working class

Shah Jolal Restaurant

About: 

The Shah Jolal Restaurant was established by Ayub Ali, a former lascar, who arrived in London in 1920, having jumped ship at Tilbury Docks. Located in the heart of the East End, this café served as a hub for the Indian community there. It was frequented by ex-lascars who inhabited the area, and also served as a meeting place for the East End branch of V. K. Krishna Menon’s India League. In this last respect, its visitors included renowned cultural and political figures such as Mulk Raj Anand, Narayana Menon and Krishna Menon, as well as its more regular working-class clientele.

Example: 

L/PJ/12/455, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 80

Secondary works: 

Adams, Caroline (ed.), Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers (London: THAP, 1987)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

Content: 

This file includes reports and correspondence relating to the East End branch of V. K. Krishna Menon’s India League. This extract is from a New Scotland Yard Report on the League and details the inaugural meeting of the branch which was held in the Shah Jolal Restaurant on 13 June 1943.

Extract: 

The East London branch of the INDIA LEAGUE…has been opened at 76, Commercial Street, E.1., the office being situated over an Indian café owed by Ayub ALI, a Bengali ex-seamen…About 80 persons attended, of whom only three were Europeans; the remainder were mostly Indian seamen and factory workers. Kundan Lal JALIE presided, and with him on the platform were: V. K. Krishna MENON, Mrs. Asha BHATTACHARYYA, Ismail ALI, Mrs. J. K. HANDOO, Mrs. M. N. BOOMLA, Alexander SLOANE, MP and Dr K. C. BHATTACHARYYA. Others present among the audience were: Surat ALI, Said Amir SHAH, Dr. H. K. HANDOO, I. A. MALLIK, Moina MEAH alias S. A. Majid QURESHI, Abdul GHANI, Manek KAVRANA, Abdul HAMID, Mulk Raj ANAND, Narayana MENON and N. B. Ker (High Commissioner’s Office).

Key Individuals' Details: 

Ayub Ali (founder and owner of the café; co-founder of the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League)

Relevance: 

This short extract highlights the function served by the Shah Jolal as a focal point for the community of working-class ex-seamen that inhabited the East End of London. It also suggests that the working classes were concerned about colonial rule and politically active – which contradicts some representations of them as passive and absorbed solely in their own livelihoods. The attendance of many elite cultural and political figures, including Mulk Raj Anand and Narayana Menon, suggests that there was some interaction between working-class and privileged South Asians in Britain within the political sphere.

Connections: 

Ismail Ali (attended India League meetings there), Surat Alley (attended IL meetings there), Mulk Raj Anand (attended IL meetings there), Asha Bhattacharyya (attended IL meetings there), Kundan Lal Jalie (attended IL meetings there), V. K. Krishna Menon (meetings of his India League were held there), Narayana Menon (attended IL meetings there), Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi (close links with Ayub Ali through the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League; attended IL meetings there), Said Amir Shah (attended IL meetings there).

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/455, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Location

76 Commercial Street
London, E1 6LY
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Meetings of the East End branch of the India League

Sajjad Zaheer

About: 

Born in a small village just outside Lucknow, northern India, Sajjad Zaheer remains one of the most prominent and iconic literary and political voices in South Asia and beyond. Zaheer was one of four sons in a privileged family. His father was Sir Wazir Hussain, a notable judge and Chief Justice of the Oudh Court. After completing his studies in politics and law at the University of Lucknow, Zaheer travelled to the UK to enrol at the University of Oxford. Initially, this was a course mapped out for him by his father, who wanted his son to become a barrister. However, Zaheer’s eight year sojourn in the colonial heartland would prove to be a defining moment in shaping his political sensibilities and the alternative path he would follow on his return to India.

Once he had reached Britain, the struggles against colonial rule in his homeland were thrown into sharp focus for Zaheer. His response was similar to that of his contemporary, Mulk Raj Anand. Together, these pre-independence diasporic intellectuals developed a keen appreciation of the urgent need for emancipation in their country. Formative to this was the presence of a South Asian community already vocalizing its concerns in the metropolitan capital. This included figures like Shyamaji Krishnavarma and V. D. Savarkar who played a leading role in the Ghadar Party. The injustices of colonial rule became apparent to Zaheer, as did the need to challenge the status quo through a marked socialist political activism. He established links with the Communist Party of Great Britain and was one of its first South Asian members. During his time in Britain Zaheer also became editor in chief of the periodical Bharat. This was a journal of socialist politics headed by South Asian students at Oxford and concerned with the struggle for independence and the plight of the poor in India. In the literary arena, he and Anand had several encounters with members of the Bloomsbury Group, and were deeply influenced by the modernist literary movement, if not its politics. Zaheer and Anand’s attendance of the International Congress for the Defence of Culture in Paris in 1935, organized by some of the most prominent names in the European artistic and literary landscape, was also a key influence. The previous year, Zaheer and Anand had laid the foundations for the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association at a gathering in a London restaurant where they drafted the manifesto. The organization sought to marry the political and social with the literary, and held numerous meetings in London where students and aspiring writers discussed articles and stories. Zaheer also began his novella, London Ki Ek Raat (‘A Night in London’, 1938) when in London, completing it on his return to India.

