The year 1757 marked the begning of British power in India. Bengal was subjugated in June 1757, after the battle of Plassey. Plassey transferred power to England and the battle of Buxar in 1764 created rights.
The sepoy mutiny of 1857 was the first armed struggle on a national scale against British rule. The mutiny failed. The leaders of the mutiny were no match to the iron-willed men of the east india company. Eighty nine years later the ratings of the Royal Indian Navy rose in revolt. They too failed. As for the cause that finally led to the mutiny we find only those records that have been left behind by the foreign rulers. We also find the version given out by the ratings in their evidence before the Enquiry Commission. No more for their perspective rasons, all the three parties- the British rulers, the ratings and the national leaders- made it appear as if the cooks of the Royal Indian Navy caused the mutiny.
Like the history of a people, the history of a movement can not be completed if one is denied access to the diaries of the participants. History is more than mare narration of bare facts. Behind the facts are the actors who willed the events.
B.C. Dutt, full name Balai Chand Dutt was born in 1923 in a village near Burdwan town of West Bengal. In his childhood life he was not interested in playing like other children but fond of reading Historical books and Bengali Literature. He had read almost all the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee by the time he was in the final year in school. Among the personalities of Indian history, the life of Shivaji fascinated him. He read whatever he could get on him in Bengali. Dutt used to imagine himself as a member of Shivaji’s band of desperadoes.
After finishing his matriculation in 1940, he had come to Patna. In those days World War was warming up. There was a great opportunity for youth to make a career at the expense of the Government. A well wisher of Dutt advised him to try and get recruited to some special branch of the fighting forces. For the purpose he started to learn type writing and line-telegraphy. After a short ups and downs finally he was blundered into the Royal Indian Navy on February 28, 1941 as a Wireless Telegraphist.
After being entered into the RIN Dutt’s perception towards navy was changed. From the first day Indian ratings of RIN were welcomed with an unfamiliar language like “Son of a bitch”, “Bunch of sickly monkeys, bloody cross between pigs and goats, bloody Sissies.” These types of words of officer made it clear that signing the bond for service in the RIN was tantamount to signing away one’s soul. It was worse than physical assault. Ratings had to face Such type of behavior once again on the dining table. All the ratings were served with a huge wooden thali containing some 10 Kg. of very greasy and very hot daal and also a large pile of chappaties of massive size and thickness. Some of the fellowes, however, went to get their plates and spoon from the kit bag. They received another torrent of choice abuse for their good manners.
Dutt’s first meal in the RIN was a new experience. His batch had representatives from practically all the communities and the major language groups in the country. The cook lent them an aluminium mug from which all of them drank water. This was his first communal meal which removed at one stroke the barriers from which the society they came from.
Ever since the sepoy mutiny of 1857 indian servicemen had been kept isolated from the mainstream of the country’s life. Political reliability was an important factor with the recruiting officials. Political literature, even of an elementary nature, was kept out of reach of the ratings. Except the british owned dailies and periodicals, no other material was allowed inside the barracks or ships. The end of World War II changed the situation. There was a tremendous upsurge in the country when the men of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army were brought back to india in 1945. The british commander-in-chief Auchinleck, wanted to try the INA men for waging war against the King Emperor and for plotting the overthrow of his Imperial Majesty’s Government of India.
It was no longer possible to keep the ratings at the pre-war level of isolation. They saw the world outside India during war. Having travelled and also having learnt what the war was all about, most of them had become more sensitive to the condition of their own country. Men in uniform were despised by people to whom those involved in the Quit India Movement were heroes.
What turned B.C. Dutt from loyal servicemen into rebels? It was the result of a chain of events spread over the long, dark days of the war.
Dutt often found Indian servicemen working alongside white servicemen from the army. In the Indian army, British servicemen received preferential treatment. Whether at base or in a combat zone, they had better accommodation, better amenities. They were paid five to ten times more for the same jobs that an Indian servicemen did. They travelled more comfortably. They could, if they wished, use Indian servicemen’s canteen, mess rooms but the Indians had no access to theirs. The British servicemen were not required to salute viceroy’s commissioned officers. The discrimination was crude, and was calculated to make the Indians feel inferior to the British.
During the World War, Dutt had seen the British people defending their country. He had served alongside British sailors and others from the other commonwealth countries in different theatres. They knew what they wre fighting for. Dutt began to question his whole existence. What did he fight for? Whose war did he fight? Was it for his country? To the British authorities Indian sailors were servicemen but to nationalist India these were mere mercenaries. He felt to prove that he was as much sons of the soil as the nationalist india who were fighting for the country’s independence. Without quite realizing it, Dutt became a conspirator.
After the World War, soldiers of royal Indian navy were ordered to get back India. They returned to the shore-based signal school, H.M.I.S. TALWAR in Bombay. Every week new batches of ratings poured in from different parts of the world to await demobilization or new postings. Old friends who got scattered over the globe during the war met again on the TALWAR at war’s end. One day a friend of B.C. Dutt, Salil Syam, returned from Malaya with strange tales of the Indian National Army. Dutt had heard about them in Burma. Having been with the occupation forces in Malaya, Syam had come in direct contact with the men of INA. He had brought letters from some members of the former Azad Hind Government addressed to Jawaharlal Nehru and Sarat Chandra Bose. He also brought relevant literature and photographs. In the RIN it would have been considered a high treason if Syam was found with the letters.
Dutt felt he was holding a live bomb in his hands when Syam told him the contents of the packet he had smuggled into the TALWAR from across the sea. Syam asked for Dutt’s help in reaching the letters and literature to Sarat Bose and Nehru. Dutt had suddenly become an important messenger of significant tidings for his country.
