Untold lives blog

54 posts categorized "Reform"

15 August 2022

Sources for Indian Independence and the creation of Pakistan

This month sees the 75th anniversary of the partition of pre-1947 India and the creation of the modern states of India and Pakistan.  The British Library holds a wealth of resources relating to these events.

Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah  walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge Simla, 11 May 1946.Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru & Mr M.A. Jinnah, walking together in the grounds of Viceregal Lodge Simla. 11 May 1946. British Library Photo 134/2(28) Images Online

India Office Records:
These are the official records of the India Office, the British Government department responsible for the administration of pre-1947 British India.  Created in London or received from India as part of the normal business of government, for example correspondence or copied reports, they complement the huge collections of official records in archives in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Front cover of Top Secret Report on the Punjab Boundary Force Front cover of Top Secret report on the Punjab Boundary Force  1947-1948 IOR/L/WS/1/1134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The most significant series for the study of independence and partition are:

• Fortnightly reports: Governors, Chief Commissioners and Chief Secretaries 1937-1948, and British High Commissioners and Deputy High Commissioners 1947-1950 (IOR/L/PJ/5/128-336).
• Public & Judicial Collection 117: law and order, 1933-1947 (IOR/L/PJ/8).
• Transfer of Power Papers 1942-1945 (IOR/L/PJ/10).
• Indian Political Intelligence files, 1913 to 1947 (IOR/L/PJ/12).
• Files on political and constitutional development, 1916-1947 (IOR/L/PO/6).
• Private correspondence: printed series and file copies, 1914-1947 (IOR/L/PO/10).
• Political papers and correspondence with Provincial Governors and their Secretaries, 1936-1948 (IOR/R/3/1/1-178).
• Records relating to Gandhi and the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1922-1946 (IOR/R/3/1/289-370).
• Files of the Bengal Governor’s Secretariat, 1936-1947 (IOR/R/3/2/1-86).

Map of pre-partitiion India from Mountbatten's last report showing which parts became PakistanMap of pre-partitiion India from Mountbatten's last report showing which parts became Pakistan IOR/L/PJ/5/396/15 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

India Office Private Papers:
These collections of papers differ from the official records through being created or kept by individuals, families or organisations separate from government.  They provide alternative perspectives on official business and insights into individuals’ lives, and include significant collections relating to independence and partition. To take just a few examples:

• Secretaries of State for India, such as Sir Samuel Hoare (Mss Eur E240) and the Marquess of Zetland (Mss Eur D609).
• Viceroys, such as the 2nd Marquess of Linlithgow (Mss Eur F125), Lord Wavell (Mss Eur D977) and Earl Mountbatten of Burma (IOR Neg 15538-67).
• Provincial Governors, such as Sir Maurice Hallett (Mss Eur E251) and Sir Francis Mudie (Mss Eur F164).
• Permanent Under-Secretaries of State for India, 1920-1948 (Mss Eur D714).
• Military men, such as Major John McLoughlin Short, Civil Liaison Officer to the Sikh community 1940-42, and Personal Assistant to Sir Stafford Cripps during Cabinet Mission to India 1946 (Mss Eur F189).
• Indian political leaders and supporters of independence such as Gandhi (several small collections), Mahomed Ali Jinnah (IOR Neg 10760-826), and Sir Fazl-i-Husain (Mss Eur E352).
• The struggle for freedom during the last three decades of British rule in India was the backdrop to the lives of many British families in India.  Not surprisingly, it often features in memoirs, journals, diaries and letters home found in numerous small collections of private papers.  For example: a letter, dated 26 Sept 1947, from Freda Evelyn Oliver, wife of the Deputy Commissioner of Bahawalpur State, describing her family's journey from Simla to Bahawalpur during the disturbances following partition (Mss Eur A168).