Zaheer left London for India via Paris in 1935. Once in India, he continued to develop the organization, which held its official inaugural meeting in Lucknow from 9 to 10 April 1936, with the writer Premchand presiding. The group published several texts inspired by Marxist, oppositional and subversive politics, including a translation of Tagore’s Gora (‘White Man’), and Zaheer’s own anthology of progressive Urdu literature, Roshnai (‘Light’). After partition, Zaheer left for Pakistan, and continued to be an active socialist campaigner in his country’s tumultuous political landscape. This saw him jailed at various points throughout his life. His continued commitment to express the political through literature resulted in the creation of the Afro-Asian Writers’ Association. It was en route to a conference arranged by this organization in Kazakhstan that Zaheer suffered a massive heart attack which ended his life.

Published works: 

‘Jannat Ki Basharrat’ (‘A Feel For Heaven’), in Khalid Alvi (ed.) Angare: An Anthology (New Delhi: Educational Publishing House, [1932] 1995)

London Ki Ek Raat (‘A Night in London’) (1938)

A Case for Congress League Unity (Bombay: People’s Publishing House, 1944)

Roshnai (‘Light’) (1959)

‘Reminiscences’, in S. Pradhan (ed.) Marxist Cultural Movement in India, Vol. 1 (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1979)

The Light: a History of the Movement for Progressive Literature in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent, trans. by Sibte Hassan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

Date of birth: 
05 Nov 1905
Connections: 

Mulk Raj Anand, Ahmed Ali, Kaifi Azmi, Suniti Kumar Chatterji, Rajani Palme Dutt, Salmi Murrik (Dutt’s wife and representative of the Communist International Party in Britain), Faiz Ahmed Faiz (eminent Pakistani poet who found sympathy with Zaheer’s socialist literary imperative), E. M. Forster, Ralph Fox, Jyotirmaya Ghosh, Attia Hosain, Sardar Jafri, Rashad Jahan, Mahmudeezzafar, Hiren Mukherjee, Premchand, Amrit Rai, Iqbal Singh, Taseer, Razia Sajjad Zaheer (wife and fellow dramatist, author and political activist).

Afro-Asian Writers’ Association, Communist Party of Great Britain.

Secondary works: 

Anand, Mulk Raj, ‘On the Progressive Writers’ Movement’, in S. Pradhan (ed.) Marxist Cultural Movement in India, Vol. 1 (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1979)

Bose, Hiran K., ‘Sajjad Zaheer: The Voice of the Common Man’, Chowk [http://www.chowk.com/articles/10111]

Coppola, Carlo, ‘The All-India Progressive Writers Association: The European Phase’, in Coppola (ed.) Marxist Influences and South Asian Literature, Vol. 1 (Winter 1974) Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, pp. 1-34

Gopal, Priyamvida, Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence (New York: Routledge, 2006)

Involved in events: 

Meetings of Bharat

Meetings of the Indian National Congress

Meetings of the Communist Party of Great Britain

Founding meeting of the Progressive Writers’ Association, Nanking Restaurant, London, 24 November 1934

International Congress for the Defence of Culture, Paris, 21-6 June 1935

City of birth: 
Golaganj, Lucknow
Country of birth: 
India
Date of death: 
13 Sep 1973
Location of death: 
Alma Ata, Kazakhstan
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Dec 1927
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Y
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1927-35

Location: 

Oxford, London.

Left Book Club

Published works: 

There were LBC editions of over 200 works. These include:

Attlee, Clement, The Labour Party in Perspective (1937)

Barnes, Leonard, Empire or Democracy? A Study of the Colonial Question (1939)

Bhattacharya, Bhabani, So Many Hungers! (1947)

Brailsford, H. N., Why Capitalism Means War (1938)

Brailsford, H. N., Subject India (1943)

Brockway, Fenner, German Diary, 1946

Burns, Emile, What is Marxism? (1939)

Cole, G. D. H., The People’s Front (1937)

Cripps, Stafford The Struggle for Peace (1936)

de Palencia, Isabel, Smouldering Freedom: The Story of the Spanish Republicans in Exile (1946)

Deva, Jaya (Ayana Angadi) Japan’s Kampf (1942)

Dutt, R. Palme, World Politics, 1918–36 (1936)

Dutt, R. Palme, India Today (1940)

Gollancz, Victor (ed.), The Betrayal of the Left (1941)

Horrabin, J. F., An Atlas of Empire (1937)

Koestler, Arthur, Scum of the Earth (1941)

Laski, Harold, Faith, Reason and Civilisation (1944)

Marquard, Leopold, The Black Man’s Burden (1943)

Mulgan, John (ed.), Poems of Freedom (1938)

Orwell, George, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

Rao, Santha Rama, Home to India (1945)

Russell, A. G., Colour, Race and Empire (1944)

Snow, Edgar, Red Star Over China (1937)

Spender, Stephen, Forward from Liberalism (1937)

Strachey, John, The Theory and Practice of Socialism (1936)

Strachey, John, Federalism or Socialism? (1940)

Webb, Sidney and Webb, Beatrice, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization (1937)

Woolf, Leonard, Barbarians at the Gate (1939)

Monthly journal: Left News

Example: 

L/PJ/12/504, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 8

About: 

The Left Book Club was established in the context of the rise of fascism in Europe and the economic depression, when the need for the dissemination of left-wing politics was keenly felt among British intellectuals. It was an immediate success on its establishment, with 6,000 subscriptions after a month and a membership of 40,000 by the end of its first year. With links to the Communist Party of Great Britain, the LBC was explicit in its advocacy of a left-wing politics. It published books on a wide range of subjects, ‘from farming to Freud to air-raid shelters to Indian independence’ (Laity, p. ix), aiming for accessibility and education. The titles, many of which were newly commissioned, were sold to LBC members at discounted prices. Despite its attempts to bring politics and literature to working-class people, its activists were largely privileged men and women. The LBC organized summer schools and trips (including to the Soviet Union) and held lectures and rallies focused on political events such as the Spanish Civil War, with members also hosting local meetings to discuss the books.

