HC Deb 11 February 1929 vol 225 cc8-13
3. Colonel WEDGWOOD

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he can give any information as to the riots in Bombay; and will an inquiry be held as to the responsibility of Pathans or Hindus for the deaths?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India if he can give the House the latest information with regard to the industrial situation and the riots in Bombay?

13. Mr. DAY

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he has received a report of the rioting which took place in the mill area of Bombay on 4th, 5th and 6th February; the number of persons injured; whether any of these were Europeans; and whether he can give the House full particulars?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he has any further information to give the House as to the riots in India?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India if he has ally further information about the disturbances in Bombay, which resulted in heavy casualties; what was the number of killed and wounded in the fight between the two factions; what was the number of persons killed and injured by the police in their effort to quell the disturbance; are the Pathans in Bombay British subjects; had the Government of Bombay received complaints against or had knowledge of criminal activities attributed to them; and is he aware that these Pathans have settled in most of the industrial areas in India as moneylenders, charging exorbitant rates of interest to the poor working-class borrowers, not infrequently ranging to 400 per cent.?

On a point of Order. Have I your permission, Sir, to state at this juncture that my question does not associate me, or the Noble Lord, or this House with any religious feud that may be going on now, but it applies strictly to specific acts of certain persons and not to all persons following any religion?


I would ask the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Rennie Smith) to defer his request for information on the industrial situation until there is some certainty that order has been restored in Bombay. I must ask the indulgence of the House to make a long reply. On 7th December there began under Communist leadership, a strike of the workmen at the oil companies' installation, who are mostly Hindus. The oil companies engaged Pathan workmen in place of the strikers. Several fracas arose between strikers and Pathans, culminating on 18th January in the organised murder of three Pathan watchmen of New China Mills, by mill hands, not oil strikers. From 2nd February an entirely baseless rumour arose that Pathans were kidnapping children, to sacrifice them on the foundations of a bridge under construction in Baroda. On the 3rd and 4th there were sporadic assaults and murders of isolated Pathans. On the 5th, the leaders of a large body of Pathans, who till then had shown great forbearance, were asking the Police Commissioner for protection, when some Pathans started rioting. The police had instructions to ask for military assistance if and when it was required. At this point the police did ask for 100 British troops, and these were sent to their aid. Rioting spread between mobs of largely Hindu mill hands and small bodies of Pathans. A European police officer, Deputy-Inspector Priestley, was killed while endeavouring to prevent one such riot. On this same day (the 6th) isolated murders and assaults continued in various parts of the city.

On the 6th a further 100 British troops were posted to the city. During that afternoon rioting became definitely Hindu-Mohammedan, as the Mohammedans were incensed at previous and continued attacks by Hindus on Pathans. Mobs of either community, largely composed of hooligans, assaulted individuals and groups of the other community. On the night of the 6th one battalion of British troops from Poona and two companies from Deolali arrived, besides additional armed police. On the 7th Hindu-Mohammedan mobs renewed rioting in various parts of the city throughout the day and till late at night. On the 8th the situation appeared much quieter in the morning, but in the evening rioting broke out again, with looting and assaults by Hindu Bhaiyyas and Ghatis. On the 9th communal rioting continued and some attacks were made by Hindus on mosques and by Mohammedans on Hindu temples, and during the afternoon looting and arson began, but comparatively little damage was done. An Indian Infantry battalion from Santa Cruz was brought into Bombay on this day, and the Chief Presidency Magistrate published orders prohibiting the assembly of more than five persons in public places and prohibiting the movement or presence of anyone between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. in the street area comprising practically the whole city north of the fort.