Map showing the partition of Punjab Map showing the partition of Punjab IOR/L/WS/1/1134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Library holds a mass of other source materials for the study of independence and partition, including photographs and newspapers.   There is a wonderful collection of Indian publications banned or ‘proscribed’ by the British Government as they were considered seditious or liable to incite unrest.  In addition, one of the most fascinating resources the British Library holds is the Oral History collections, allowing researchers the ability to hear the voices of the people who lived through those momentous times.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Transfer of Power, 1942-7: Constitutional Relations between Britain and India, edited by Nicholas Mansergh, 12 vols. (London, 1970-1983).

Gandhi and Civil Disobedience: Documents in the India Office Records 1922-1946 by Amar Kaur Jasbir Singh (London, 1980).

Indian Independence Collection Guide

Publications proscribed by the Government of India: a catalogue of the collections in the India Office Library and Records and the Department of Oriental Manuscripts and Printed Books, British Library Reference Division, edited by Graham Shaw and Mary Lloyd (London: British Library, 1985).

Oral History collections relating to independence and partition: Oral histories of migration, ethnicity and post-colonialism - scroll down to the section on ‘British rule in India’.

Titles of English language Indian newspapers are listed on the Explore the British Library catalogue, and British newspaper reports can be found online by searching the British Newspaper Archive.

Collections in the UK on Indian Independence and Partition

 

24 March 2022

Sources for Madame Cama, Indian Political Activist

The struggle for Indian independence from British rule was not only carried on in India, but was eagerly pursued by Indian activists and revolutionaries across the world, particularly in Europe and America.  The India Office Records contains some fascinating files on one such activist, Bhikhaiji Rustom Cama, more often known as Madame Cama.

Stamp of India 1962 depicting Bhikhaiji Cama.Stamp of India 1962 depicting Bhikhaiji Cama. Copyrighted work of the Government of India, licensed under the Government Open Data License - India (GODL)

Born in 1861 into a wealthy Parsi family in Bombay, Madame Cama was educated at the Alexandra Parsi Girls School in Bombay, and later married Rustom Cama, a lawyer and son of the prominent Parsi reformer K R Cama.  With her health suffering due to her work as social worker during the 1897 plague epidemic in Bombay, Madame Cama travelled to Britain in 1901.  She would spend the next three decades working tirelessly for Indian freedom from British rule, becoming known as the ‘Mother of Indian Revolution’.  In 1907, Madame Cama moved to Paris, where she was at the centre of a small group of Indian nationalists.  That year she also travelled to Stuttgart for the International Socialist Conference, where she spoke of the poverty of the Indian people due to British rule, and unfurled the National flag of India 'amid loud cheers' as reported in the Manchester Courier.

The India Office was greatly concerned at the influence of Indian activists abroad, and through the intelligence services kept a close eye on their activities.  In 1915, the India Office received a copy of a letter sent to the Foreign Office from the British Political Officer in Basra, along with a specimen of Bande Mataram, the pamphlet published by Madame Cama, found in an Indian soldier’s kit.  In his letter, he asked: 'In view of the existing conditions of war and of close alliance with France, could the French Government be got to arrest Madame Cama and put her away somewhere?'  A note in the file suggested such a move would do more harm than good and pointed out: 'The lady is under close observation, and is not now in a position to tamper with Indian troops'.  By February 1917 more direct action had been taken, with the newspaper Call reporting that 'Madame B. Cama, editor of the "Bande Mataram", a Hindu paper published in Paris, is one of the most important women who have been denied their liberty.  She was interned in Paris at the special request of the British Government'.

Intelligence Report on Indian Communists 1924Intelligence Report on Indian Communists -  British Library IOR/L/PJ/12/49 f.134 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In the 1920s and 1930s, surveillance of Indian activists continued.  Madame Cama appears in several of the files of Indian Political Intelligence, the branch of British Intelligence responsible for monitoring Indian nationalist in the UK, Europe and America, and some examples are given below in the suggestions for further reading. 

Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe Intelligence Report on Indians in Europe - British Library IOR/L/PJ/12/50 f.14 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Madame Cama's health had never fully recovered from her social work in 1897, and her work, combined with continual government hostility, strained it further.  As she wrote to the Russian political activist Maxim Gorky in 1912: 'All my time and energy are devoted to my country and her struggle'.  In November 1935, she returned to India, and died shortly afterwards in August 1936.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Pamphlets published by Madame Cama of a seditious nature and names of four Indians implicated in sedition, April-May 1915, shelfmark IOR/L/PS/11/91, P 1667/1915.

Indian agitators abroad; containing short accounts of the more important Indian political agitators who have visited Europe and America in recent years, and their sympathisers, compiled in the Criminal Intelligence Office, 1st edition, November 1911 (Simla: Government Monotype Press, 1911), shelfmark IOR/V/27/262/1.

Chowdhury, Bulu Roy, Madame Cama: a short life-sketch (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1977), shelfmark Mss Eur F341/108.

Indian Political Intelligence files at British Library:
IOR/L/PJ/12/49: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1923-1924 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 134 and 187-190.
IOR/L/PJ/12/50: Indian Communist Party: intelligence reports, 1924-1925 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 12-16.
IOR/L/PJ/12/174: Activities and passport application of Mandayam P Tirumal Acharya, 1926-1933 - Madame Cama is mentioned at folio 12.
IOR/L/PJ/12/219: Activities of Indians and Afghans in Paris: activities, 1924-1925 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the papers at folios 10, 11 and 18.
IOR/L/PJ/12/667: M.I.5. B[lack].L[ist]. Volume XXI (Indian Volume), 1921 - Madame Cama is mentioned in the entry for Sirdar Singhji Revabhai Ranna on page 57.

Foreign Office papers regarding Madame Cama can be found at the UK National Archives, references FO 800/56B.

British Newspaper Archive (also available via Findmypast):
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 23 August 1907.
India, 30 August 1907.
The Call (London), 01 February 1917.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’.

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

06 January 2022

Protesting Against the Simon Commission

One controversial moment in India’s fight for freedom from British rule in the 1920s, was the arrival in India of the members of the Indian Statutory Commission in 1928.  The India Office Private Papers at the British Library contains some wonderful material documenting this event.

The Indian Statutory Commission was a British commission appointed on 26 November 1927 to enquire into the working of the system of government, the growth of education, and the development of representative institutions in British India, and to recommend future policy regarding further constitutional reforms.  It is often referred to as the Simon Commission after its Chairman Sir John Allsebrook Simon.  Unfortunately, the members of the Commission all belonged to the British ruling classes, and the exclusion of Indian members understandable prompted outrage in India, with both Congress and the Muslim League boycotting the Commission.  The Commission visited India twice, once in February/March 1928, and again from 11 October 1928 to 13 April 1929, and wherever they travelled there were protest marches.  Protestors questioned the Commission's legitimacy and demanded that it leave India.

A black flag with the words ‘Simon Go Back’ in white lettering'Simon Go Back’ flag, reference Mss Eur D856 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

One particularly striking item in the Private Paper collections relating to these protests is a black flag with the words ‘Simon Go Back’ in white lettering, reference Mss Eur D856.  The flag had been given to Lady Carter, wife of Richard Henry (later Sir Archibald) Carter, Assistant Secretary to the Commission.  It had been presented to her while on a visit to the United Provinces by the Governor, Sir Malcolm Hailey (later Baron Hailey).  Of him, she wrote: ‘I first saw him at a tennis party and he swooped down on us like a great hawk.  Everybody seemed frightened of him, but I loved him at first sight’.  The story Lady Carter told of how Lord Hailey obtained the flag was that he had joined one of the processions against the Commission.  She said: ‘He gave me one of the black flags that they carry in the processions against the Commission, with a SIMON GO BACK on it’.

Protest banner with the words: 'Indian Uninvited Guest, Simon Go Back’Protest banner Mss Eur D890/1 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is also another protest banner in the papers of Sir (Samuel) Findlater Stewart (1879-1960), India Office official from 1903 to 1940, demanding ‘Indian Uninvited Guest, Simon Go Back’, reference Mss Eur D890/1.