Clearly espousing an anti-imperial stance, the LBC published books by Rajani Palme Dutt and Ayana Angadi, as well as by Santha Rama Rau and Bhabani Bhattacharya. In late 1936, authorities in India began to intercept Left Book Club books despatched (via the Phoenix Book Company) to members in India on the grounds that they contained ‘extremist propaganda’, and the India Office requested reports on the LBC’s activities. Evidence suggests that there were LBC Indian student discussion groups (such as the one formed by Promode Ranjan Sen Gupta, who was under government surveillance), and later an Indian Branch of the LBC, and that these groups attempted to subvert the censorship of LBC material in India. Further, in late 1937, there is evidence that Victor Gollancz, supported by Nehru, was attempting to start a Left Book Club in India in order to circumvent the ban (L/PJ/12/504, pp. 8, 10–11, 18–19). 

Secondary works: 

Dudley Edwards, Ruth, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (London, 1987)

Hodges, Sheila, Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House, 1928–78 (London, 1978)

Laity, Paul (ed.), Left Book Club Anthology (London: Victor Gollancz, 2001)

Lewis, John, The Left Book Club: An Historical Record (London, 1970)

Content: 

This file consists of correspondence and reports relating to the Left Book Club and its ‘Indian connections’, with information on the Britain-based Indians involved in the LBC, the connections between LBC activists and Indian anti-colonialists, and attempts to ban LBC material from entering India.

Date began: 
01 Feb 1936
Key Individuals' Details: 

Rajani Palme Dutt (on the LBC panel of speakers), Victor Gollancz (founder and publisher), Harold Laski (commissioning editor), Sheila Lynd (worked for LBC), Betty Reid (worked for LBC), Emile Burns (on selection committee), John Strachey (instrumental in foundation of Club and commissioning editor).

Extract: 

A Left Book Club Discussion Group has been formed in London for Indian students, with Promode Ranjan SEN GUPTA, 7, Woburn Buildings, W.C., as secretary.

In this connection it may be stated that in the 22.5.37 issue of “Time and Tide” there was published a letter from Dharam Yash DEV. In it he protested against the censorship of books exercised by the Government of India, with particular reference to Left Book Club literature. He contended that books not normally banned in India are seized by Customs when they are imported in the L.B.C. edition.

Precise date began unknown: 
Y
Date ended: 
01 Jan 1948
Relevance: 

This note on Indian students in Britain involved in the Left Book Club is suggestive of the way in which left-wing networks transgressed cultural and ‘racial’ boundaries, bringing Indians and Britons together in pursuit of their political ideals. The censorship of LBC material in India is further indicative of the intersection of the Communist ideals associated with the Club and the anti-colonial ideologies that were a threat to the Government of India. The protest against this censorship by Indians in Britain emphasizes the importance of Britain as a site of anti-colonial activism by South Asians.

Connections: 

Ayana Angadi (Jaya Deva) (his Japan’s Kampf was an LBC book), Bhabani Bhattacharya (his So Many Hungers! was an LBC book), Miss Bonnerji (Indian branch of the LBC), Amiya Bose (Indian branch of the LBC), Ben Bradley, Stafford Cripps (instrumental in foundation of Club), Dharam Yash Dev (wrote a letter in the 22/5/37 issue of Time and Tide protesting against the Government of India censorship of LBC books), Promode Ranjan Sen Gupta (organized a Left Book Club discussion group for Indian students in London), Mahmud-us-Zaffar Khan (Nehru’s personal secretary – liaised with Gollancz in relation to his attempt to set up an LBC in India), Cecil Day Lewis (spoke at LBC meetings), Jawaharlal Nehru (supported Gollancz’s attempts to set up an LBC in India), George Orwell (his The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia were LBC books), Sylvia Pankhurst (spoke at LBC meetings), Santha Rama Rau (her Home to India was an LBC book), Paul Robeson (spoke at LBC meetings), Ellen Wilkinson (supporter of the LBC).

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/504, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Papers of Sir Victor Gollancz, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick
 

Precise date ended unknown: 
Y

Location

Henrietta Street
London, WC2E 8PW
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

LBC national rally, Royal Albert Hall, London, February 1937

Conference on civil liberties in India, London, 17 October 1937

Hindustan Community House

About: 

This organization, founded by the wealthy Indian Kundan Lal Jalie in 1937, aimed to cater to the needs of Indians in east London, especially former lascars, by offering them low-cost lodging, as well as food and clothing, and helping them to secure employment. Further, Indian doctors volunteered at the centre, providing free medical advice to their working-class compatriots, and English classes were offered, both to workers and to children. The HCH was also a social centre, providing a gramophone and records to enable East End South Asians to listen to Indian music, as well as facilities for games and sport. The HCH was made possible by donations from wealthy Britons, including, reportedly, Edith Ramsay, as well as a Cambridge undergraduate named Thomas Tufton who donated £22,000 after hearing Jalie lecture on the plight of Indians in Britain. The centre was razed in the blitz, and its residents taken first to Tilbury and then to Coventry to find work.

