THE STC MUTINY - 1946
In February 1946, there was a mutiny at the STC, Jubbulpore. It was by no means the first such incident in the Indian Army. Starting with the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857, Indian troops had often rebelled against British authority. Even during World War II, there were several revolts and mutinies, the most well-known being the Suez Canal Army Revolt (1943); the Ambala Cantt. Army Revolt (1943); the Jhansi Regiment Case (1940) and the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny (1946), the last one having occurred less than two weeks prior to the Jubbulpore mutiny. Then there were the troops who joined the Indian National Army (INA) after being captured by the Japanese or deserting their units. These were classified as Japanese Inspired Forces (JIF) by the British authorities.
At that time, there were two major establishments of the ISC 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 Hutchins, which in turn came under the GOC Nagpur District, Major General Skinner, with his headquarters at Nagpur. HQ Central Command was then located at Agra.
The mutiny started at 0920 hours on 27 February 1946. (The personnel involved referred to their action as a strike). About 200 men, mainly workshop trainees from G Company of 2 Signal Training Battalion formed up in the lines of the unit, just before the second works parade was due to fall in. Shouting slogans, they marched through the unit to the lines of 3 Signal Training Battalion, brushing past the Company Commander and Subedar Major who tried to stop them near the Quarter Guard. Marching through the Depot, they proceeded towards the city shouting ‘Jai Hind’(glory to India) and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’(long live freedom), and waving flags of the Congress party and the Muslim League. The CO of the Depot Battalion, Lieutetant Colonel Anderson and a party of 15 armed NCOs tried to stop them near the Nerbudda Club and even threatened to shoot, but this did not deter them from continuing their march. Having reached Tilak Bhumi, Tillaya in the city, they stopped and held a meeting, where speeches were made by some of the men, accompanied by slogans and waving of flags.
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 1615 hours they started back for the unit. By this time the military authorities had mobilised two companies of 27/9 Jats to assist the STC in containing the uprising. Having reached the unit, the protesters sat down in the Battalion Arena. The Commandant, Colonel L.C. Boyd arrived, and the names of all the men were taken down. Soon afterwards, the Area Commander arrived and 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 STC Cage where the Commandant noted down their grievances. These were discrimination in pay between Indian and British other ranks; poor quality of rations; slow speed of demobilisation; protest against the firing in Bombay, Karachi and Calcutta; protest against the expenditure on Victory celebrations in view of the food crisis; and the release of all INA prisoners including Captains Burhanuddin and Abdul Rashid. They indicated that they were ready to go back to work if their demands were met. After taking down their grievances the Commandant spoke to the men and left. The men remained in the Cage during the night, and were given food and bedding.
By early next morning, a British battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry had arrived in Jubbulpore. A party of about 80 men from 2 Signal Training Battalion assembled in the unit at 0700 hours and began moving along the same route that had been taken by their colleagues on the previous day. They were intercepted by a platoon of the British battalion and brought back to the unit. About 200 clerks of the Records also collected at one place. They were joined by about a hundred men from 3 Signal Training Battalion, who sat down and refused to go to work, demanding the release of their colleagues who were still inside the Cage. The District Commander, Major General Skinner arrived on the scene, and it was decided to arrest the ring leaders only. The Second-in-Command of the 27/9 Jats and Lieutenant Colonel Poonose entered the Cage and tried to induce the ring leaders to give themselves up. However, the rest of the men did not allow this and became restless. Finally it was decided to carry out the arrests by 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 were injured by bayonets and some were trampled in the stampede. Most of those who escaped were caught and brought back, to be kept in custody in the Jat lines.
The news of the bayonet charge spread like wild fire in the STC and at many places the men came out and demonstrated against this, resulting in some more arrests. In the early hours of 1 March, about 150 ORs from 3 Signal Training Battalion left their lines and marched through Sadar Bazar, shouting slogans and waving flags, but returned to the unit within an hour. 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 declared Jubbulpore Cantonment a restricted area, and the entry of civilians was banned. During the next two days, the situation improved, but was still far from normal. The men in the Cage refused to come out until their leaders were released. On 3 March, troops of 17 Indian Infantry Brigade placed a cordon around the STC lines. The Area Commander and Commandant spoke to the men and asked them to return to work. Most of them agreed, and normal parades were held in the units. During the next two days several men returned and joined duty. By 7 March 1946 the situation had become normal and there were no untoward incidents.