The Commission published its report in two volumes in 1930 to further criticism and condemnation in India.  It was rejected by virtually all parts of the Indian political spectrum, and in London it sparked a march from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Station by around 200 protestors.  The British Government responded by holding a series of Round Table Conferences held in London between November 1930 and December 1932.  This eventually fed into the reforms incorporated into the 1935 Government of India Act.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
`Simon go back' black flag used in Congress demonstrations against the Indian Statutory (Simon) Commission; reference Mss Eur D856.

Papers of the Indian Statutory Commission 1928-1930; series reference IOR/Q/13.

Papers of the Round Table Conference, 1930-1932; series reference IOR/Q/RTC.

Papers of 1st Viscount Simon as Chairman of Indian Statutory Commission 1927-1930; collection reference Mss Eur F77.

Government of India Act 1935.

Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950: Indian Statutory Commission.

05 November 2021

Fireworks in India for Queen Victoria

A Royal Proclamation was published in India on 1 November 1858 transferring government from the East India Company to the Crown.  The document, addressed to the Princes, Chiefs, and people of India, was read out in the open in many places in both English and vernacular languages.  Public displays of fireworks and illuminations were organised to celebrate the change.

Copy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858, announcing the transference of the government of India from the East India Company to the CrownCopy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858, announcing the transference of the government of India from the East India Company to the Crown - British Library Mss Eur D620

The transfer of power from the Company to the Crown took place in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion. Viscount Canning was appointed first Viceroy and Governor General.  The proclamation announced that all Company civil and military personnel were confirmed in post ‘subject to Our future pleasure’.  Treaties and engagements made with Princes of India were to be ‘scrupulously maintained’.  No extension to present British territories was desired and the ‘Rights, Dignity, and Honour’ of the Princes would be respected.  Internal peace and good government would secure social advancement for the whole of India.  The native peoples of British India would be treated with the same obligations of duty as all Queen Victoria’s other subjects.  There was to be no imposition of Christianity, no discrimination on religious grounds, and no interference with belief or worship.  People of any race or creed would be able to hold office if qualified ‘by their education, ability, and integrity’.  Ancient rights, usages and customs would be respected.

The proclamation also spoke of the Rebellion, lamenting ‘the evils and misery which have been brought upon India by the acts of ambitious men’.  Pardons were offered for all ‘Offenders’ except those convicted of ‘having directly taken part in the Murder of British Subjects’.

Viscount Canning presided over the proclamation ceremony at Allahabad, which began with a salute of nineteen guns and the national anthem.  The document was read out in English, followed by an Urdu translation.  A firework display lasted from 8.30pm to nearly midnight – ‘trees of fire, crackers, squibs, whirligigs, and rockets’.

In Calcutta, large numbers of people gathered to hear the proclamation read from the steps of Government House, first in English and then in Bengali.  The royal standard was hoisted, cheered by the Europeans in the crowd.  At night there was a wonderful display of gas light illuminations.  The Homeward Mail was impressed: ‘ No other city in the world could have prepared such a sight... The City of Palaces shone a city of fire… we do not think any pen can paint the beauty of the scene’.  Even the smallest shops were decorated with a few lights.

Crowds flocked to the fort in Bombay to hear the proclamation in English and Marathi.  Ships in the harbour then fired a salute of 101 guns.  The fireworks were on a scale never before seen in Bombay and workmen had spent days constructing elaborate illuminations on government buildings and the private mansions of prominent Indians.  Poor citizens had decorated the narrow streets and alleys.

At Madras the proclamation was read in front of an invited European audience of about 100, and there was a gun salute.  According to The Homeward Mail the only Indian present was the man who translated the document from English.  However a week later there were ‘some bad fireworks’, dancing girls and jugglers, and a state ball at the illuminated banqueting ball.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Library Mss Eur D620 Copy of the Proclamation by the Queen in Council dated Allahabad 1 November 1858.
British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast e.g. The Friend of India 4 November 1858; The Homeward Mail 6 December and 15 December 1858; Evening Mail 6 December 1858.

