The lesser-known Mutiny
THE trauma experienced during those four days of the Rin Mutiny in February, 1946 was a source of tension. In fact the situation was more sensitive than the one that arose from the actual combat condition prevailing in the north Arabian sea during the India-Pakistan conflict in 1971.
The mutiny was
initiated by the ratings of Indian Navy during early 1946. It was a
reaction against the treatment meted to ratings in general and the
lack of service facilities in particular. On January 16, 1946, a
contingent of 67 ratings of various branches arrived at Castle
Barracks, Mint Road, in Fort Mumbai. This contingent had arrived from
the basic training establishment, HMIS Akbar, located at Thane a
suburb of Mumbai at 1600 in the evening. The officer on duty informed
the galley (kitchen) staff of this arrival. Quite casually, the duty
cook, without winking an eyelid, took out 20 loaves of bread from the
large cupboard and added three litres of tap water to the mutton curry
as well as the gram dal which was lying already cooked before
as per the morning strength of the ratings. Every one associated with
each wing of administration in those days had such a mindset that no
one bothered. Nothing more was required to be done in such cases. On
that day, only 17 ratings ate the watery, tasteless meals while the
rest went ashore and ate. Such daily cases of neglect, when reported
to senior officers present, practically evoked no response and the
discontentment continued to build up. The better educated ratings of
communication branch in the shore establishment, HMIS Talwar, located
in Mumbai had been complaining of neglect of their facilities and
harboured a high level of revulsion towards the authorities.
Inspired by the patriotic fervour sweeping the country, the movement started taking a political turn. During the second week of February, 1946, my ship was alongside the outer breakwater. One fine early morning, I noticed about 20 junior ratings surrounding the main duty- free canteen located close to the smithy shop inside the naval dockyard in Mumbai. This large canteen was a part of an international chain of canteens run by the royal navy and was well-stocked with choicest brands of foreign liquor, cheeses, caviar, cigarettes etc mostly imported. About four ratings forced themselves into the store and came out with cartons of cigarettes, cameras and electric irons etc. It was followed by another rush of ratings who now were holding boxes of scotch whisky in both hands and sported imported umbrellas slinging on their shoulders. Soon the canteen staff also arrived but was helpless and terrified as some of the ratings carried arms.
As if this was not enough, another batch of ratings brought some steel bars from the closeby smithy shop and dismantled the steel safe from its seat. Efforts were being made to drag the locked safe to nowhere when I left the scene. I then came across some cooks holding fully-loaded automatic weapons in their hands and pointing those towards the direction of Gateway of India where the British destroyers from Trincomalee were expected to arrive. Just then Captain (E) T.N. Kochhar, then an engineer officer of HMIS Narmada, sped past me and told me that the strike committee had broadcast a message that Indian officers would not be harmed if they did not interfere, while Admiral Godfrey required all officers to be in their place of duty and ensure that no violent action or damage to equipment and property took place and that the agitation remained peaceful. In the evening, a news item was received stating that a Gurkha regiment in Karachi had refused to fire at an agitated group of naval ratings. This was day one.
The next day morning, the tricolour was hoisted by the ratings on mastheads of most of the ships and establishments. There was a general feeling of anxiety and tension everywhere. The ships deck and lavatories had not been cleaned for past two days. Officers and ratings’ kitchens were out of use. The canteens in every ship were forced open and eatables consumed in lieu of cooked food. The morning news on the radio indicated that fully-armed destroyers of British Navy had already steamed out of Trincomalee harbour and were heading towards Mumbai to quell the Mutiny. The naval ratings’ strike committee decided, in a confused manner, the HMIS Kumaon had to leave Mumbai harbour while HMIS Kathiawar was already in the Arabian Sea under the command of a striking rating. At about 10.30 HIMS Kumaon suddenly let go the shore ropes, without even removing the ships’ gangway while officers were discussing the law and order situation on the outer breakwater jetty.
So the wooden gangway, six-metre-long was protruding out of the ship’s starboard waist when the ship moved away from the jetty under command of a revolver bearing senior rating. However, within two hours fresh instructions were received from the strikers’ control room and the ship returned to the same berth.
The situation was changing fast and rumours spread that Australian and Canadian armed battalions had been stationed outside the Lion gate and the Gungate to encircle the dockyard where most ships were berthed. Unfortunately, by now all the armouries of the ships and establishments had been seized by the striking ratings. The real danger was that the sophisticated arms with the ammunition were being handled casually by unscrupulous ships clerks, cleaning hands, cooks and wireless operators who had never handled these before.
The third day dawned charged with fresh emotions. Sardar Patel’s statement of assurance did improve matters considerably. However, an unruly guncrew of a 25 pounder gun fitted in an old ship, without orders from the strikers, fired a salvo towards the Castle barracks and blew off a large branch of an old banyan tree. It was clear that those bearing arms had started acting on their own without taking orders from their central striking command. The negotiations moved fast, keeping in view the extreme sensitivity of the situation and on the fourth day most of the demands of the strikers were conceded in principle.
Immediate steps were taken to improve the quality of food served in the ratings’ kitchen and their living conditions. The national leaders also assured that favourable consideration will be accorded to release of all the prisoners of the Indian National Army. By this time the British destroyers fully armed to go into action arrived and had positioned themselves off the Gateway of Indian Mumbai.
Luckily a very grave situation was
tackled in a very timely manner and a real disaster was averted by the
prudent action both by the strikers and the country’s leadership.