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Topic: Seaborne Anti-colonialisms: The Political Worlds of Indian Sailors in the Second World War

July 17 @ 1:15 pm - 2:30 pm

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The talk explores a history of subaltern anti-colonialism beyond the borders of colonial India. While the global turn in political histories has led to an examination of the transnational exchanges between literate scholars and statesmen, subaltern political worlds have continued to be treated as nationally and locally bounded. The first half of the twentieth century, however, was a period of profound geographical dislocations for millions of migrant labourers, refugees, soldiers and sailors. This paper asks how their migration shaped their political worldviews by looking at the seaborne mobility of Indian sailors during the Second World War. It opens in 1946 with a mutiny of twenty thousand sailors of the Royal Indian Navy. The mutiny sparked what was perhaps the last, forgotten, anti-colonial movement before independence. The mutineers demonstrated teir solidarity with the Indonesian anti-colonial movement against Dutch colonialism by demanding that the British cease to provide military assistance to its repression. What does this act of solidarity with a movement unfolding over four thousand kilometres across the Indian Ocean tell us about the sailors’ political worldviews and visions of a decolonised future? To answer this question, it charts their topographical and political voyages, from the ports of British India to the Red Sea, Mediterranean and Atlantic, against a backdrop of rising anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa. These voyages were rich in political encounter and exchange, bringing them into contact with soldiers and sailors from the Allied, Axis and colonial countries, making them first-hand witnesses to – and occasionally participants in – independence movements in Indonesia, Singapore and Burma. The sailors themselves became conduits in the transmission of anti-colonial ideas and literature.


Naina Manjrekar is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Krea University. Her research lies at the intersection of histories of migration, labour, anti-colonialism and cosmopolitanism. In the course of her PhD, she secured scholarships from the Inlaks Foundation, the Charles Wallace India Trust and the Institute of New Economic Thinking (Harvard and Cambridge). Before going to SOAS, she was awarded her MA in History at Jawaharlal Nehru University and BA in English from the University of Delhi. Following her PhD, Naina was Caird Fellow at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK, and was awarded the 2018 Sir Julian Corbett Prize in Modern Naval History for her article ‘Decolonisation from the Seas: Mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy, 1946’, by the Institute of Historical Research, London.


Free and open to public.


July 17
1:15 pm - 2:30 pm