There are a number of files in the India Office Records about public ceremonies held to celebrate the proclamation e.g.
IOR/L/PS/6/495, Coll 76/312 Measures taken to publicize the Royal Proclamation announcing the assumption of the Government of India by the Crown, October 1858-June 1859.
IOR/L/PS/6/463, Coll 36/9 Notification to the Princely States of Northern India of the Royal Proclamation transferring the government of India to the Crown - reports on the public ceremonies held in celebration - complimentary letters from some of the Native Princes, October 1858-January 1859.
IOR/L/PS/6/489, Coll 76/14 Papers relating to the North Western Provinces - expenditure incurred on illuminations in the Rohilkhand Division during the ceremonies accompanying the formal transfer of power from the East India Company to the Queen, November 1858-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/46 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 38 rupees 5 annas on illuminations at Jalalabad Fort on the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/39 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 5446 rupees incurred on providing fireworks and illuminations at Allahabad on the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.
IOR/L/PS/6/490, Coll 76/36 North Western Provinces - expenditure of 500 rupees incurred on illuminations and fireworks at Banda during the occasion of the reading of the Royal Proclamation, January 1859-January 1860.

 

12 October 2021

The Rational Dress Society

The Rational Dress Society was founded in 1881 in London.  The aim of the Society was ‘to promote the adoption, according to individual taste and convenience, of a style of dress based upon considerations of health, comfort, and beauty, and to deprecate constant changes of fashion, which cannot be recommended on any of these grounds’.  The Society promoted its work through drawing room meetings, advertisements, pamphlets, leaflets, and by issuing clothing patterns approved by the Committee.  There was an annual membership subscription of 2s 6d.

Rules of the Rational Dress SocietyRules of The Rational Dress Society printed in Viscountess Harberton's Reasons for reform in dress Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In 1884 Viscountess Harberton, President of the Rational Dress Society, published a pamphlet entitled Reasons for reform in dress.  She contended that anything truly beautiful was in accord with nature and questioned how far current women’s clothing conformed to that rule.  A woman’s waist was naturally broad and flat, but dresses were designed to set off a round waist, sloping in like the letter V from under the arms.

Front cover of Reasons for Reform in DressFront cover of Viscountess Harberton's Reasons for reform in dress Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Skirts were absurd, amounting to the hanging of a sort of curtain round the wearer.  They combined the maximum of weight with the minimum of warmth, and were the cause of many accidents.  Queen Victoria was reported to have sprained her ankle by stepping on her dress.  Women were hurt walking, trying to run, or when getting in and out of trains and carriages.  Every quick or sudden movement was dangerous.  Interference with the power of locomotion resulted in the loss of nerve-power.  A long skirt had a ‘constant liability to disarrangement’ and was difficult to keep clean as it rubbed against the heels and dipped into dust and dirt. 

Moreover, skirts were tiring to walk in – the legs had to be pushed against a mass of drapery.  Going upstairs, a woman probably raised between 2lb and 6lb of weight with her knee at every step.  Women expended maybe twice as much energy as men walking the same distance: ‘Nature gave muscles to the legs to support and convey the body, but never contemplated half the world constructing an artificial jungle for themselves to wade through as long as life lasts’.  Viscountess Harberton therefore advocated the need for women to be able to wear some form of divided skirt.

Viscountess Harberton clothed in Rational Dress - black and white image from a newspaper showing an outfit described as a navy blue jacket and skirt with a white silk vest.
Viscountess Harberton clothed in Rational Dress – navy blue with a white silk vest - from The Gentlewoman 18 April 1891, British Newspaper Archive also available via Findmypast

