Monday, September 23, 2019

Challenging Colonial Power – Indian Labour Struggle Indian Migration - Janarthani Arumugam

I am so honoured to have an avid researcher on Malayan labour movement struggle, Janarthani Arumugam, contributing to this blog. I drive most of my inspiration to maintain this blog through our discussions. It is my honour to have her articles published at this site. 

Challenging Colonial Power – Indian Labour Struggle Indian Migration by Janarthani Arumugam

The British colonial economy was built on the backs of oppressed people from all parts of its dominions. Indian migration started as early as 1870s with the expansion of sugar plantations in Province Wellesley and Perak which demanded cheap, accessible and pliable labour from South India[i]. This dependence on plantation labour by colonial capitalists had a profound impact on colonial Indian subjects, specifically from Southern India. This is reflected in the four million journeys undertaken from 1840 – 1940[ii]. By 1957, Indians constituted roughly 11 percent of the population of Malaya and Singapore in 1957[iii].
Indian Population in the Straits Settlements and the Federated States in Malaya 

1901  - 120,000 
1947 - 600,000 
1957 - 820,000 
Source: Rajeswary Ampalavar 

According to Ampalavar, Indian migrants were characterized as transitory; they were expected to return to India once their indenture ended. In addition to this, the fragmentation based on caste, class and ethnic lines was a serious deterrent to collective politicization among community.

The Self-Respect Movement

The ‘Self-Respect’ political movement gained prominence and popular support among South Indians of Tamil descent in Malaya since the 1920’s. E. V. Ramasamy ‘Periyar’ promoted ‘no god; no religion; no Gandhi; no Congress; and no Brahmins’ in his movement[iv] after disillusionment with the Indian National Congress’s failure to abolish casteism.

His visit to Malaya in 1929 brought about the establishment of ‘Tamil associations, dedicated to moral, religious, and social reform’ led by journalists, teachers and kanganies (labour supervisors on plantations) in Malaya[v]. Newspapers such as Munnetram (1929), Sreethirutham (1931) and Tamil Murasu (1935) propagated writings on ‘anti-casteism, hegemony of Brahmanism, educational and health improvement, abolishment of religious rituals such as ‘kavadi’ bearing and firewalking, promoting monogamous Hindu marriages and the emancipation of women.’ 

His visit in Malaya, Ramaswamy took part in several conferences and one of the most important was the All-Malaya Tamils Conference (Akila Malaya Tamiḻar Mānāṭu) where some of the resolutions listed below were made, reflecting Self Respect ideals. Among the resolutions were[vi]:

1. This conference opines that Tamil weddings should be conducted in a thrifty way and should be conducted in the mother tongue;…

2. This conference supports widow remarriage and asks that everyone in Tamil society will too. The Straits Settlements has made this legal, and we will petition the Federated Malay States to follow likewise;…

3. All Tamils in Malaya should, regardless of their country of origin, come together and embrace the Tamil language as one.

Self-Respect marriages were highlighted in Tamil Murasu which reported the first marriage in Penang (1930). These unions allowed ‘people the freedom to restructure their own life around Self-Respect instead of being slaves to the rules prescribed by authoritative Brahmanical tenets’. 

Figure 1: 'Reformed Couples': Pictures of a Couple who were Married under the Auspices of the Self-Respect Movement, TM, 30/6/1936. Source : Dinesh Sathisan (2008)

[i] Amrith, S. S. (2010). Indians Overseas? Governing Tamil Migration to Malaya 1870-1941. Past & Present, 208(1), 231–261.

[ii] Sandhu, K.S. (1965). Indians in Malaya.

[iii] Ampalavar, R. (1981). The Indian Minority and Political Change in Malaya 1945 – 1947.

[iv] Alagirisamy, D. (2015). The Self-Respect Movement and Tamil Politics of Belonging in Interwar British Malaya, 1929–1939. Modern Asian Studies, 50(05), 1547–1575.

[v] Ampalavar, R. (1969). Social and Political Developments in the Indian Community of Malaya, 1920 – 41. MA Thesis. University Malaya.

