Books: Hope and Despair by Anirudh Deshpande

This book recounts the story of the thousands of Indians, sailors and forgotten working class people, who braved British bullets, tanks and bayonets on the streets of Bombay and Karachi during the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) Uprising and the attendant civil rebellions of February, 1946. World War 2 was marked by hyper inflation, food shortages, the great Bengal famine caused by Churchill's policies, and a resurgent anti-imperialist nationalism. It was the time of Quit India (1942) and the Azad Hind Fauj (1942-45) which became a popular metaphor for freedom and self respect among all classes of Indians. The slogans left behind by these momentous events were picked up and used by the young nationalist ratings of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) in February, 1946. During the war the Indian working and lower middle classes bore the economic brunt of the war and millions volunteered for the expanding armed forces in hope of a better post war future. The end of the war resulted in mass unemployment, inflation, black marketing and growing popular misery. The worsening economic conditions came at a time when political anxieties, both communal and nationalist, grew day by day. It was clear that the exhausted British would leave India in the near future but what would be that future to Indians was not clear to the millions seething with discontent. Thousands of demobilized servicemen entered the job market precisely in the months during which working class strikes for higher wages and secure jobs rocked the Indian cities regularly. Great social anxiety gripped the Indian masses, left virtually leaderless by the Congress which was unwilling to launch another mass movement against the imperialists, and created a collective consciousness of rebellion inspired by the memories, symbols and slogans of wartime Indian nationalism. The INA Trials (1945) and strikes in the Royal Indian Air Force (1945) thus paved the way for the ill fated political upheaval of February 1946. While the ratings surrendered, the civil uprising was crushed with great bloodshed by the colonial state. The hundreds who were murdered by the British Army on the streets of Bombay became a mere footnote in Indian history books. 

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Copyright @ Department of History, University of Delhi . 2021