The pamphlet also discusses the ‘unmitigated evil’ of stays which displaced the internal organs and reduced the wearer’s ability to breathe.  The human form should not be altered to suit the dress: ‘would it not be wiser were all classes to combine to devise and adopt a dress which was both pretty and convenient? ... Our present dress sins against Art, it sins against Health, and it sins against Utility’.  A fresh start was necessary, ‘and if we are too faint-hearted to do this, we may as well give up the whole thing, with the humiliating reflection, that we have not fulfilled our duty in our generation, though seeing it clearly, but have left a grievous burden on our daughters, from which we could well have freed them, but we lacked the courage of our opinions’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Viscountess Harberton, Reasons for reform in dress (London, 1884) British Library General Reference Collection 7745.bb.6
The Rational Dress Society’s Gazette
Lady Tricyclists

01 June 2021

The Development of Pakistan

The India Office Records contain many important files relating to the history of South Asia pre-1947.  One such file documents the early development of the idea of the new nation of Pakistan.

Cover of file entitled 'Alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935',

Cover of file entitled 'Alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935',

The idea of Indian Muslims constituting a separate nation within India equal to that of a Hindu nation went back at least to the 19th century and the work of Sayyid Ahmed Khan.  However it was the writings of the poet Muhammad Iqbal who gave concrete expression to the concept of an autonomous political Muslim state in the north-west of India.  The idea gained popular ground throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, representing for many the idea of a modern nation state for India’s Muslims and a symbol of Muslim identity.

Display of booklets on schemes for reform

Booklets on alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935, including advocacy of Pakistan, 1933-1946, shelfmark IOR NEG 584.

During this period, the India Office received copies of publications by groups and individuals outlining their conception of what they thought Pakistan should be, or in what ways India’s constitution should be reformed to take account of its different communities.  Some of the booklets were submitted by leading figures in India such as Sir Ardeshir Dalal and Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan, and there is even a booklet on ‘Pakistan and Muslim India’ with a foreword by M.A. Jinnah.

Beginning of 'Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?'Beginning of Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever? 

The file contains the pamphlet entitled Now or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?  Issued in 1933 by Choudhary Rahmat Ali, a Punjabi student at Cambridge, it outlined a plan for a separate Muslim state outside India.  He even suggested a name, ‘Pakstan’, meaning ‘land of the pure’ from the Persian pak for pure; and also an acronym for the areas in northwest Indian in which Muslims were in a majority: Punjab, Afghan (North-West Frontier) Province, Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan.  The same year, Rahmat Ali founded the Pakistan National Movement in order to build political support for the creation of Pakistan.  Included in the file is his circular letter of 8 July 1935 with a small map in the letterhead illustrating what he envisaged Pakistan to be.  He would continue to campaign for a separate state for Indian Muslims until his death in 1951, with his proposed schemes becoming ever more elaborate.  Inevitably he was disappointed with the Partition plan accepted by the Muslim League in 1947, publishing 'The Greatest Betrayal: How to Redeem the Millat?' in response.

Rahmat Ali's circular letter of 1935

Rahmat Ali's circular letter of 1935

The file also shows the Viceroy and the Government of India, and the British Government through the Secretary of State, struggling with increasingly rapid constitutional developments in the final years of British India.  As such it is a valuable file for the study and understanding of the end of British rule in India and the subsequent Independence of India and the creation of Pakistan.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Alternative schemes to replace Federal provisions of Government of India Act, 1935, including advocacy of Pakistan, 1933-1946, shelfmark IOR NEG 584.
Complete works of Rahmat Ali, edited by K. K. Aziz (Islamabad: National Commission of Historical and Cultural Research, 1978), shelfmark: Document Supply 3610.265000 no 2.
The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’ 

29 April 2021

Bhicoo Batlivala, Campaigner for Indian Independence

The names of the leading proponents of Indian independence from British rule are well known, but the fight was carried on by many thousands of campaigners and activists who devoted their lives to this important cause.  One such campaigner was Bhicoo Batlivala.

