Saturday, August 8, 2015

CONTRIBUTION OF THE ARMED FORCES TO THE FREEDOM MOVEMENT IN INDIA - JUBBULPORE 1946

CHAPTER - 9

THE JUBBULPORE MUTINY – 1946



The mutiny at Jubbulpore took place between 27 February and 3 March 1946, about two weeks after the Naval mutiny at Bombay. The men who participated in the mutiny were all Indian Signal Corps personnel posted at the Signal Training Centre at Jubbulpore (now called Jabalpur). According to official sources, 1716 men were involved in the mutiny. The immediate provocation for the revolt was the firing on the naval ratings at Bombay and the harsh punishments awarded to the INA prisoners after the trials at the Red Fort. The men also had certain grievances concerning pay, food and accommodation that they placed before their superior officers and were agitated when these were not heard. The uprising was peaceful and the participants did not resort to violence of any kind. Like the naval mutiny at Bombay and Karachi, the Jubbulpore revolt was put down with an iron hand, by using British troops. There was no firing, but a bayonet charge that left about 70 men injured, and three dead.

Though the mutiny at Jubbulpore was at that time not considered as ‘serious’ as the Naval mutiny, its repercussions were immense. The earlier revolts in the RIAF and RIN, though more widespread and larger in scale, did not really worry the British authorities, because the Indian Army, on which they depended for meeting external and internal threats was still considered reliable, having proved its fidelity during World War II. The mutiny at Jubbulpore was the first major uprising in the Indian Army during or after the war. This set alarm bells ringing from Delhi to London, and doubts began to be expressed on the steadfastness of the Indian Army. Ultimately, it forced Britain to reach a settlement with the political parties and quit India.

            After the end of World War II there was feeling of uncertainty among soldiers, with the threat of demobilisation and loss of livelihood being matters of serious concern. The return of a large number of troops from British colonies in South-East Asia aggravated the situation, with military stations in India overwhelmed with troops for whom there was little work and no accommodation. This led to severe overcrowding and a fall in standards of hygiene, food and discipline, the latter due to lack of employment. During the war, most of the men had been serving in operational areas, remaining ignorant or unaware of the political situation in the country. The demands for independence from British rule escalated after the 1942 Quit India agitation, and the end of the war raised expectations in the minds of the public that freedom was imminent. Most of the men went home on leave for the first time after the war, and learned of the momentous political events that had taken place during the last three or four years. The INA trials also played a part in kindling among soldiers ‘political consciousness’, of which they had no earlier experience. 
           
In February 1946, there were two major establishments of the Indian Signal Corps at Jubbulpore. The first was the Signal Training Centre (STC) comprising No. 1 Signal Training Battalion (Military) and 2 & 3 Signal Battalions (Technical). The second was the Indian Signal Depot & Records, which comprised the Indian Signals Depot; the Indian Signals Demobilisation Centre and the Indian Signals Records. The Commandant of the STC was Colonel L.C. Boyd, while Colonel R.T.H. Gelston, commanded the Depot & Records. Both these establishments came under the Jubbulpore Area, commanded by Brigadier H.U. Richards, who also commanded 17 Indian Infantry Brigade. The Area came under the General Officer Commanding Nagpur District, Major General F.H. Skinner, with his headquarters at Nagpur. Headquarters Central Command was then located at Agra.
           
            Conditions at Jubbulpore were no different from those at other military stations, except that the men, being mostly from technical trades, were more educated. Many of the men undergoing long training courses were not sure whether they would be retained or sent home in the next few months. The delay in announcement of a clear policy on demobilisation had created an air of uncertainty and restlessness, which could not remain unnoticed. On 27 November 1945, Colonel Boyd had written to the Organisation Directorate in General Headquarters (India), bringing this to their notice. He wrote: 1

It is for consideration whether the present policy of continuing to put men under lengthy courses of training, irrespective of the time they are likely to remain in the Army, is not extremely wasteful both of instructors’ time and Government..… Among these men unsettlement and lack of interest in their work are already noticeable, since they think they will be released form the Army before their course finishes. It should also be noted that it is the highly educated men such as are enrolled for Group ‘A’ trades that are keenest to leave the Army at the earliest possible moment in order to obtain highly remunerative employment.….To carry on with Workshops and Operator training in these circumstances seems to be a waste of time. The unsettlement in squads already referred to is having an adverse effect on training …


