It’s difficult to recall a day 68 years ago when you are 94. But the
RIN mutiny, which many believe was the last nail in the Raj’s coffin,
wasn’t just any other day. And I happened to be a proximate eyewitness
to this momentous event.
On February 18, 1946, ratings at the HMIS
Talwar, a shore establishment for signals training, went on strike,
protesting against the inedible meals and searing insults to which they
were regularly subjected. The revolt spread like wildfire. Some
mutineers took up arms; others took to the streets of Bombay. Ratings
famously pulled down the Union Jack on rebel ships, replacing it with
flags of the Congress, the Muslim League and the Communist Party of
Unlike the sepoys of 1857, who were a heterogeneous group, the RIN
ratings were by and large educated, well-trained and well-armed. The
British administration was not so much perturbed by the peaceful
civil disobedience movement (satyagraha) launched by Mahatma Gandhi as
by the spectre of an insurrection in the modern Indian armed forces,
which they had themselves trained.
Later that evening, I went to Apollo Bunder—the Gateway of India.
Everything was quiet. Thereafter, I was taken by some friends to the
flat of one of the activist supporters of the mutiny. I learnt that the
morning’s event I witnessed was but a small part of a well-orchestrated
chain of strikes and demonstrations. No wonder the British government
By February 22, the mutiny had spread to naval units across
the country. Some 20,000 sailors, 20 offshore establishments and over
70 ships are believed to have been involved. That British prime minister
Clement Attlee announced the Cabinet Mission to India just a day after
the mutiny erupted is testimony to the mutiny’s perceived threat.
The revolt was as spectacular as it was short-lived. Neither the
Congress nor the Muslim League supported it; the strike committee
surrendered after talks with Vallabhbhai Patel. Hundreds of mutineers
were jailed or dismissed, never to be reabsorbed by the armed forces of
independent India or Pakistan. Never were the ratings celebrated as
Within a year and a half of that day, India became free and the RIN
became the Indian navy. On the day of independence, I was with my
wife-to-be on a little hillock called Antop Hill. Suddenly, the sky lit
up with fireworks and I knew we had become free. I owned a small car, a
dkw two-seater. It had seen many owners, and wouldn’t start without
pushing. That day, I had kept it on the slope of the hill so it would
start easily. My wife and I jumped into the car, which dutifully rolled
down the hill. Jubilant, we drove to Marine Drive and joined the stream
of cars going to the secretariat.