Although ostensibly a social organization, the HCH also had political links. A government surveillance report from 1939 remarks on the Communist and anti-British propaganda being carried out among Indian seamen and pedlars at the organization, and suggests that Jalie encouraged this. Surveillance reports on Jalie also remark on his links with the India League and the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League

Example: 

Hindustan Community House First Report, April 1940, Tower Hamlets Archives Collection

Secondary works: 

Solokoff, Bertha, Edith and Stepney (London: Stepney Books Publications, 1987)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Content: 

This report of the Hindustan Community House outlines its aims and objectives under the headings ‘Food, clothing and shelter’, ‘Medical work’, ‘Employment’, ‘Educational’ and ‘Social’, and acknowledges the financial support and social work that made it possible.

Date began: 
01 Jan 1937
Extract: 

Since the completion of the House, fifty men have lived in it and another fifty have taken meals in it. Indian or English food is available for these men. To enable the fullest use to be made of the House its charges for board of lodging are fixed at the lowest possible figure.

The House has been able to accommodate shipwrecked sailors, and Indians stranded in London.

Two Indian doctors, who have returned to India, attended the weekly clinic and gave free medical advice. The new surgery has been equipped by an Indian doctor. It is open three nights a week for free medical advice and attention. A fourth Indian doctor is in charge.

Two classes in English with an average of fifteen to twenty students were held every week night. These were discontinued on account of the war, but have since been restarted.

A class in English and Urdu for Indian children was discontinued owing to the evacuation of the children.

Precise date began unknown: 
Y
Key Individuals' Details: 

Kundan Lal Jalie

Relevance: 

This extract gives evidence of a developing sense of community among Indians in London in the 1930s and 1940s. The involvement of Indian doctors in the House, as well as the English classes and indeed its very establishment by Jalie, emphasize the existence of significant interaction between the Indian working class and middle class in Britain and the transgression of social boundaries by virtue of a shared national and/or ethnic minority identity. The fact that the residents of the House were offered Indian food as well as English food, and that classes were offered in Urdu as well as English, suggests the combination of an accommodation to British culture with a retention of indigenous cultural practices – perhaps a consequence of the fact that this welfare work was carried out by Indians (rather than by the British).

Connections: 

Lord Halifax (attended the opening centre of the HCH), Edith Ramsay (donated money to the HCH and offered advice and help to the Indians who frequented it), Lord Snell (attended the opening centre of the HCH).

Date ended: 
01 Jan 1941
Archive source: 

First Report, Tower Hamlets Archives Collection

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Precise date ended unknown: 
Y

British Shipping (Assistance) Act (1935)

Date: 
01 Jan 1935
Precise date unknown: 
Y
About: 

The British Shipping (Assistance) Act of 1935 aimed to subsidize the British shipping industry in the context of the economic depression of the 1930s. While one of its purposes was to safeguard seamen’s jobs, it did so only for white British seamen, thus discriminating on the grounds of race. One of the requirements for payment of the subsidy was that the ship employed only ‘British seamen’. Thus, in the wake of the Act, many ship-owners sacked all but their white employees, and numerous Indian lascars found themselves suddenly without employment.

This discriminatory Act was met with considerable resistance. The Colonial Seamen’s Association, which brought South Asian seamen together with their black, Arab and Chinese counterparts, was formed in reaction to the Act, in order to better mobilize against it. They held numerous meetings in which the Act was denounced. In May 1935, Shapurji Saklatvala gave a speech decrying the Act at the Coloured National Mutual Social Club in South Shields. Opposition to the Act was also voiced in India where there were even threats of retaliation against white workers there. With protest against the Act coming from the India Office and Colonial Office as well as the CSA and other organizations, the discrimination was removed in March 1936.

People involved: 

Surat Alley (secretary of the Colonial Seamen’s Association), Aftab Ali Chris Jones (Braithewaite) (led the Colonial Seamen’s Association), George PadmoreShapurji Saklatvala (spoke out against Act),  Rowland Sawyer.

Secondary works: 

Tabili, Laura, ‘We Ask for British Justice’: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1994)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

Archive source: 

MT 9/2737, National Archives, Kew

L/E/9/955, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order (1925)

Date: 
18 Mar 1925
Event location: 

The Order was originally carried into effect in the port areas of Glamorgan, Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Carmarthenshire, Liverpool, Salford, Newcastle-on-Tyne, South Shields, Middlesbrough and Hull. In January 1926, it was extended throughout Britain.

About: 

The Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen's) Order is described by Laura Tabili as 'the first instance of state-sanctioned race discrimination inside Britain to come to widespread notice' (p. 56). The work of the Home Office Aliens Department, the Order was issued under Article II of the Aliens Order of 1920 and stated that 'coloured' seamen who did not possess documentary proof of their status as British must register as 'aliens' in Britain 'whether or not they have been in the United Kingdom for more than two months'. Police were to apprehend 'coloured' men disembarking from ships and report them to the police if they failed to show their documentation. In practice, it was not easy for 'coloured' seamen to prove that they were British subjects because sailors were not required to carry passports and, unlike those of their white counterparts, 'coloured' seamen's discharge certificates were not considered proof of their nationality because of allegations of trafficking in these papers.