It was almost three months before General Headquarters (India), replied to Colonel Boyd’s letter, ordering the immediate release of one thousand recruits then under training at the Indian Signal Training Centre at Jubbulpore and Bangalore.3 By the time the orders reached the STC the mutiny had started. Referring to the letter in his report to the Area Headquarters after the mutiny, Colonel Boyd lamented: ‘It is unfortunate that the decision contained therein could not have been come to earlier’.3 


            Even if the decision to release the thousand men had been taken earlier, it would have been difficult for the Signal Training Centres to cope with such large numbers. The Signals Depot was then not authorised a demob centre; it was making do with an ad hoc demob centre that had a capacity to release only 70 persons in a day. The staff of the depot was already overworked and the additional load would have stretched them to the limit. The severe overcrowding and unsatisfactory living conditions only added to the unrest. The shortage of staff affected management of security in the area, and the men had free access to civilian areas. The Signal Training Centre, Depot and Records employed large numbers of civilians, through whom political developments found their way into the military camp and the idle minds of the men, easily converting them into ‘devils’ workshops’.

            At that time, units were given cash to purchase condiments, which were not being supplied with rations. There had been a delay in purchase of condiments with the resultant deterioration in the quality of food being prepared in the langars (Other Ranks messes in the Indian Army are generally called thus. The term is taken from the free kitchen in a gurudwara, the place of worship for Sikhs). The personnel responsible for purchasing condiments were often corrupt, and the quantity and quality of condiments was much below the prescribed standards. This applied also to the rations supplied to the men through the supply depot manned by the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. Other then rations, even other stores and amenities authorised to the men were frequently pilfered. The general standard of the men’s cookhouses, living quarters, bathrooms and urinals was poor. Unlike in operational units, there was very little contact between the officers and the men, whose grievances often went unnoticed or unredressed. The quality of Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCOs) and Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) posted in instructional appointments in the STC was usually good, but the same could not be said of the supervisory staff responsible for administration, some of whom had been in Jubbulpore for several years, developing a callous attitude towards the men and their problems.

            A feature unique to technical arms such as the Indian Signal Corps was the presence of a large number of British soldiers in every unit and establishment. Before the war, most of the technical trades in the Indian Signal Corps were open only to British Other Ranks (BOR), with Indian Other Ranks being eligible for the ‘lower’ trades such as operator visual, despatch rider, lineman, MT driver etc. Before the war, the Indian Signal Corps comprised about two thousand BOR, with the number of IOR being almost twice that number. When the war ended, the number of BOR had gone up ten times to almost twenty thousand, while the number of IOR had grown thirty times to sixty thousand. The rapid expansion of the Corps necessitated several new trades being opened to Indians, who began to be recruited as mechanics, operators and electricians. By the end of the war Indians were employed in all jobs that were being done earlier by Europeans, the exception being ciphers, which was not opened to Indians until Independence.  Though IOR were now doing the same job as BOR, there was considerable disparity in their status – BOR did not salute Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCOs) - salaries, rations and living conditions. This naturally irked the Indians, who saw no reason for this discrimination.  

A seemingly inconsequential cause for discontent was the bad quality of gur (jaggery) being supplied to the troops by resorting to local purchase. This had been officially reported to the Centre Headquarters on 25 February 1946. However, the decision on the complaint or the progress was not communicated to the men. On 26 February a number of notices were seen pasted on the company notice boards in the lines of the Demob Centre and No. 4 Depot Company. Some notices had ‘Jai Hind’ written on them, while others called upon all Indian Other Ranks to cease work and, if necessary, shed blood.  The notices were seen in the morning by Lieutenant Colonel E.W. Anderson, Officer Commanding Indian Signals Depot, who reported this to the Commandant, Colonel R.T.H. Geltson. Viewing the situation as serious, Colonel Gelston immediately sought an interview with the Area Commander, to report on an ‘Intelligence’ matter. At 3 pm, Colonel Gelston and Lieutenant Colonel Anderson met the Area Commander and apprised him of the notices. In the evening, all officers were called for a conference and explained the developments. At about 6 pm all IOR of Records were paraded and the Company Commander, Captain DS Garewal, addressed them, in the presence of Lieutenant Colonel Anderson and the Officer in Charge Records, Lieutenant Colonel C.M. Macdonald. The men were calm during the address, and there was no untoward incident.

