HC Deb 18 February 1929 vol 225 cc753-7

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

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for INDIA (Earl Winterton)

It is impossible within the legitimate limits of an oral reply to summarise fully the situation in Bombay since I made a statement last week, and I propose with my hon. Friend's permission to circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the substance of a telegram received from the Government of Bombay which states the position fully. Conditions in the city of Bombay were reported to be approaching the normal on the 15th February.


With regard to the Pathans, were they engaged with the sanction of the Government of India?


The hon. Member has a question on that point. If any Pathans were employed in the place of those on strike, they were employed in the normal way. There is nothing in the law of India to prevent people accepting work if it be perfectly legal work. This work was perfectly legal, and they accepted it. It is not a question of the Government of India importing or assisting in the importation of labour to take the place of the strikers.


Is it not rather dangerous to bring in people of one religion to take the place of people of another religion?


These people were certainly entitled to accept the work which was offered.


May I ask whether it is not the case that the Pathans have for many years been most law-abiding and very valuable citizens of Bombay city?


I believe that is so. I should like to take this opportunity of saying that, as a result of the question by the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala), I have made inquiries as to whether there is any truth in the report that these men acted in any way in an aggressive fashion, and I am assured that there is not. On the contrary, when they commenced work, they were stoned by the strikers as they were leaving work.

Following is the statement:

The information which my Noble Friend has received in continuation of that given to the House last Monday is to the following effect. On the 10th February the situation in Bombay was rather quieter but assault and murder still continued by Hindu and Muhammadan mobs. A procession of Hindu and Muhammadan members of the Peace Committee was attacked by a Hindu mob and three Muhammadans and one Hindu of the Peace Committee were killed. On the 11th, though a number of assaults and some murders occurred, the situation was much quieter until the evening, when a mob of Hindus attacked Muhammadans in three different places, in the same area, murdering four and injuring five. On the 12th, the city be- gan to resume a more normal appearance and panic to decrease. In connection with the murders the police searched two chawls occupied by mill hands and discovered hundreds of improvised weapons—spears, swordsticks, axes, iron bars, etc. From the 13th conditions have been quieter and shops are open. A large number of the poorer classes, estimated at 20,000, have left Bombay in alarm.

Since the 10th, the police, with military assistance, have been rounding up had characters and persons accused of rioting etc., 680 have been arrested and confined in chawls of the Development Department under the supervision of a Jail Department officer. The patrolling and picketing of the city by the police and military continues. The total casualties up to the 15th were: deaths, 143, composed of European 1, Parsee 1, Pathans 25, other Muhammadans 28, Hindus 88. The injured numbered 791. Hospital returns of injured are not available. The ambulance brigade did excellent work in helping the wounded. Conditions in the city appeared almost normal and it is understood that no further telegraphic reports will be sent unless a change occurs.

As reference has been made to the part taken by Pathans in disturbances I would explain that according to my most recent information on the 11th January 150 Pathan workmen returning from work at the oil installations were stoned by strikers and retaliated. Thereupon the oil strikers at a meeting being held some distance away left their meeting and came and joined in the attack on the Pathans and a general fracas ensued resulting in injury to Pathans, mill hands, oil strikers and others. On the 16th, Pathan workmen on their way home were again stopped by oil strikers but the trouble was promptly stopped by the police. As far as is known no Pathans ever broke up any meeting of strikers and in both the above cases strikers were the aggressors.

The so-called Pathan menace is a scare raised at intervals during the last few years whenever robberies, especially in the suburbs, occur in any numbers, but the statistics of the city police show that the crimes committed by Pathans are very few compared to their numbers. No such scare has been raised of recent months, nor was there any complaint of hooliganism by Pathans until after the clash between the oil strikers and the Pathans. I understand that the Burma Shell Oil Company engaged since the oil company's strike started on the 7th December, 309 Pathans in kerosene and 77 in petrol installations at Sewri and 38 at Wadi Bunder Fuel Oil Depot.

3. Mr. DAY

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India the number of armoured cars and troops that were employed in the recent disturbances in Bombay?


The troops employed during the disturbances in Bombay have been as follow:

First, of the Regulars:

Secondly, of the Auxiliary Force, India:

As regards the Auxiliary Force it has just been reported that it was to be disembodied yesterday, after inspection by the Governor and the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Command.

4. Mr. DAY

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he is in a position to make a further statement with reference to the recent disturbances in Bombay?


I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT in answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Wardlaw-Milne).


Can the Noble Lord tell me when the telegram to which he has referred was received?


I really could not say to within an hour or so.


asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether any Pathans have entered Bombay during recent weeks; and, if so, haw many and for what purpose?


No statistics are kept of the movements within India of Pathans or of any other races or castes. I am informed that no larger numbers of Pathans than is usual have entered Bombay in recent weeks: there is always a considerable floating population of them, their purpose being to obtain work. If the suggestion underlying the hon. Member's question is—as I have seen suggested elsewhere—that mill-owners and others have been recently importing these men in large numbers to act as strike breakers or private police, I can inform him that so far as can be ascertained this is not the case. During the riots, it is true, some Pathans did come into the city from the suburbs to help their castemen; on the other hand, many left the city for their homes.


Can the Under-Secretary say how many were engaged in the place of the Hindus?


I have not that information, and I doubt whether it is ascertainable.


Has there been any industrial inquiry?


No industrial inquiry has been held. The city has been in a state of serious rioting for the last few days, and until at an end it is not possible to make an inquiry.

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