Reasons for the issue of the Order are various and debated. In a letter dated 14 August 1926, the Under-Secretary of State cites the demands made at the end of the First World War by the National Sailor and Fireman's Union that 'steps should be taken to restrict the admission to this country of coloured seamen who could not establish that they were British subjects, since they competed in the overstocked labour market for seamen and were a source of grave discontent among British sailors', and claims that the accumulation of 'coloured seamen' in certain ports 'was a continual source of irritation and...likely to lead to a breach of the peace' (HO 45/12314). However, by the mid-1920s, employment in the shipping industry was beginning to pick up, which calls these reasons into question. Further, historians have recently questioned the role of the Union in pushing forward this piece of legislation, arguing that it was the state that played a more significant role.

State officials, determined to deport 'coloured' seamen, interpreted and enforced the rules rigidly, depriving these men of their citizenship. The India Office and Colonial Office received numerous protests from seamen who claimed that police were using the order to target men who were obviously British subjects. Further, officials erroneously applied the rules to non-seamen, for example registering 63 Glasgow-based Indians, most of whom worked as peddlers and labourers, as 'aliens'. Indians in Liverpool protested in the form of a public rally and through founding the Indian Seamen's Union, led by N. J. Upadhyaya. The India Office, fearful of the public outcry triggered by the Order in India, reprimanded the Home Office, even suggesting that all Indians should be issued with passports - a suggestion that was not received favourably by the Home Office. Finally, it was agreed that Indian seamen registered as 'aliens' could apply to the Home Office to have their British nationality verified. They would then be issued with a Special Certificate of Identity and Nationality which would enable their registration to be cancelled. The Order was finally revoked in 1942.

People involved: 

P. S. R. Chowdhury (Secretary of the Glasgow Indian Union which contested the registration of the 63 Glasgow-based Indians), Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks (passed the Order), N. J. Upadhyaya (founded the Indian Seamen's Union as a result of the Order).

Secondary works: 

Lane, Tony, 'The Political Imperatives of Bureaucracy and Empire: The Case of the Coloured Alien Seamen Order, 1925', Immigrants and Minorities 13.2-3 (July/November 1994), pp. 104-29

Little, Kenneth, Negroes in Britain: A Study of Racial Relations in English Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, [1948] 1972)

Rich, Paul B., Race and Empire in British Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 122–30

Sherwood, Marika, ‘Race, Nationality and Employment among Lascar Seamen, 1660–1945’, New Community 17.2 (January 1991), pp. 234–5

Tabili, Laura, ‘The Construction of Racial Difference in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen) Order, 1925’, Journal of British Studies 33 (January 1994), pp. 54–98

Tabili, Laura, ‘We Ask for British Justice’: Workers and Racial Difference in Late Imperial Britain (Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1994)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Example: 

Letter from the Under-Secretary of State to the Chief Constables of scheduled areas, 23 March 1925, HO 45/12314, National Archives, Kew

Content: 

The file contains correspondence and reports by state and police officials relating to the Special Restriction (Coloured Alien Seamen's) Order, 1925.

Extract: 

I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that he has recently had under consideration measures to facilitate the control of coloured alien seamen at present in this country and to prevent more effectively the entry of others into the United Kingdom without proper authority; and he has come to the conclusion that in order to deal with the problem presented by these aliens – particularly those of them who are ‘Arabs’ – it is necessary that they should be required to register in all cases, including those where the alien has hitherto been exempt under Article 6(5) of the Aliens Order, 1920, by reason of the fact that less than two months has elapsed since his last arrival in the United Kingdom or that he is not resident in the United Kingdom.

…The difficulties [of the present situation] arise mainly from the fact that the racial resemblance between many coloured seamen is such that there is no satisfactory means of identifying individuals; and the primary object which the Secretary of State has in view is to remedy this deficiency by requiring every coloured seamen…unless he is able to show that he is a British subject, to provide himself immediately with a document by which he can be readily identified and on which his entry into the United Kingdom (if duly authorised by grant of leave to land) can be recorded.

Relevance: 

The language used in this passage - in particular the words 'control' and 'aliens' - is indicative of the perceived threat posed by 'coloured' seamen to the nation. The vagueness of the words 'problem' and 'difficulties' is suggestive of the concealment of some of the unmentionable reasons for the entrenchment of barriers to these sailors' entry into Britain (i. e., racism) - which are however hinted at with the mention of the 'racial resemblance' of the seamen. In general, the passage is illustrative of the strategies of control used in an attempt to maintain the racial and cultural homogeneity of Britain - and also of the failure of this.

Archive source: 

HO 45/12314, National Archives, Kew

East London Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre

About: 

In November 1910, a fund for a mosque in London was established. By 1926, a deed of trust was executed and the fund became known as the London Mosque Fund. Trustees included distinguished Muslims such as Syed Ameer Ali, Firoz Khan Noon and the Aga Khan, as well as sympathetic British peers. Until 1928, the trustees arranged for prayers to be held at various addresses in west London. Poor attendance and the eventual realization that the majority of Muslims in London lived in its East End led to the relocation of prayer meetings to the King’s Hall on Commercial Road in 1935. At this point, the trustees handed over the organization of prayer meetings and religious functions to the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin, an east London based organization.