The mutiny started at about 9.20 am on 27 February 1946 in ‘G’ Company of No. 2 Signal Training Battalion. The first works parade was held at 7 am as usual, and the men were drilled. All officers attended the parade which ended at about 8.30 am, when everyone broke off for breakfast. Soon after breakfast, about 200 men, mainly workshop trainees, formed up in the lines of the unit, just before the second works parade was due to fall in. Most of them were in uniform, carrying flags of the Congress and Muslim League. They formed a procession and marched out of the unit, shouting slogans of ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. The Senior Viceroy Commissioned Officer of the unit, Subedar Major and Honorary Captain Ahmed Khan, asked them to halt, but they did not listen to him. Khan immediately telephoned the Adjutant, who was having breakfast in the Officers Mess. The Adjutant told the Subedar Major that Major C.C. Tucker, the officiating Commanding Officer, had left the mess about five minutes earlier and he should await his arrival in the office. He also informed Major D.C. Dashfield and Captain J. Knowles, Company Commander and Training Officer respectively of ‘G’ Company, who were in the mess with him. Collecting another officer, Captain M.B. Myers, they left for the unit area on bicycles.

Information about the crowd collecting and shouting slogans in front of the guard room of No 2 Signal Training Battalion had also reached Colonel Gelston, whose office was located just a hundred yards away.  Gelston saw the crowd leave the unit area and move along Peter’s Path, which led towards No. 3 Signal Training Battalion and the Signals Depot. He telephoned the Area Headquarters and also the Depot, warning them that that the crowd might come that way. The Depot Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson, was then in his bungalow. When Gelston rang him up, he told him that he had called for a 15-cwt. vehicle and was planning to come to his office, to report that notices had again been seen during the morning parade. Gelston informed Anderson of the developments, and asked him to pick him up from his office, so that they could both go and see what was happening.

Meanwhile, the procession was proceeding on Peter’s Path, along Napier Road to the lines of No. 3 Signal Training Battalion. Major Tucker was cycling to his office when he met the crowd. Having failed in his attempt to stop them, he cycled ahead and warned No. 3 Signal Training Battalion of their approach. The four officers of No. 2 Signal Training Battalion had also reached the unit, and the Adjutant telephoned No. 3 Signal Training Battalion. Major Dashfield and Captain Knowles got into a 3-ton lorry and drove towards the crowd al full speed. Having been warned of the approach of the procession, No. 3 Signal Training Battalion had turned out its guard. But the crowd brushed it aside, and entered the unit area, sweeping Major Tucker off his bicycle. When Major Dashfield and Captain Knowles caught up with him, he ordered them to go after the crowd and halt them. Noticing that the crowd was about to leave 3 Signal Training Battalion near the Boys’ Company, they halted the truck and went towards the mob. When Major Dashfield asked them to stop, one of them said, ‘we have demands’. Captain Knowles, who had his back towards the crowd, was hit three times by stones. Enveloping the officers, the crowd continued on its way.

Colonel Gelston and Lieutenant Colonel Anderson reached the crowd as they were coming out of No. 3 Signal Training Battalion. They were soon joined by Major Dashfield and Captain Knowles. The four officers got out of their vehicles and tried to stop the men, who just rushed past them and marched through the Depot. They were very excited and seemed completely out of hand, shouting slogans and waving party flags. Lieutenant Colonel Anderson kept moving with the head of the column while Colonel Gelston got in the truck and asked the driver to start. The truck was soon surrounded by the mutineers and some even tried to get in. Gelston ordered the driver to keep moving forward slowly. At one stage the driver’s foot slipped off the pedal and the truck bounded forward, knocking over two men. Due to the heavy rush, even Anderson was almost run over. After this, the truck was stopped and Anderson got in. Both officers then made their way to the Depot.

 Realising that they would not be able to stop the procession on their own, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson collected about15 men and issued them with rifles. He also armed Dashfield and Knowles with pistols and the party moved in a lorry towards the procession, which had already passed through the Depot. Overtaking the crowd on the Outram Road about 200 yards from the Nerbudda Junction, they halted the lorry with the men keeping their rifles at the aim. The officers dismounted and Anderson threatened to shoot if the men did not stop. Hearing this, the men in the crowd bared their chests and dared him to open fire. The three officers were literally thrust out of the way and the crowd turned off the Nerbudda Road towards Gorakhpur and headed for the city.

Two Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers of ‘G’ Company followed the crowd and attempted to fid out their complaints. The main grievances of the men were: 4
·                     Differences in pay between IORs & BORS.
·                     Poor quality of rations.
·                     Why was fire opened on RIN ratings?
·                     Why were two INA officers sentenced to seven years RI when       others were merely cashiered?
     