Bhicoo Batlivala - head and shoulders photographic portraitPortrait photograph by Douglas of Bhicoo Batlivala from The Bystander 16 February 1938 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

Bhicoo Batlivala was born in Bombay on 1 January 1911.  Her father, Sorabji Batlivala, was a successful mill owner.  When she was only ten years old she was sent to Britain for her education, where she attended the Cheltenham Ladies College, before studying law and becoming a Barrister of the Inner Temple in 1932.  In July that year, the Dundee Courier listed her in its piece on ‘Men and Women of Today’, describing her as ‘dark, slender, and with dark auburn hair and regular features’.  Intelligent with an adventurous spirit, Batlivala was also a pilot, and a keen player of polo and tennis.

Bhicoo Batlivala - article in Dundee Courier 14 July 1932Dundee Courier 14 July 1932 British Newspaper Archive also available from Findmypast

After practising as a barrister in the UK for a few years, she returned to India.  It was reported in British newspapers that she was the first woman to be admitted to the State Service of Baroda, where she held a variety of Government positions, including Inspector of Schools.  On returning to England, she married Guy Mansell in London in 1939.  They set up home in Cobham, Surrey.

Batlivala was an active member of the India League, an organisation founded in 1916 to promote the cause of Indian independence.  She regularly attended meetings throughout the 1940s, often as a speaker, a fact noted in Government intelligence reports.  She also became associated with Jawaharlal Nehru, at one point acting as his secretary, and campaigning for his release from prison.  In 1940, she embarked on a six month lecture tour in America causing the British Government considerable anxiety.

On 24 February 1943, Batlivala led a delegation of Indian women to the Central lobby of the House of Commons.  Once there they met several women M.P.s, and put their case for the release of Gandhi who had been imprisoned in India at the start of the Quit India Campaign.  The Derby Daily Telegraph reported that the Indian women wore ‘beautiful native robes’, and quoted Batlivala as saying ‘We are urging that the release of Gandhi should be put before the Government as a very urgent matter.  It is not a question only of Hindus or of one particular community.  Indians of all communities here are very deeply concerned about the present drift of the situation as it is being handled by the Government’.

In an article for International Woman Suffrage News, Batlivala highlighted the hypocrisy of Britain using India’s resources to fight the threat of Nazism, while denying India her own freedom.  She concluded; ‘The Indian people have repeatedly declared that they have no quarrel with the British people, but they will no longer tolerate a system of Imperialism.  If the British Government declares that its fight is for the liberation of all nations then it must liberate India.  The world is watching’.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Miss Bhicoo Batlivala, 1938-1940, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1295.

Indian Political Intelligence files:
India League: reports on members and activities, 1940-1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/453.
India League: reports on members and activities, 1943-1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/456.
Bhicoo Batlivala alias Mansell, India League: activities in USA, 1939-1943, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/631.

The British Newspaper Archive  - also available via Findmypast
Dundee Courier, 14 July 1932.
Gloucestershire Echo, 06 November 1936.
Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 January 1938.
International Woman Suffrage News, 03 January 1941.
Derby Daily Telegraph, 24 February 1943.

The Open University, ‘Making Britain, Discover how South Asians shaped the nation, 1870-1950’  - Bhicoo Batlivala

Asians in Britain: 400 years of history, Rozina Visram (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

 

16 March 2021

Sources for Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Abul Kalam Azad was born on 11 November 1888 in Mecca, the youngest child of Sheikh Khairuddin Dehlavi, an Islamic scholar, and the niece of the mufti of Medina.  In 1898, the family moved to Calcutta.  Azad was given a traditional Indo-Islamic education at home by his father, which included Arabic, Persian and Urdu, study of the Quran and the Hadith, Islamic philosophy and theology, and mathematics.  He also began to explore the new religious and political ideas in the wider Arab world.

The Cabinet Mission with Congress President Maulana AzadPhoto 134/2(18) The Cabinet Mission with Congress President, Maulana Azad, 17 April 1946 Images Online

Azad began a career in journalism writing for Urdu newspapers, and in 1906 he became editor of the Amritsar newspaper Vakil, the best known Urdu newspaper of the time.  He introduced literary and historical features, and wrote about events in Turkey and the Middle East.  In 1912, he founded the journal al-Hilal in order to more widely raise the cause of Indian Muslims.  Al-Hilal was politically and religiously radical, and was closed by the Bengal Government in 1915.  In 1916, he was interned in Ranchi and detained there until the end of 1919.  During his internment he began work on a translation and commentary on the Koran, called Tarjuman al-Quran.  He was imprisoned again in 1921, along with other nationalist leaders.