Yesterday (the 10th) till noon, the situation was reported quieter. The Auxiliary Force had been embodied. During the whole period mobs have been committing assaults and murders of individuals. Mobs gather, and disperse into the lanes and houses before the police and military patrols can reach them, or remain ostensibly peaceful so long as the patrols are in the neighbourhood. Pickets are posted at selected centres, and patrols accompanied by magistrates are continually on the move in the disturbed areas. Military and police had to fire a few rounds on 14 occasions to disperse the mobs. The maximum number of rounds reported fired on any one occasion is 11. Up till the 8th, three persons were reported killed and 16 injured by this firing. Up to yesterday no report had reached the Bombay Government from the hospitals whether any of the latter had died. Later reports as to firing are not yet available owing to the disturbed conditions. The total casualties reported up to noon on the 10th were 112 killed, and about 400 injured. Nearly all these are victims of the mob. Leaders of the Hindu and Mohammedan communities and the "Citizens' Peace Committee" have been co-operating in the Government's effort to restore peace. The situation is still serious, though it is apparently improving. In regard to the hon. Member for North Battersea's question (Mr. Saklatvala), I may add that Pathans have for many years been a community in Bombay. Some are British subjects, some are not. As a community they are law-abiding and normally give no trouble to the authorities. The Pathans in Bombay are engaged in many occupations, moneylending among them. I have no knowledge of the interest rates charged by those who are moneylenders.


Will there be a thorough inquiry into these riots, and, if so, how will the Committee of Inquiry be composed? Is there any truth in the telegraphed news that the municipal authorities asked to have the liquor shops closed, and they were not closed?


I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that it is rather premature to give any details about the suggested Committee of Inquiry. The first thing to do is to stop the rioting. I have no doubt there will be an inquiry of some sort. With regard to the last part of the question, I have no information.


Is the Noble Lord aware that, four days before the incident at China Mills, it was reported by the police that when the strikers were dispersing from a peaceful meeting they were attacked by a mob of Pathans, and were seriously injured, and that 25 were removed to King Edward's Hospital and were in such a precarious position that the Chief Magistrate had to go there to take their depositions? Did not the China affray come out as the result of a cold-blooded attack by Pathans at a peaceful meeting? Further, is the Noble Lord not aware that, in addition to the serious personal attacks upon different persons and burglaries committed, there have been a series of reports and complaints to the Bombay police, including a very serious discussion in the Borough Council of the City, with regard to the anxiety caused to the citizens by Pathan hooligans long before this attack?


I said in my answer several fracas arose between strikers and Pathans, culminating in the organised murder—




The hon. Member must let the Noble Lord reply.


May I say, on a point of explanation, that I understand the Noble Lord's answer as to what happened on 18th January, but I wish to draw his attention to the fact that he omitted what happened on 11th January, when 25 people were injured to the point of death.


If the hon. Member had allowed himself to listen, he would have noticed that I have not forgotten. I said several fracas arose, culminating on 18th January in the organised murder of three Pathan watchmen. It is obviously too early at this stage to know who were primarily responsible for these riots, and who were most to blame. I should strongly deprecate, in this House or outside, any attempt at this moment to blame any particular set of individuals.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I know nothing about it. but you are obviously blaming.


I have carefully refrained in my answer from blaming any set of individuals, but I most emphatically say that the riots were partly due to the Communist organisation in the City.


Is it not true that the Noble Lord gave the House to understand that these troubles began by the murders by Pathans, and not by the murders of strikers?


May I, without producing any heat, he allowed to read again part of my answer. I said: On the 7th December there began under Communist leadership a strike of the workmen at the oil companies' installation, who are mostly Hindus. The oil companies engaged Pathan workmen in place of the strikers. Several fracas arose between strikers and Pathans, culminating on 18th January in the organised murder of three Pathan watchmen of New China Mills, by mill hands, not oil strikers. This is the Report received from the Government of India, word for word.


Was there any further reason, besides Communist leadership, for the breaking out of the strike?


I think that at this stage we had better not go further into that matter.


May I he permitted, again, to ask the Noble Lord a question, in the interest of justice and fair play, and without taking sides? He has stated that several fracas took place, culminating in the murder of three Pathans on the 18th January. Is he not aware that it first culminated on the 11th January with the Pathans attacking the strikers, 25 of whom were left in a dying condition?


The Noble Lord has dealt with that point.


Does this not show the necessity of the Public Safety Bill being passed as early as possible?


Has the Noble Lord any information to show how many Pathans have been imported into Bombay in recent years?


Is the name "Pathan" an Indian word equivalent to "blackleg"?


The word "Pathan" is the name of a race of people in the north of India who have many virtues, among which is that of hard work.

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