Undeterred by the attempts to stop them the crowd proceeded towards the city. Having reached Tilak Bhumi, Tillaya, they stopped and held a meeting, where speeches were made by some of the men highlighting their grievances. There was a lot of slogan shouting and waving of flags of Congress and Muslim League. Some of them went to the local office of the Congress Party and sought the help of the local political leaders. An officer from the Intelligence Branch of Area Headquarters and some officers from the Signal Training Centre also went to the venue in civil dress and noted down the names of the prominent persons taking an active part in the meeting and discussions.

            The news of the incident spread quickly. There was considerable tension in the city and shopkeepers closed their shops. However, the meeting was peaceful and there was no violence or unruly behaviour by the men. At about 4.15 pm they started back for the unit. By this time the military authorities had mobilised two companies of 27 Jat and two ID (Internal Disturbance) companies of the Signal Training Centre in case force was required to carry out arrests. But the crowd entered the lines peacefully and sat down in the battalion area. The troops earmarked for effecting arrests were therefore asked to stand down. The ID companies, which had taken over the main guard, kot (armoury) and magazine guard were later relieved by the Jat troops. The ‘ring-leaders’, whose names had been noted down by the Area Intelligence Officer and by other officers from Signal Training Centre, were asked to fall out when their names were called, which they did without any protest.  Major C.C. Tucker, the officiating Commanding Officer of No. 2 Signal Training Battalion, ordered a Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer to march the ringleaders to the main quarter guard. Sensing what was going to happen next, the others pulled them back into the crowd.

Soon afterwards, the Commandant, Colonel L.C. Boyd arrived, followed by the Area Commander, who addressed the men. He told them that they were all under arrest, but assured them that he would forward their grievances to higher authorities. They fell in and were marched to the Signal Training Centre Cage where the Commandant noted down their demands, which were as under:- 5
·                     Increase of basic pay
·                     Increase of rations
·                     Better accommodation
·                     Equal treatment with British Other Ranks
·                     Speedier demobilisation
·                     Protest against speeches of the Commander-in-Chief and Admiral Godfrey - the passage that if Indian Army soldiers are indisciplined every force would be used against them
·                     Release of all INA prisoners including Captain Rashid and Burhanuddin.
·                     Unnecessary to spend one crore on Victory celebrations when there is food crisis in India
·                     Ready to work if the demands are put forward. We did no indiscipline while out. Pray no action against us.

After taking down their grievances the Commandant spoke to the men and left. When the afternoon parade was dismissed a number of men of No. 2 Signal Training Battalion approached the cage and started milling around shouting words of encouragement. Those who wished to join their friends inside the cage were allowed to do so and the rest were ordered to return, which they did. After dark the same thing occurred. The men inside the cage refused food and bedding. When the Commandant came to know of this he entered the cage and spoke to the men, after which they agreed to eat food and accepted bedding. Apart from sporadic slogans, the night passed without incident. 

            By early next morning, a British battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry had arrived in Jubbulpore. A party of about 80 men from No. 2 Signal Training Battalion assembled in the unit at 7 am and began moving along the same route that had been taken by their colleagues on the previous day, but before they could cover any substantial distance, they were intercepted by a platoon of the British battalion. When addressed by various officers, a few of them agreed to return to work but the remainder were left on the roadside under the guard of British troops.

            At 9 am No. 2 Signal Training Battalion was paraded.  Major Tucker and Colonel Boyd addressed the men and asked to return to work. Though the men remained orderly they refused, saying that they could not do so because their comrades were in custody. If they were let out, they would all go back to work. They were asked to return to their lines and remain quiet, which they readily agreed to do. At about 10 am personnel of No. 3 Signal Training Battalion became restive, and about 100 men joined the clerks of the Records and sat down with them, demanding the release of the men inside the cage. Some officers and Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers tried to talk them out of this demand, but very few responded. A few men from the ID companies who had been asked to stand down took off their equipment and joined the crowd.

 The District Commander, Major General Skinner arrived to get a first hand account of the events. In consultation with the Area Commander and the Commandant Signal Training Centre, a plan was made to arrest the ringleaders. The officiating Commanding Officer and the Subedar Major would enter the cage to reason with the men and try to effect the arrests placidly. If this were to fail, then the ringleaders would be pointed out to the Company Commander of the Somerset Light Infantry, who would make the arrests forcibly. Major Tucker, Lieutenant Waugh and Subedar Major Khan entered the cage and reasoned with the men for over an hour without success. The Second-in-Command of 27 Jat and Lieutenant Colonel Poonoose, an Indian officer who had been called from Katni, then entered the cage and spent another hour, but failed to induce the ringleaders to give themselves up. There was no recourse left except the use of force.