The desirability of a mosque to meet the needs of the many seamen and other working-class Indians who inhabited the East End and attended these meetings was keenly felt, and in 1940 three adjoining houses on Commercial Road were purchased and converted into the East London Mosque. The mosque was inaugurated by the Egyptian Ambassador, Hassan Nachat Pasha, at a ceremony that took place on 1 August 1941. The ceremony was attended by approximately 300, including representatives from the Indian Company of the Pioneer Corps, and speeches were made by Sir Hassan Suhrawardy (Muslim Advisor to the Secretary of State for India), Sir Ernest Hotson (on behalf of the London Mosque Fund Trust), and Said Amir Shah and Ahmed Din Qureshi as officials of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin.

Also located at the East London Mosque was the Indigent Moslems Burial Fund which raised money to provide for the burial of Muslims in Britain and the upkeep of their graves. The Islamic Cultural Centre, which was still in need of funds and at the planning stage in the mid-1940s, aimed to provide ‘secular education combined with facilities for vocational and technical training in an Islamiah Madrassah’.

Example: 

Extract from Metropolitan Police Report, 14 October 1943, L/PJ/12/468, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 269, 271

Secondary works: 

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Content: 

This Indian Political Intelligence file documents the activities of Muslims in Britain from the 1920s to the 1940s. It includes government reports and correspondence between key Muslim figures and British government officials relating in particular to the establishment of the East London Mosque and the Central Mosque (Regent's Park), and proposals for the establishment of the Nizamiah Mosque (West Kensington). It also includes a copy of the pamphlet produced for the inauguration of the mosque in 1941.

Date began: 
01 Aug 1941
Extract: 

The Jamiat…resolved to hold a public meeting at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, W.C.1 on 10th October 1943, at which the Executive Committee of the Jamiat decided to state its case…

This meeting was attended by about 400 persons, the majority of whom were Punjabi and Bengali Muslims…While there was no disorder there was an atmosphere of suppressed excitement and little encouragement would have been needed to inflame the passions of those present…

Khan…gave a history of the LONDON MOSQUE FUND, making it quite plain that it was only through the agitation of the JAMIAT that the East London Mosque came into being. When the Jamiat came into being in 1934, no effort had been made to build a mosque and it was only after repeated representations to individual Trustees by members of the JAMIAT that any move was made to implement the objects for which the LONDON MOSQUE FUND was raised.

Referring to the ISLAMIC CULTURE CENTRE, he said the JAMIAT had never favoured the financial support given by the British Council. Muslim institutions were not in need of donations from un-Islamic organisations as there was enough money among Muslims to endow a purely Islamic scheme.

Said Amir SHAH repeated, in Urdu, the history of the LONDON MOSQUE FUND, but he struck a personal note, and he implied that the India Office ran the affairs of the Mosque through its representatives, the Trustees. He did not consider the Muslim Trustees as good Muslims, declaring that they put the interests of the British Government before their duty to Islam. He mentioned the name of Sir Hassan Suhrawardy whom he alleged never came to the Mosque merely to pray – there was always a sinister motive for his casual visits.

Key Individuals' Details: 

Abdullah Yusuf Ali (trustee), Syed Ameer Ali (original member of the Board of Trustees for the London Mosque Fund), Waris Ameer Ali (trustee), Munshi Ghulam Mohammed Buta (Arab who led prayers at the mosque), Sir Ernest Hotson, The Aga Khan (President of the Board of Trustees), Sahibdad Khan (Secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin), Firoz Khan Noon (High Commissioner of India in England, 1936-41, and trustee), Hassan Nachat Pasha, Said Amir Shah (Treasurer of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin), Hassan Suhrawardy (Muslim Advisor to Secretary of State for India, Chairman of the Board of Trustees).

Relevance: 

This is an extract from a police account of a meeting held by the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin, an organization integral to the inauguration and management of the East London Mosque, in protest at the notice served against them by the board of trustees as a result of a dispute regarding control of the mosque's affairs. Evident here is mobilization on the part of a group of working-class South Asian Muslims in Britain, suggesting a significant and perhaps surprising degree of agency on their part. Evident also in this dispute between members of the Jamiat (largely working class) and the Board of Trustees (largely elite and partly British) is a desire for cultural autonomy on the part of the Muslim protesters, as well as division and dissent along lines of class within the South Asian Muslim 'community' in London, which is in turn suggestive of the significant role played by class (as well as faith) in the experience and identity formation of South Asian migrants in Britain.

Connections: 

Ayub Ali (Treasurer of the East London branch of the India League, involved with Jamiat), Dr Mohammed Buksh (original President of the Jamiat), Allah Dad Khan (involved with Jamiat, Treasurer at some point), Ghulam Mohammed (Co-Secretary of the Jamiat), Ahmad Din Quereshi (silk merchant and Co-Secretary of the Jamiat).

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/468, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/646, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Locations

446-450 Commercial Road
London, E1 2NE
United Kingdom
46-92 Whitechapel Road
London, E1 1DN
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Inauguration ceremony, 1 August 1941

Dispute between the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and the trustees of the East London Mosque regarding the management of religious ceremonies and other duties, October 1943

Jamiat-ul-Muslimin

About: 

The Jamiat-ul-Muslimin, based at the East London Mosque, was a charitable society for the promotion of Islam, founded in 1934. It membership consisted predominantly of working-class lascars, peddlers and other workers who inhabited the East End of London. The Jamiat’s stated objectives were: ‘To serve the cause of Islam truly and practically by creating facilities for the observance of its Principles: to produce a weekly paper…to collect funds for a Mosque in the East End of London: to provide for the training and education of Muslims generally; to succour poor and needy Muslims: to promote social intercourse between resident Muslims and visitors to this country and generally to adopt all practical and legitimate means to work for the moral, intellectual and economic advancement of Muslims throughout the world’ (L/PJ/12/468). Thus, its objectives combined faith with the social and political. The organization first came to notice by government authorities in 1938 when it staged a protest against H. G. WellsA Short History of the World. The Jamiat organized a march to India House, Aldwych, where a deputation presented a petition to the High Commissioner for India, Firoz Khan Noon.

