing in India.

On 17 February the sailors of “Talwar” ship were served contaminated food. When they approached the British commander he insulted them saying that “they should be thankful that they are getting something to eat; anyway beggars don’t have right to choose! If you dirty dogs do not leave immediately, I will have you thrown into the dust bin.” This event created the grounds for a revolt to break out.

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On 18 February morning the sailors began their hunger strike. When they were called to the parade ground they raised slogans – “We are on strike!”, “We are on hunger strike!”, “We will not tolerate discrimination!”, “Release the patriots of Azad Hind Fauz!” Hearing the slogans, the British colonialists understood that this is a political strike. When they called the striking sailors for a discussion, the sailors demanded that they need some political party leader to mediate, and they will not go to the British to get arrested.

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The news of revolt of the Indian sailors against the British colonialist spread like wild fire across the country and the world. In no time, the revolt assumed a massive scale. Many small and big ships in Mumbai joined the sailors in their revolt. Smaller ships included “Assam”, “Bengal”, “Punjab”, “Travancore”, “Kathiawaad”, “Rajput”, etc. Besides this, naval training ships like “Dalhousie”, “Kalavati”, “Neelam”, and “Heera” also joined the revolt.

The revolt grew rapidly and spread to all naval training centers, ships, and residential areas, where people threw the British flag and hoisted the red communist flag and flags of other two parties. In the course of the revolt the sailors gave slogans reiterating Hindu-Muslim unity so that people’s unity could be preserved. The revolt spread to naval stations and ships in other areas including Karachi, Vishakhapatnam, Madras, Kochi, Kolkatta etc. When the sailors of ship “Baroda” which had gone to Colombo, came to know of the revolt, they also started a hunger strike.

When the sailors of five ships docked in Karachi – “Mauj”, “Himalaya”, “Bahadur”, “Dilawar” and “Chamak” came to know of the revolt in Mumbai, they too declared revolt against the British. They took out a procession in the market and streets of Karachi and drew massive support from the people. They raised slogans like “Inquilaab Zindabad!”, “British Imperialism – Down!” and “Long live the unity of all sailors!”

The revolt was so widespread that it took under its control 20,000 Navy men, 11 docks near Mumbai, 78 ships, 4 frigates, and 20 other docks nearby. In all these places they pulled down the Union Jack and instead unfurled the red communist flag and flags of two other parties. They heralded the end of control Royal Indian Navy by the British. To organize the strike in coordinated way they formed “Nausainik Kendriya Hadtaal Samti”. They elected MS Khan as president and Madan Singh as vice president of the committee. They also renamed the Royal Indian Navy as “Indian Navy”.

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The Communist Party of India called for a general strike in Mumbai on 22 February. Lakhs of workers participated in the general strike.

On the other side, as the striking sailors were moving towards the ship “Talwaar” in support of their strike, workers across Mumbai started joining them. In no time it became a huge rally. Whichever route the rally took, workers and ordinary people left their work and joined it.

In Karachi also the trade union leaders declared strike and people participated in huge numbers. People from all religions joined in the strike. However the leaders of Congress and the Muslim League did not like that people were uniting irrespective of their religion. They asked people to put a halt to the agitation. However the people shouted slogans against these leaders and they had to retreat and runaway.

When the British realized that Indian army also will not fire on the striking sailors, they called in the British platoon. When the British platoon attacked the striking sailors, people of Mumbai climbing on the roofs of their houses attacked the British soldiers with stones and bricks. The British soldiers had to retreat and run away. Many people of Mumbai were martyred in this attack. The blood of Indian soldiers and the people was flowing together on the streets for liberation of our country.

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When the British cut off the food supply to the ship to starve out the sailors, the people of Mumbai came to the rescue. Students and workers took charge and supplied food to the sailors loading it on small jetties and taking it to the ships where the workers were striking.

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The British unleashed a massive repression on the people to crush the revolt. On 21 February one sailor was martyred resisting the repression. Next day 21 sailors were martyred in Karachi. On 23 February 250 sailors and workers were martyred in the fight against the British soldiers.

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