            About 80 soldiers of the Somerset Light Infantry entered the Cage, with bayonets fixed on their rifles. A few of the men were physically removed, amidst a lot of shouting. Faced with the bayonets of the British troops, the crowd retreated to one corner of the cage, which gave way under the weight of sheer numbers. A large number managed to escape through the gap, while the remainder were involved a scuffle with the British troops. Many sustained injuries from bayonets and some were trampled in the stampede. The injured were immediately removed to the hospital. Some of the men who escaped rushed towards the city but others who were very frightened hid in huts in the lines or in the local countryside. Information about the escapees was conveyed to the police and the civil authorities, with a request to arrest them and bring them back at the earliest.

            The news of the bayonet charge spread like wild fire in the Signal Training Centre and at many places the men came out and demonstrated against this, resulting in some more arrests. At 6 pm 14 men returned voluntarily, followed by some more in smaller groups of two or three. They were all placed under arrest and put in the guardroom. At about 7.30 pm information was received from the local police that about 200 men who had been rounded up by them were being returned in police lorries. The District Commander and Commandant Signal Training Centre met these men when they arrived. The injured were sent to the hospital while the rest were sent to the Jat lines. Meanwhile, about 100 men of No.  3 Signal Training Battalion continued to sit in the Records lines.

While events had taken a serious turn in the Signal Training Centre on 28 February 1946, things were far from normal in the Depot and Records. In the morning about 200 clerks of the Records collected near 4 Company lines and marched towards the Depot Battalion. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Anderson, turned out his Internal Defence Company and followed them, accompanied by his Second-in-Command and Captain D.S. Garewal of Signals Records. They met the crowd of mutineers on the bridge near the Indian Military Hospital. A column of the Somerset Light Infantry had also arrived and was lined up on the Outram Road opposite the hospital. Lieutenant Colonel Anderson spoke to the men and asked them what they wanted. On being told that they had several grievances he asked them to return to their lines and hand over their grievances, which he promised to take up with the authorities. After some hesitation they agreed and followed him to the lines, where they sat down and narrated their grievances, which were noted down and handed over to the Area Commander when he arrived soon afterwards to address the men.  Lieutenant Colonel Anderson again spoke to the men and asked them to return to work but they refused.

A company of the Somerset Light Infantry had been placed around the lines of No. 4 Company. With the help of some British soldiers, the Brigade Major of 17 Indian Infantry Brigade, Major K.B. Langdon, arrested four Indian Other Ranks who were then marched away. After these arrests and the departure of the Area Commander, about 100 men of No. 3 Signal Training Battalion rushed into the 4 Company lines and joined the mutineers, accompanied by a lot of shouting.  Lieutenant Colonel C.M. Macdonald, the Officer-in-Charge Records and Captain Macfarlane, Adjutant No. 3 Signal Training Battalion tried to quieten the men. After about ten minutes the newly arrived recruits sat down behind the mutineers already seated there. Some more officers from No. 3 Signal Training Battalion arrived and tried to persuade their men to return to their lines but failed. The total number of mutineers present in No.4 Company had now swelled to almost 350. The Commandant Indian Signals Depot and Records, Colonel Gelston spoke to them about their grievances and promised to do all that could be done to remove them. The men also demanded the release of the four men arrested earlier and the removal of British troops. At 4 pm the British troops were withdrawn without any visible reaction from the mutineers. The night of 28 February passed off without any further incident.

In the early hours of 1 March 1946, about 150 Other Ranks from 3 Signal Training Battalion left their lines and marched in a procession towards Sadar Bazar, shouting slogans and waving flags. This information was conveyed to Area Headquarters, which ordered a company from Somerset Light Infantry to proceed to the garrison ground, where the crowd was reported to have be headed for. At 7.30 am the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel R.B.S. Eraut, the Adjutant, Captain Facfarlane and Jemadar Natesan, a Madrassi Mussalman interpreter, proceeded to the Garrison Ground but found no trace of the procession. Colonel Eraut went to the Area Headquarters, while Captain Facfarlane and Jemadar Natesan searched for the crowd in the city and the cantonment, without success. On their return to the unit they discovered that 24 men from the Internal Disturbance Company had joined the procession. The Commanding Officer ordered the Internal Disturbance Company to stand down, and the British guard to take over.