[vi] Sathisan, D. (2008). The Power of Print: Tamil Newspapers in Malaya and the Imagining of Tamil Cultural Identity, 1930 – 1940. MA Thesis. National University of Singapore.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Petition to Save Ganapathy from Tambikottai, India

Indian Daily Mail March 28, 1949

On 28th March 1949, the Indian Daily Mail reported that people of Tanjovore village of Muthupet from Tambikottai and Jambuvanodai submitted a petition to Governor-General Sri Rajagopalachari also fondly known as Rajaji and Prime Minister Nehru and as well as Premier of Madras O. Ramaswami Reddiar, urging intervention of Indian leaders with regard to the death sentence passed at the Selangor Assizes on A. Ganapathy. Ganapathy was a native of Muthupet.

It is also said that the deputation from the villagers shall be meeting President of Tamil Nadu Congress Committee, Mr. Kamaraj Nadar. 

Ganapathy Murdered Says WFTU

Indian Daily Mail - 8th May 1949
On the 8th May 1949, the Indian Daily Mail reported news on Ganapathy's execution. WFTU regarded both Ganapathy and Veerasenan death as inhuman.
The news as follows:

It is Inhuman, Says WFTU

Paris, May 7 - The World Trade Federation of Trade Union last night issued from its Paris headquarters a protest against the execution of Mr. A Ganapathy, Indian trade union leader, under Malaya Government's emergency powers on a charge of carrying arms.
The protest referred to "the assassination by the British authorities of the Chairman of Pan Malaya Trade Union Federation, Ganapathy, hanged on May 4 in the prison at Kuala Lumpur capital of Malaya, and of his successor Veerasenan, slaughtered the following day by a patrol" 
(Mr. P. Veerasenan who succeeded Mr Ganapathy was shot by a Gurkha patrol while felling with a Chinese from a guerilla camp in dense jungle in Negeri Sembilan
The protest said the WFTU had long been aware of "inhuman measures" by the British authorities against Malaya workers. It, therefore, raised its voice against "these flagrant violations of the most elementary rights of man - rights which are universally recognized by all governments, including the British Government" - Reuter

Note: Correction to the report above: Veerasenan was shot dead a day before (3rd May 1949) Ganapathy to be executed.   

Malaya Tribune - 7th May 1949

On the 7th May 1949, Malaya Tribune reported on its first page "Ganapathy Murdered" Says WFTU. A strong message indeed! The contents almost similar to the what was reported in Indian Daily Mail on the May 8th. 

PMFTU Pledges Support to All Political Bodies

Taken from Morning Tribune, 6th April 1948 (Page 3) 

Morning Tribune April 6th, 1948

In April 1948, a ten-day conference was organised to celebrate the third anniversary of PMFTU. In the general assembly:

1. Ganapathy pledged support to all political bodies striving for the enhancement of the social and political status of all Malayans. Ganapathy also spoke about Malayan labourers had drawn to WFTU's sincere cooperation. He also reminded local government not to underestimate labour uprising in West and the Malayan labourers would draw to the awakening. 
2. Secretary of Singapore Communist Party - Chan Min Ching warning indication showing Singapore to be turned into anti communist headquarters for SEA. 
3. Agent of Government of India to Malaya T.G Nadarajan Pillai spoke about the necessary to establish a profit sharing system for labourers similar to many trades in United Kingdom, establishment of cooperative societies among labourers and government provide small plots of land for labourers. 

PMFTU Pledges Support to All Political Bodies 

Speaking at the general assembly of the third anniversary celebration of the Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions in Singapore yesterday, Mr. S.A Ganapathy (Chairman) pledges the support of the organization to all political bodies “striving for the enhancement of the social and political status of the people of Malaya”

The interests and welfare of the labourers of the world had drawn the serious attention of the World Federation of Trade Unions to which was also extended the sincere co-operation of the workers of Malaya, he said.

“The local government authorities should never be under the hallucination that the revolutionary spirit prevailing in the West and other awakened countries of Asia would not draw into its orbit the labourers of Malaya.” Mr Ganapathy added.

No Danger of War

Secretary of the Singapore Communist Party Mr. Chan Min Ching, said that although the present international situation was comparatively tense, there was no immediate danger of third world war. Confrontation with an impending economic crisis and the ever-developing upsurge of the colonial peoples, the imperialist bloc was fanatically making preparation for war.