Before the establishment of the East London Mosque in 1941, the organization’s members would gather and worship at King’s Hall in Commercial Road. The Jamiat played a key role in the establishment, inauguration and management of the mosque. In 1943 they were involved in a dispute with the trustees of the mosque, claiming that they should have ultimate control over its management and affairs. There were also active branches of the Jamiat in Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. 

Secondary works: 

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Date began: 
01 Jan 1934
Precise date began unknown: 
Y
Key Individuals' Details: 

Dr Mohammed Buksh (original president), Allah Dad Khan (salesman and original treasurer), Sahibdur Khan (secretary of the Jamiat), K. Z. Lazhesar, Ghulam Mohammed (silk merchant and co-secretary), Mr Nakitullah, Ahmad Din Quereshi (silk merchant original co-secretary), Fazal Shah (leading figure in Jamiat, president of Hindustan Social Club and brother of Said Amir Shah), Said Amir Shah (treasurer of the Jamiat), Laj Mohamed Shank.

Connections: 
Archive source: 

File IOR: L/PJ/12/468, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

File IOR: L/PJ/12/646, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Locations

59 Canton Street Poplar
London, E14 6ES
United Kingdom
30 Church Lane Whitechapel
London, E1 7QR
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Inauguration of the East London Mosque, 1 August 1941

Dispute with the trustees of the East London Mosque and bid for ultimate control over its management and affairs, October 1943

Indian Seamen's Welfare League

About: 

The Indian Seamen’s Welfare League offered membership to all Indian seamen resident in Britain on the payment of an annual subscription of one shilling. Its main aim was ‘to look after the economic, social and cultural interests of Indian seamen, to provide them with recreation in Great Britain and to communicate with their relatives in India in the event of any misfortunes befalling them’ (L/PJ/12/630, p. 140). Inaugurated by the former seamen Ayub Ali and Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi, it held its first meeting on Commercial Road in July 1943. This attracted approximately 100 people, including a dozen Europeans among the Bengali seamen who made up the bulk of the audience.

The organization described itself as social rather than political. Indeed it changed its name from the Indian Seamen’s Union precisely because it feared the political connotations of the word ‘union’ would alienate ship owners and attract the attention of the police. However, records of meetings suggest that there were tensions between those who espoused this non-political position and those who considered the concerns of the organization to be inextricable from an anti-colonial politics. Further, surveillance reports warn that the organization attempted to dissuade Indian seamen from risking their lives bringing food to Britain when the Government was responsible for famine in India, and that its ‘extreme elements’ wished thereby to sabotage the war effort.

Example: 

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 141-2

Other names: 

Indian Seamen’s Union

Secondary works: 

Adams, Caroline (ed.) Across Seven Seas and Thirteen Rivers (London: THAP, 1987)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Content: 

This Indian Political Intelligence file, titled ‘Indian Seamen: Unrest and Welfare’, includes numerous government surveillance and police reports on the activities of lascars in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, focusing in particular on their strikes and other forms of activism against their pay and conditions.

Date began: 
09 May 1943
Extract: 

These four speakers made it plain that Indians joined the Merchant Navy, not from any desire to assist this country’s war effort, but were driven to it for economic reasons – empty stomachs and hungry relatives made them undertake this dangerous work. According to them, so long as India remained under foreign domination, any organisation set up for the protection of the rights of Indian seamen had to be prepared to fight against the deliberate attempt to exploit them.

N. Datta MAJUMDAR…complained bitterly that there was no complete list of Indian seamen lost at sea and of the utter disregard for their dependents and relatives. The crux of the whole problem was that India was under foreign domination and while this continued, the British Government would treat its subject Indian seamen and their dependents with such callousness. This state of affairs had to be remedied, and it devolved on the Welfare League to probe the Government and demand immediate redress.

Homi BODE complained that the position of the average Indian seamen was disgraceful, and it was hypocracy (stet.) to say that an organisation aiming to remedy their grievances could be non-political.

Key Individuals' Details: 

Ajman Ali (assistant secretary), Ayub Ali (co-founder, secretary and treasurer), Masharaf Ali (vice-president), Rashid Ali (assistant secretary), Surat Alley (on executive committee), Tarapada Basu (on executive committee), Mrs Haidri Bhattacharji (on executive committee), B. B. Ray Chaudhuri (on executive committee), Abdul Hamid (participated in inaugural meeting), N. Datta Majumdar (on executive committee), M. A. Mullick (on executive committee), Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi (co-founder and president), Said Amir Shah (on executive committee) C. B. Vakil (on executive committee).