It was not difficult to locate other ratings like Dutt on the TALWAR. Anyone who had served more than a year in the RIN had his pet discontent and private grudge against British. It was a question of selecting the right ones. But any kind of anti-British work, agitational or otherwise, was extremely difficult and risky because there were ratings of the security branch living with them in the barracks. He gave himself a separate identity. For, he no longer considered himself as mere ratings of the RIN . he considered himself as fighter for the country’s freedom. He called himself “Azad Hindi” and the group or organization of these men was called “Azad Hindustan”. But how did he convince the ratings to join the Azad Hindustan?
The canteen of TALWAR became recruiting centre. Dutt extended liberal invitations for tea and soft drinks to all. The main motive behind this party was to make friendly enquires about their experiences in different theatres of war. The likely candidates for Azad Hindi were those who sounded bitter about their experiences. The strength of azad hindi did not exceed twenty regulars and about a dozen sympathizers during the four months of it’s existence.
A comprehensive plan of operation was prepared. Dutt planned to channelize the prevailing discontent over the sloppy demobilization policy through a whispering campaign- towards sharpening the prevalent anti- British atmosphere; to commit acts that would create disorder in the ships and barracks; to create a sense of instability in the minds of the ratings through widespread sabotage. It was not an easy job to preach from unit to unit or regiment to regiment the lessons. He was feared about court-martialled and shot down the persons trying to give the message of mother India.
The revolution, Dutt wanted, was not of violence and blood-shed. With the help of pamphlets he convinced the ratings not to consider an Englishman as a enemy. He made ratings understood that an Englishman is also a citizen of the world as like them. In England he was a good man, but in India, he could not tolerate their rise whereas they could not in India tolerate his rule here. He appealed not to shed their blood unnecessarily to a foreigner. It would be shed only for their motherland who stands the first for it. Dutt knew it that it was not an easy job to obtain freedom from the strong despots and monarchs. India was enslaved by sword and military and she was to be set free by sword and forces. To awake the ratings of RIN he made them aware towards their rights. In a pamphlet having titled “A thought for the day” he compared the conditions of British and Indian ratings. The main motive bhind this act was to awake them towards their rights and make them realized that they were a slave that is why they were getting such type of treatment. He made them understood that india could not be free unless they did not know about their rights. In pamphlets he also narrated the glorious story of the INA and its Neta Ji. He explained about their motive, heroic deeds and defeat also. He told the ratings that glorious defeat is honourable than the cowardice victory. Dutt appealed all the ratings to be considered themselves as “Azad Hindi” from the day and act such as.
Act of sabotage
Dutt chose the Navy Day on December 1st 1945 as the curtain raiser for the first act of sabotage because the civil population was invited for the first time in the history of RIN to visit ships as well as the shore establishments and the authorities wanted to present a Navy spick and span and the ships dressed with flags and bunting.
Talwar was not unguarded at night. Besides the permanent and regular sentries at the main gate, there were half of dozen more sentries patrolling the grounds and the barracks throughout the night. Fortunately half of sentries for middle watch (12 to 4 am) were from Azad Hindi.The night became a witness to the organizing ability of the conspirators. The TALWAR meant as an exhibit before an admiring Bombay public, was a shambles. The parade ground was littered with burnt flags and bunting; brooms and buckets were prominently displayed from the masthead. Political slogans in foot-high letters were staring from every wall: ‘Quit India’, ‘Down with the Imperialists’, ‘Revolt Now’, ‘Kill the British’’. Nothing ever like it had happened before. For the ratings the slogans mirrored their feelings.
The operation was so well executed that no arrest could be made. The authorities also preferred not to make too much fuss over the incident. After the Navy Day success, scores of ratings became their adherents and chain of events had been started. R.K. Singh a member of Dutt’s group sent up his resignation. At that time men in RIN could not resign. They were dismissed, demobed or retired. Singh was charge-sheeted for sending in his resignation. When he was brought before the commanding officer, Singh threw his cap on the ground and kicked it, signifying his utter contempt for the crown and the service. The news of Singh’s defiance reached the barracks in due course. To many ratings he became a martyr.
Commander-in-chief’s visit to the TALWAR was announced for February 2, 1946. This was his first visit to TALWAR. Dutt and his group decided that this was an occasion for a better show than the one they had put up for Navy Day. “Jai Hind” and “Quit India” were painted on the platform from which the C-in-C was to take the salute. But Dutt had to be content with painting a few more slogans and pasting a few seditious leaflets on the barrack walls. He had got these leaflets cyclostyled and smuggled inside the TALWAR earlier. The message in the leaflet was a call to the conscience of the ratings.
The sentries discovered the slogans on the platform about 5 a.m. The gum bottle was the clue. Perhaps the whole watch consisting of four trainees had noticed him walking out of the room with the gum bottle. The officer came looking for him. When dutt’s locker was opened for inspection, mimeographed copies of “Indian Mutiny of 1857” by Ashok Mehta, his diaries, the copies of the leaflet he had distributed and some incriminating letters were discovered.
The Navy did not want to produce its own mini INA scandal. Meanwhile, the Bombay Press had carried the news of Dutt’s arrest along with his photograph on the front page. Exaggerated versions of his heroics before Commander King and the admiral’s committee inspired many others on the Talwar to individual acts of sabotage. Slogans began to appear on every wall. Some vehicles from the TALWAR with anti-British slogans brazenly painted on both sides were inadvertently driven through the city. These vehicles were used to fetch, each morning, milk and rations from a depot. Even commander King’s car did not escape attention. These were the work of ratings inspired by Dutt’s activities over the last few months which led to the mutiny on 18th february of 1946.