At about 9 am information was received that the procession was coming back in an endeavour to mobilise the remainder of the unit. The Commanding Officer positioned a few officers and Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers to meet the procession when it reached the lines and divert them to the football ground. The Commandant reached the unit shortly before the arrival of the procession at 9.45 am. Efforts to guide them to the football ground failed and they moved towards the staging camp. They were stopped en route and the Commanding Officer began to address them. At first he was shouted down but eventually succeeded in making them sit down and listen. The Commandant then addressed the men and listened to their points. Since it was the morning break the rest of No. 3 Signal Training Battalion also gathered round to listen. After the Commandant left for the Area Headquarters, the Commanding Officer ordered the unit to parade for normal work. This order was not immediately obeyed but after about twenty minutes all the men less the demonstrators returned to work. At about 11.30 am Lieutenant Colonel Poonoose arrived and addressed the men for over an hour, after which a few of them returned to work. It appeared that many more were willing but were being prevented by the leaders.

At about 13.15 pm the Subedar Major reported to the Commanding Officer that the demonstrators were requesting permission to go to the cook house and have their food, and promised to return to normal duties after that. The Commanding Officer agreed making it clear that the normal course of military law would be followed. Shortly after this the Subedar Major accompanied by 11 men left for the Records lines in order to persuade the party of mutineers from No. 3 Signal Training Battalion who were sitting there to return. He came back after 30 minutes and reported that he had not only failed in convincing the mutineers but had lost two men of this party, who had been persuaded to join them. After lunch, all the men except for those still in Records attended the afternoon works parade.

The situation in No. 4 Company of Records on 1 March continued to be tense. Captain Garewal, the Company Commander attended the first works parade at 8 am and found only two men present. The mutineers were still sitting between the first and second barracks, where they had been the previous day. Most of them were seated in orderly ranks, with a few standing around and talking. At about 10.30 pm they became noisy and began to form a procession, taking down several Congress and Muslim League flags from the open ground between the barracks and the road where they had been erected the previous day. However, there were many among them who shouted to the men to stay in the lines, and the procession broke up into small groups.  At about midday the flags were re-erected. Shortly afterwards a deputation led by the Subedar Major of No. 3 Signal Training Battalion arrived to persuade their men to return. There was a heated discussion followed by a lot of pulling and pushing, and some men were physically prevented from going back.

At the second works parade, not a single man fell in on the parade ground. The Officer-in-Charge Records was informed that some men would go to work individually but were afraid to come to the parade ground. At about 4.15 pm, Colonel Gelston and Lieutenant Colonel Poonoose arrived and met the men. Poonoose spoke to men with all officers present, and later alone. At 5.45 pm, Colonel Gelston and Lieutenant Colonel Poonoose left to meet the Area Commander. At the Roll Call parade at 6 pm, 41 men were present. The rest of the men were still sitting between the two barracks, but were quiet.

The previous day’s incidents had been reported in several newspapers and there was considerable resentment at the bayonet charge on the Indian soldiers. According to the newspapers, three men had been killed, while 70 were injured in the bayonet charge. The District Magistrate, Mr. E.S. Hyde declared Jubbulpore Cantonment a restricted area, and the entry of civilians was banned. Notices to this effect were pasted at prominent places and also announced by the beat of drum. Headquarters Jubbulpore Area had also issued instructions confining all troops to lines. Another infantry battalion, the First Royal Gurkha Rifles (1 RGR) had also arrived.

On 2 March 1946, Lieutenant Colonel Poonoose again spoke to the mutineers in Records and No.3 Signal Training Battalion. He reported that he had failed to make any headway and found that some men who had appeared to be amenable the previous day were now obdurate. During the day, a message from Major General F.H. Skinner, General Officer Commanding Nagpur District was read out to all ranks, in English and Urdu. Making it clear that the action of the men who had collectively absented themselves from their lines without permission amounted to mutiny, it went on to assure that there would be no mass punishment and ‘justice would be tempered with mercy’. The message also appreciated the conduct of those who had remained staunch to their duty in the ‘face of provocation and bad example’.6

During the day, conditions improved. In No. 2 Signal Training Battalion, all men reported for the first works parade except for nine, who also reported after half an hour. In No. 3  Signal Training Battalion all men resumed duties except for the 100 men in Records and those detained in the Jat lines. Major Dashfield visited the Jat lines with some Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers and tried to bring back some of the men, but they refused to come unless the ringleaders were released as well. Colonel Gelston and Lieutenant Colonel Poonoose visited the mutineers in Records in the morning at 7.30 am. Poonoose spoke to them for about half an hour but found them in the same frame of mind. He noticed that some men whom he had spoken to the previous day were missing, and suspected that they had been forcibly prevented from attending his talk.