Relevance: 

This extract is from a report on the inaugural meeting of the Indian Seamen’s Welfare League held on 7 July 1943. The four speakers referred to here are C. B. Vakil and B. B. Ray Chaudhuri in addition to Majumdar and Bose. All served on the executive committee of the organization. The extract underlines the plight of working-class Indians in Britain and the way they were silently sacrificed in the ‘war effort’, as well as the impossibility of extricating concerns with the welfare of Indians in Britain from a wider anti-colonial politics and the links between a local (i.e., East End) and transnational politics. The League is further evidence of the strong sense of community developing among East End Indians in the 1940s, as well as their ability to mobilize for their rights as minority workers in Britain. Further, the presence of the middle-class Chaudhuri and Vakil on the executive committee of a workers’ organization suggest that South Asian activity and activism in Britain did transgress boundaries of class to some extent.

Connections: 

Homi Bode (attended inaugural meeting), Kundan Lal Jalie (claimed he was the originator of the organization), V. K. Krishna Menon (disapproved of the organization because he believed it would clash with the India-based Indian Seamen’s Union), John Kartar Singh (attended inaugural meeting). 

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/646, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Location

66 Christian Street
London, E1 1RT
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Inaugural meeting, King’s Hall, Commercial Road, E1, 14 July 1943

Hindustani Social Club

About: 

Like the Hindustan Community House, the main purpose of the Hindustani Social Club was to do social and educational work among seamen and pedlars in the East End. A key figure in the HSC was Surat Alley, a political activist whose main concern and area of activism was the working conditions of Indian seamen. The Club also served as a social centre for Indians in the East End. In 1939, Alley organized a charity performance by the Indian dancer Ram Gopal and his troupe for the entertainment of the Club’s members (L/PJ/12/630, p. 60).

The Club also functioned as a political meeting place and as a forum where Indian activists could educate and mobilize working-class Indians against British colonial rule. Alley issued to its members news bulletins in Urdu and Bengali on the British Government’s oppression of Indian workers and peasants, and in 1942 the Club hosted an ‘Indian Independence Day’ meeting, attended by Mulk Raj Anand as well as numerous well-known activists (L/PJ/12/454, pp. 13-16). Further, with Surat Alley as its Honorary Secretary, it inevitably had links with the Colonial Seamen’s Association as well as with other organizations for lascars, and, according to a government surveillance report, in 1939 it served as a meeting place for striking lascars (L/PJ/12/630, p. 25). In the eyes of the Government, Surat Alley’s association with the Club made it particularly suspect; in 1940, its premises (also Alley’s home at the time) were searched because of Alley’s links with Udham Singh (ibid., p. 81). 

Example: 

Extract from New Scotland Yard Report No. 156, 13 December 1939, L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 60

Secondary works: 

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Content: 

This Indian Political Intelligence file, titled ‘Indian Seamen: Unrest and Welfare’, includes numerous government surveillance and police reports on the activities of lascars in Britain in the 1930s and 1940s, focusing in particular on their strikes and other forms of activism against their pay and conditions.

Date began: 
01 Jan 1934
Extract: 

A short time ago Ramzan alias Surat ALI was able to secure the services of the well known Indian dancer, Ram GOPAL and his company, for a charity performance in order to mitigate the distress caused by the war among Indian seamen and pedlars, and a special matinee was arranged for Friday 1st December, 1939, at the Vaudeville Theatre, Strand W.C., the proceeds of which were to be given to the Hindustani Social Club.

Although ALI did his utmost to boost the matinee and a special committee of the Hindustani Social Club was formed to organise publicity, with Mrs. May DUTT (wife of D.N. DUTT) of 160 Highlever Road, W.10 as its honorary treasurer, the performance had to be postponed owing to lack of support. There is no doubt that ALI’s failure was due to the fact that the London Indian Community has no faith in him and suspected that he would use the proceeds for his own ends. 

Precise date began unknown: 
Y
Key Individuals' Details: 

Surat Alley (Honorary Secretary), Said Amir Shah (Secretary).

Relevance: 

This extract demonstrates the presence of South Asian culture – in the form of dance – at the heart of the imperial metropolis and in a key cultural venue. Moreover, the fact that this performance, which did eventually take place,  was attended by working-class Indians from the HSC locates this disadvantaged sector of the community within this central London space, albeit briefly. That middle-class Indians (such as the Dutts) were concerned for the welfare of their working-class counterparts is suggestive of the sense of community which was developing among South Asians in Britain during this period, which evidently traversed boundaries of class. The involvement of Surat Alley, who was better known for his political activism on behalf of the lascars, with this cultural production points to the intersection of the cultural, social and political for Indians in Britain.

Connections: 

Mulk Raj Anand (attended meetings), Dr D. N. Dutt (attended meetings), May Dutt (wife of Dr D. N. Dutt, Treasurer of publicity committee for charity performance given by Ram Gopal), Ram Gopal and company, Tahsil Miah (shared lodgings with Surat Alley at the HSC), Kundal Lal Jalie, Sahibdad Khan (attended meetings), Ghulam Mohammed (attended meetings), Shah Abdul Majid Qureshi (attended meetings), Sarah Reder (Alley’s ‘mistress’, attended meetings), John Kartar Singh (attended meetings), Dr C. B. Vakil (attended meetings).

Archive source: 

Flyer, Tower Hamlets Archives Collection

L/PJ/12/454, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/630, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Locations

35 Portree Street
London, E14 0HT
United Kingdom
179 High Street Poplar
London, E15 2NE
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Performance of Ram Gopal and company, 1939

‘Indian Independence Day’ meeting, 1942

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