Seth Govind Das of the Congress Party raised the matter in the Central Assembly in Delhi. In his reply on 15 March 1946, the War Secretary, Mr. P. 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. 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. Only two persons were seriously injured and there were no deaths. 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 matter and it would be quite illegal to associate non-officials.
The mutiny shocked the military establishment, especially the British officers who had always believed that the Indian soldiers 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 Santos Cassani of the Welfare General Branch at GHQ visited the Centre. His report brought to light the pathetic conditions under which the Indian troops lived. Officers, VCOs and NCOs who had been posted at the STC for more than two years were immediately posted out, after it was found that some of them had been there for 8-10 years. The SO-in-C, Major General C.H.M. Vulliamy directed that more Indian officers should be posted to the Centre, so that they could understand the problems of Indian troops. In April 1946 Lieutenant Colonel T.K. Mukerjee and Major Bhat were posted in as CO and Second-in-Command of 2 Signal Training Battalion. Soon afterwards, Captain K.K. Tewari was posted to the STC as the Adjutant and Major Tery Barreto as OC ‘G’ Company, which had led the mutiny.
Disciplinary action taken against those who participated in the mutiny was severe and swift. 41 persons were tried Summary General Court Martial, of which 18 were sentenced to dismissal and imprisonment ranging from one to three years, and 20 were dismissed. The three who were acquitted were later discharged. In addition 41 men were discharged without any enquiry or investigation, on the grounds ‘services no longer required’. Many more were sent home merely on suspicion and the statements of JCOs and NCOs who 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 and their pleas for redress fell on deaf years. The letters in old files 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.
The Naval mutiny at Bombay had resulted in bad publicity for the Government, since it had to be suppressed by the use of force. The STC mutiny at Jubbulpore started a few days later, and once again force had to be used to quell it. The Indian Navy then was a miniscule force, and the Army could easily handle disaffection in its ranks. But what if the Army itself was alienated? The prospect was too fearsome to even imagine and caused consternation and panic in Delhi and London. The STC mutiny played a part not only in the British decision to grant Independence but also the pronouncement advancing the date from June 1948 to August 1947, a fact that has been documented and commented by several authors and historians.
Major General Shahid Hamid, who was then private secretary to Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the C-in-C in India made an entry in his diary dated on 30 March 1946. He wrote:-
‘Today the Hindustan Times commented editorially on the Auk’s appeal to the Indian Army. “There is no doubt whatever that if the transfer of power is not quickly brought about, the foreign rulers of India cannot count upon the loyalty of the Indian Army…”6
There were similarities between the RIN Mutiny and the STC Mutiny. The grounds for both were similar - bad food, unhygienic living conditions, discrimination between British and Indian troops, ill treatment by British officers, delay in demobilisation and resentment against the INA trials. Both mutinies were started by signallers, the one at Jubbulpore by personnel of the Signal Corps and the one at Bombay by personnel of H.M.I.S. ‘Talwar’, a shore establishment that trained wireless operators. Though they started on different dates, both mutinies finished on the same date i.e. 3 March 1946. However, where the two mutinies differed was in scale and the use of violence. The Jubbulpore mutiny was localized in a few units of the STC, and did not spread to other Army units located nearby. In Bombay, the mutiny embraced almost the entire naval fleet and spread to Karachi, Calcutta and several other naval stations. The mutineers in Bombay used the ships’ wireless system to spread the word to 70 ships and 20 seashore establishments. They also secured the telephone exchange, the cable network and the transmitter at Kirkee, which was used for communication between India and UK. The Jubbulpore mutiny was characterized by non-violence. It was a passive demonstration by soldiers who only wanted their grievances to be heard. The ratings at Bombay resorted to widespread looting and damaged government property, the first target being the duty free canteen, which was ransacked of all imported goods, especially vast quantities of scotch whisky. They also removed weapons from the armoury and opened fire, which had to be silenced by use of howitzers and mortars, resulting in several deaths. Several cars in the city were set on fire, and police officers were burnt alive. 7