At 12.30 pm, Captain Garewal read out the District Commander’s message, twice in Urdu and once in English, using a pubic address system. Everyone heard this in silence. During the afternoon, all was quiet and there was no shouting of slogans. At the evening roll call, 268 men were present.  At 9 pm, the mutineers announced that they were willing to end the mutiny. They burned their flags and started reporting at the office, where their names were noted down. The 100 men of No. 3 Signal Training battalion returned to their lines. By 11 pm, it appeared that all mutineers had surrendered, except the ones in the Jat lines.

On 3 March 1946 a roll call parade was held in all units at 9 am. Immediately afterwards some ringleaders were arrested and sent to the Jat lines. Troops of 17 Indian Infantry Brigade had placed a cordon around the lines. The Area Commander and Commandant Signal Training Centre visited the mutineers in the Jat lines. They said that they were willing to come back if all of them were released. The ringleaders among them had been segregated and without them the others refused to return to their units. During the next two days, the situation improved, but was still far from normal. The men in the Jat lines refused to come out until their leaders were released. There were no incidents on 4 and 5 March and normal parades were held in the units. On 7 March all the men in the Jat lines returned. On reaching their units they staged a protest for the release of the ringleaders, threatening to go on strike again if this was not done. However, the threat did not materialise and there were no untoward incidents after 7 March 1946.  The mutiny was over.

The mutiny had shocked the military establishment, especially the British officers who had always believed that the Indian soldier would never rebel. The reasons for the disaffection were quickly analysed and remedial measures taken. The District Commander issued instructions to all concerned to improve the standard of food and accommodation. Lieutenant Colonel Cassani from the Welfare General’s Branch visited the lines of the Indian Signals Depot on 6 March 1946 and submitted a detailed report at General Headquarters (India). The report brought to light the pathetic conditions under which the Indian troops lived. After it was found that some officers, Viceroy’s commissioned officers and non commissioned officers had spent almost eight to ten years at Jubbulpore, those who had been there for over two years were immediately posted out. The number of Indian officers was increased, so that they could understand the problems of Indian troops.

Disciplinary action taken against those who participated in the mutiny was severe and swift. Those against whom there was even the slightest inkling were punished. Most of them were charged under Indian Army Act Section 27 (a) – ‘joining, exciting, causing or conspiring in a mutiny’ – and Army Act Section 27 (b) – ‘being present at a mutiny and not using his utmost endeavours to suppress the same’.  A total of 85 men were found to have been actively involved in the mutiny. Eighteen men were tried by Summary General Court Martial, of which 15 were sentenced to dismissal and imprisonment ranging from one to three years, with three being acquitted. Seven men were dismissed without trial and 19 discharged without terminal benefits. In addition, 41 were  discharged from service on administrative grounds – services no longer required  - without any enquiry or investigation. Many more were sent home merely on suspicion and the statements of Viceroy’s and non commissioned officers that were considered loyal by British officers. Most of these men had put in long years of service and fought in World War II. They did not get any pension or gratuity and many lived and died in penury. Their pleas for redress fell on deaf years as instructions were also issued not to entertain any petition or appeal unless Army Headquarters recommended it. Old records contain several letters that bring out the pathetic state of these unfortunate soldiers, who remained true to their salt and helped the British win the Second World War. Having implicit faith in the British sense of fair play and justice, they were surprised and disappointed at the treatment they received at the hands of the Government of the day.

            Though bad food and living conditions were the major reasons behind the mutiny at Jubbulpore, it had a political tinge right from the beginning. The firing on the naval ratings at Bombay and the punishments awarded to the officers of the Indian National Army were included in the list of grievances given by the mutineers on the first day itself. Throughout the revolt, the participants carried flags of the Congress and the Muslim League and shouted slogans such as ‘Jai Hind’ and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’. On 27 and 28 February they contacted local political leaders and sought their help. The local Congress leaders visited the mutineers under detention in the Jat lines and persuaded them to give up their resistance. They were shown a letter from Maulana Azad, the Congress President, asking them to resume work.7

