Naval Mutiny,1946

  • Royal Indian Navy revolt of 18 February 1946 shook the foundation of British empire. It proved as one of the last nails in the coffin of British Raj, thus compelling colonial rulers to ponder over leaving Indian land as soon as possible.
  • Royal Indian navy mutiny deserves a special place in the national struggle of India as it was second major rebellion after the Sepoy mutiny of 1857, which involved regular British Ratings (Indian Navy sailors) determined to show their defiance against the exploitative and discriminatory policies of their white masters. British Prime Minister Clement Atlee once admitted that this mutiny of Navy Ratings (Sailors) in February 1946 paved the way for the early departure of Britishers from the Indian land.
  • Compared to the first sepoy mutiny of 1857, which is also popularly known as the ‘First War of Indian Independence,’ the ‘Bombay Mutiny’ had lasted for a much (around six days) shorter period but left a more profound blow to the prestige of the British Empire. Britain, while still recovering from the devastation of the war which had weakened it seriously, provided an essential opportunity to the ratings of the Royal India Navy to stand against the maltreatment meted out to them by their white superiors.
  • The reverberations of the revolt were felt throughout major parts of the country as it soon spread like wildfire to the naval ships stationed in Calcutta, Karachi, and Madras along with other ports.
  • Initially, started with the strike on ‘HMIS Talwar’ on the issues such as serving low-quality food, and instances of racial abuse by the white superiors of the Indian sepoys finally switched over to the significant demands of releasing the Generals of INA and not employing the Indian soldiers in Indonesia.
  • The much-expected casual response of the white bosses was the ready recipe for the ensuing violence, which nearly burnt down the whole city of Bombay, claiming more than 200 lives. Besides, unlike the previous sepoy mutiny of 1857, this was a pre-planned event. On the evening of February 19, a strike committee under the two officers MS Khan and Madan Singh was formally established to act as the president and vice president of the committee. The selection of one Muslim and a Sikh was made deliberately to defeat any possible attempt by the government of playing the divide-and-rule card.
  • The mutiny, which hardly sustained the onslaught of British forces for four days, started buckling under pressure as soon as the British troops had begun targeting the rebel ships with increasing bombardment. In the ensuing negotiations, the government accepted most of the demands of rebels in principle, which included improvement in the quality of food and living conditions of the ratings. The mutiny was called off owing to the intervention of Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel & Jinnah, who chose to meet MS Khan, the president of the Naval Central Strike Committee. Sardar Patel appealed to the rebel soldiers to end their act of defiance against the British Raj, which got the support of the Muslim league later.   
  • Despite assurances given by the Congress and Muslim league regarding the right service conditions, the massive arrest was made, followed by large-scale dismissals from the service and court-martials. The ‘Bombay mutiny’ though shorter in duration, brought the Britishers home about the brevity of their rule in India as successive revolts by the armed forces convinced them about their early departure from the Indian land.
  • This naval mutiny will remain conspicuous in the annals of modern history owing to its timing and fervour, which the far end of British rule, unlike previous agitations, almost confirmed the independence of the country from British subjugation.
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