In 1923, Azad was elected president of the special session of the National Congress held in Delhi to decide the future course of nationalist action, where he called for Hindu-Muslim co-operation.  He was again imprisoned in 1930 after taking part in Gandhi’s disobedience movement.

In 1940 he was elected President of Congress, a post he held until 1946, and was fully involved in the constitutional negotiations leading up to Independence.  He strove to bring Muslim and Hindu together and vehemently opposed partition.  The principal of a united India was fundamental to Azad’s political ideology, and he resolutely held to it throughout the negotiations.  He believed that there was no harm in deferring freedom by a few years if partition could be avoided.  In India Wins Freedom [p.205] he describes how at the beginning of 1947 he tried to persuade Gandhi of this:

'I pleaded with him that the present state of affairs might be allowed to continue for two years.  De facto power was already in Indian hands and if the de jure transfer was delayed for two years, this might enable Congress and the League to come to a settlement….I realised that if a decision was taken now, partition was inevitable but a better solution might emerge after a year or two.  Gandhi did not reject my suggestion but neither did he indicate any enthusiasm for it'.

In the final years of his life, Azad held the post of Minister for Education, and dictated a political memoir called India Wins Freedom.  He died in Delhi on 22 February 1958.  The India Office Records at the British Library holds many files relating to this fascinating and influential man.


John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Information Department file on Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/I/1/1287.

Prosecution of Mr A K Azad for delivering a seditious speech at Mirzapore Square, Calcutta; judgement, 1922, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1791, File 963.

Government of Bengal refusal of a passport to Mr M A K Azad to proceed to Europe for medical treatment: Parliamentary question, July 1924, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/6/1882, File 2692.

Election of Abul Kalam Azad as Congress President by an overwhelming majority, Feb 1940, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/3553.

Telegram regarding an attempt made by an Indian lawyer to smuggle two unauthorised letters to Abul Kalam Azad, Congress President, in Naini Central Jail, March 1941, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/4371.

Correspondence between the Viceroy and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, regarding the Indian political situation, Oct-Nov 1945, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/7/8486.

Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad: passport application, 1924-1925, shelfmark IOR/L/PJ/12/183.

Congress Working Committee: Abul Kalam Azad's letters to Viceroy, dated 28 November 1944, Dec 1944-Apr 1945, shelfmark IOR/R/3/1/329.

Private Office Paper’s file on the Cabinet Mission to India; includes papers on Abul Kalam Azad's response to Cripps and Cabinet Mission's proposals for formation of Interim Government, 1946, shelfmark IOR/L/PO/6/115.

Correspondence between the Secretary of State for India and the Viceroy, 1945-1947, shelfmarks IOR/L/PO/10/22, IOR/L/PO/10/23 and IOR/L/PO/10/24.

Subject file on Maulana Azad, Apr 1947, shelfmark Mss Eur IOR Neg 15539/6 (in the papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma as Viceroy 1947 and Governor-General 1947-48 of India).

Correspondence between Jinnah, Nehru, Azad, Prasad, and others, 1938-1939, shelfmark IOR Neg 10762/4 (in the papers of Quaid-i-Azam Mahomed Ali Jinnah, leader of Muslim League in India and founder of Pakistan).

Photographs of Maulana Azad, 1946, shelfmarks Photo 1117/1(31), Photo 1117/1(36), Photo 1117/2(4), Photo 134/1(31), Photo 134/2(17), Photo 134/2(18), Photo 134/2(24), Photo 134/2(27)

Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom (the complete version) (London: Sangam, 1988), shelfmarks YC.1989.a.5439 and ORW.1989.a.1244.

For printed collections of Abul Kalam Azad’s writings search the British Library catalogue.

 

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