During a press conference on 3 March 1946, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru referred o the Jubbulpore mutiny, and said, ‘…the men ... have remained completely peaceful…The demands were for better treatment in regard to rations, amenities etc, and equality of treatment between Indian and British soldiers. There were also some political demands… Such demands should not normally be made on the basis of a strike… We have seen recently strikes by American and British servicemen’.8

Seth Govind Das of the Congress Party raised the matter in the Central Assembly in Delhi on 15 March 1946. In his reply, the War Secretary, Mr. Philip Mason gave the official version of the case. According to him, 1,716 persons were involved in the mutiny. He accepted that thirty-five persons had been wounded of whom eight had bayonet wounds with remainder having minor injuries from barbed wire or contusions. Only two persons were seriously injured and there were no deaths. However, he denied that there was any firing or bayonet charge. According to him, some persons had sustained bayonet wounds when they attempted to overpower the troops that had been called in to arrest the ringleaders. Mr. Ahmad Jaffar of the Muslim League suggested that a couple of members of the Defence Consultative Committee should be associated with the Inquiry, but this was rejected by the War Secretary, who contended that this was a service inquiry under the Indian Army Act, and it would be quite illegal to associate non-officials. 9

The Army mutiny at Jubbulpore followed the mutinies in the Royal Indian Air Force and the Royal Indian Navy. It is pertinent to remember that one of the compelling reasons for the departure of the British from India was the apprehension that the loyalty of Indian Armed Forces was doubtful. Due to obvious reason, the staunchness of the Army was more worrisome than that of the other two services. On 5 September 1946, in a note by the Commander-in-Chief on the military aspects of the plan to withdraw from India, General Auchinleck was to record, ‘The importance of keeping the Indian Army steady is emphasised. It is the one disciplined force in which communal interests are subordinated to duty, and on it depends the stability of the country.  The steadiness of the R.I.N. and the R.I.A.F. is of lesser import but any general disaffection in them is likely seriously to affect the reliability of the Army.’10

The mutiny in the Signal Training Centre and the Indian Signal Corps Depot and Records at Jubbulpore was only major uprising in the Indian Army after the end of World War II. It was also the last uprising by soldiers under the British Raj. In a sense, it was the proverbial ‘last straw’ that broke the camel’s back. Fearful of the effect it might have on the rest of the Army, news about the mutiny was deliberately suppressed. Having occurred in a small town, it was almost ignored by the national newspapers based in Delhi and Bombay. The Corps of Signals also chose to ignore the mutiny, even after Independence, and old timers talked about it only in hushed voices. Many officers were worried about the stigma associated with a mutiny, which has always been regarded as the most heinous of military offences. The fact that the Corps of Signals continued to be headed by a British officer up to 1954 may have played a part in this. Strangely enough, no record of the Jubbulpore mutiny exists in the National Archives or the Historical Section of the Ministry of Defence. As a result, it has been ignored by military historians as well those who have written about the freedom struggle. The men involved in the mutiny have also suffered – unlike the participants in the naval mutiny, they have not been classified as freedom fighters.










ENDNOTES


This chapter is largely based on N. Mansergh and Penderel Moon’s The Transfer of Power (London, 1982); Lt Gen. S.L. Menezes’ Fidelity and Honour (New Delhi, 1993); and various files and documents in the Corps of Signals Museum, Jabalpur.  Specific references are given below:-


1.         STC to GHQ (I), 27 Nov. 1945, Signals Museum (SM), Jabalpur, 242-C, fol. 94

2.         GHQ (I) to Comdt. ISC Depot & Records, 21 Feb 1946, (SM), 242-C, fol.92

3.         STC to Jubbulpore Area, 9 Mar. 1946, (SM), 242-C, fol.93

4.         STC to Jubbulpore Area, 27 Feb. 1946, (SM), 242-C, fol.134

5.         Appx. ‘B’ to  STC to Jubbulpore Area, 8 Mar 1946, (SM), 242-C, fol.95    

6.         Richards to Boyd, Gelston and Anderson, 1 Mar 1946, (SM), 242-C, fol. 58

7.         Dipak Kumar Das, Revisiting Talwar, (Delhi, 1993), p. 294

8          Lt Gen. S.L. Menezes, Fidelity and Honour (New Delhi, 1993), p. 404

9.         Statement of Mr. Philip Mason, ICS, War Secretary, in the Central Legislative Assembly on 15 March 1946.

10.       N. Mansergh and Penderel Moon (ed.), The Transfer of Power (12 vols, London, 1982), viii, p.462


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