The Five-Power military pact recently signed in Western Europe, in his opinion, was identical with former Axis agreement and was only a pretext persecuting democratic and leftist forces. For instance, the recent anti Communist persecution in Burma and India. Mt Chan said was coupled with the persecution against trade union leaders and strikers who demanded better living conditions.

Referring to the British Government he said, that the Labour Government in England, instead of leading Malaya towards self-government, “is leading us towards war. The Colonial Secretary (in Singapore) openly called for war preparation recently when he spoke at an RAF Association function. Lately, a defense department for the Colony had been established under Mr. G.Hawkins.”

There was very indication, Mt Chan said, that Singapore “may be made” the anti-Communist headquarters for Southeast Asia.” To suggest that Malaya today was threatened by foreign aggression was absurd, he said, because any aggression could only come from American imperialism.

A Query

One should not wonder why imperialism is deadly anti-Communist because (Mr. Chan said) Communist parties have long been known to be most revolution in their opposition to ruthless exploitation of the popular masses and violation of civil rights. War preparations under the present circumstances could only mean more unbearable taxes to the people and preparation against the people and against democracy he added.

Workers’ Handicap

In a country like Malaya where much of the workers were immigrants without an inch of land or roof of their own the workers unions would be very much handicapped in their bargaining power, said Mr. T.G Natarajapillai, Agent of the Government of Indian in Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, speaking next. The country’s economy depended mainly on rubber and tin for progress and prosperity. This being the case, in the event of depression, workers would have to accept lower wages, unemployment or repatriation to their countries of origin, he said.

One way in which to ensure industrial peace (he said) was to make the workers feels that they were partners in the industry by devising a system of profit sharing as done in some trades and industries in the United Kingdom and other commonwealth territories.

Co-op Societies

Co-operative societies, he thought also might help workers to save some money. But the only was to avoid a feeling of frustration was for government to enable people who have lost touch with their motherland to own small plots of land and settle down.

Comparing the financial solidarity of the employers’ organization and that of labour, the speaker said labour should be very thoughtful before embarking upon direct action. He called upon union leaders to study the pros and cons of all problems and encourage conciliation and other means of settlement of disputes.

Among other speakers were Mr. P.V Sharma, who spoke on behalf of the Malaya Council of World Affairs; and Mr. Eu Chooi Yip, on behalf of the Malayan Democratic Union.

Greeting telegrams from Sian and Indonesia Trade Union movements were read.

The annual assembly of the Federation is expected to last ten days.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Newpapers in Tamil Nadu Protested Against Ganapathy's Sentence

The Singapore Free Press 19th April 1949
The Singapore Free Press dated 19th April 1949, (around two weeks before Ganapathy to be executed)  published an article on the sentiment in Tamil Nadu upon learning status of Ganapathy's failed appeal in Malaya Federation High Court.

This could be one of the last efforts to pressure Indian government to pursue on her efforts to save Ganapathy.
But, they failed at the end.

Ganapathy Protest

Madras newspaper yesterday demanded that the Malayan Government restore "civil liberties and civil law, " particularly with reference to A. Ganapathy who was recently sentenced to death by the Federation High Cour
Sankara Krishna Cettur, former Indian Government Representative in Malaya, said that the death sentence on Ganapathy "will be grave discredit on the motive and integrity of the British administration in Malaya, especially when Ganapathy's connection with PMFTU is remembered - AP 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Protest for Ganapathy in Beijing

The Malaya Tribune dated 23rd May 1949 stated that Malayan in Peiping (old name for Beijing) held protest over the execution of Ganapathy on the 4th May 1949.

Malayan Reds Are In Peiping

San Francisco Sun-

Malayan labour leaders in Communist held Peiping have protested against the recent execution of S.A Ganapathy, Indian born former President of banned Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions, Peiping Radio Reported tonight.

Lu Cheng, Chairman of the Federation and Yej Mia Sui, a member of Central Executive Bureau, who are both in Peiping said the execution was a "brutal murder by the British authorities in Malaya."

