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Department of History

A Window That Closed: The Indian Strike Movement of 1946-47, Its Context and Repercussions



Prof Ravi Ahuja (Göttingen)

Date: 25 February 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 25 February 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei GalleryRoom: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

Series: South Asia History

A major strike movement emerged in India soon after the end of the Second World War extending into the early years of independence (1946-1950). Though it has rarely been discussed by historians, it was characterized, a decade later, as a period of ‘industrial strife unprecedented in the history of India’ (V.V. Giri). At its peak in 1946 and 1947, this strike movement was far less intensive (in terms of strike duration) than the much better remembered one of the late 1920s but involved almost four times as many workers and was spread more widely than ever before across geographical space. Strike movements had, in other words, been transformed from incidents of highly visible, intense but localized social unrest into supralocal events. Moreover, the post-war strike movement involved many workers outside the older, factory-centred labour movement strongholds and included, among others, numerous employees of the expanded Indian state apparatus thus affecting, for instance, postal services, railways and police. As the Eastern Economist commented, ‘the strike is no longer a weapon of the factory operatives only.’ The strike movement can be understood as an element of the explosive and multiform expansion of social energies that occurred when the lid of the Defence of India Rules was lifted from the cauldron of postwar society – an expansion that would soon be overshadowed and to some extent diverted and channelled in the course of processes of postcolonial state formation. While the drama of independence and the trauma of partition would soon overcast the memory of this strike movement, it seemed sufficiently forceful to contemporaries to open a new political window onto the future. It was soon conceived of as an issue of national import by the dominant political forces triggering a spurt of legislative activity on the part of the Interim Government and the first Government of independent India – activities that sought to close this very window. The paper attempts a preliminary analysis of this event, of its interdependence with other contemporary social and political mobilizations and of its political repercussions.

Organiser: Dr Roy Fischel and Dr Shabnum Tejani