It’s February 18, 1946. The brewing unrest in the British-led Royal Indian Army is manifesting itself in strikes and a left-handed salute by Indian personnel to British officer. By dusk the next day, a Central Naval Strike committee has been formed and navy men from Pune, Karachi and Calcutta have joined the army’s strike. They’ve abandoned the ships, refusing duties and spreading a larger message of nationalism.
The uprising lasted just six days, but it shook the British government. Despite this, the 476 court-martialed soldiers didn’t find a place in the Congress-led government after Independence.
This impactful and dramatic incident is the focal point of artist Vivan Sundaram and cultural theorist Ashish Rajadhyaksha’s art project Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946.
It raises questions on selective history and history making. “When a country turns independent, it writes up the history of the world in such a manner that the pinnacle of the history is the arrival of freedom,” says Rajadhyaksha. “Such histories in are selective,” Rajadhyaksha says. “They ignore certain things, they leave complicated and difficult questions out.”
The Royal Indian Mutiny is conspicuous by its absence. “The incident opens up a whole new question about freedom – what is freedom? Who are the protagonists of freedom? These are all difficult questions, which have limited politics and a larger philosophical inquiry,” adds Rajadhyaksha.
The art project’s massive ship installation plays to its passengers (seated viewers) a 40-minute movie, featuring photographs, letters of the British official describing the event, sound clips of important people talking about the incident, including that of former Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. It also features a collage of newspaper clippings, letters and other historical material sourced from the British Library, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Cambridge museum and from archives in Delhi.
What: Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946
Where: Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, MG Road, Fort
When: March 17 to 25, 10.30 am to 6 pm
Entry is free