They further alleged that "over 15,000 innocent Malayan have been arrested, imprisoned, flogged, tortured, deported or killed since last June by the British imperialists"

Ganapathy was hanged on may 4 for illegal possession of a revolver and ammunition - Reuter

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

CIA Report on Indian Section of Malayan Communist Party

It is Labour Day today. I am starting to write again after a long break. I have been keeping this article for sometime and thought would be great to share it on this Labour Day. 

The article was taken from CIA's archive, written on 17th November 1949. 
Ganapathy's name was mentioned in the article. It stated that in December 1945, two Indians (one of the was Ganapathy) who had been Malayan Communist Party (MCP) members were "instigated by Chinese leaders of the party to recruit Indians".
It is also confirming to the existence of a separate Indian section within the MCP. A temporary committee called Indian Executive Committee (IEC) was established in April 1946. It was a subordinate to the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of MCP. It was reported that IEC received instruction from MCP through a Chinese Liaison Officer.  

IEC built up their support groups in North, Central and South Malaya. State and city branches were organised and in August 1947, IEC acquired a full range of administrative sections like the MCP.  

The report believed that MCP decided to grant greater "degree of responsibilities"  to the Indians as they saw the "Indians enthusiasm started to slackened" in 1947.  IEC was reorganized and expanded with new flexible rules were adopted. IEC's contact with parallel Chinese branches was close but their access to top Chinese was limited. 

According to the report, the IEC's main function was to penetrate Indian labour force. Therefore, the reported stated that it was surprise to notice one third of the members of State committee were trade union organizers. 

In early 1948, after the Calcutta Congress of Communist Party of Indian (CPI), the CEC was considering allotting places to Indians and Malays within the higher councils and ranks in the party. But the plan failed after the declaration of emergency in June 1948. 

The report also mentioned that the Chinese were aware of emergency in April 1948, but the Indians were ignorant of the imminence of open rebellion and had made no preparation to go underground. As a result, the Indians have proved to be militarily useless and practically all the Indians leaders had been put out of action either by death or deportation. 

It also stated that contact established by Indians in Malaya with MCP had been "haphazard and unproductive" and the Malayan Indians received little advise or help from CPI even when direct request was made to CPI. 

The reported stated that the necessity to cultivate the Malays into the folds of MCP recognized through more propaganda printed in Jawi. 

There had been also conflicting claims between the MCP and Chinese Communist Part (CCP) on the loyalties of oversea Chinese. The MCP proposed that those who returned to China to be expelled from the party, though it recognized the validity of demand from CCP that technicians and capitalists return to their mainland. CCP radio propaganda is said to be having considerable effect on Malayan Chinese Youth. 

The MCP began its publication of "Student News" in August 1949 in Singapore despite the alertness  and efforts of Security Force. Propaganda pamphlets had been found in increasing numbers in Singapore.   


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Communist Propaganda Materials in Tamil and Telugu in 1936

Often we ponder when were Indians in the country exposed to the communist ideology? Was it before World War II or after? Some even deny that Indians were communists at all. . There have been evidences to support and prove that Indians labourers were exposed to communist ideology as early as 1936. It is more interesting to learn that the propaganda leaflets were printed not only in Tamil language but also in Telugu language as well. This should open up our minds to agree to the notion that Telugu labourers too played substantial roles in the left labour movement in the country.   

The Straits Times reported on the 6th January 1936, communist propaganda materials were found on a Hainanese - Foo Ah Joon who were caught for rioting and distributing seditious literature.  

Among the materials were leaflets written in Tamil and Telugu. Extract of the details from the Tamil materials:

"Son of  the soil! The collies working on estates are suffering much as the price of rubber has gone down. There is no demand for rubber and the collies' wages have been reduced. The duty on all goods is very heavy. Even for running a business with a view to carrying on a livelihood the Government requires a licence. Disputes are going on between the Governments of other countries and the above mentioned government. Continue to make more and more agitation"

Meanwhile the Telugu leaflets mentioned, 

"We, Indians Malays and Chinese labourers are all nice people. Now is the time for us to get united. Beware and watch how things will be when the Chinese emperors creates trouble and calls for a meeting. Now that there is a surplus of rubber on every estate we are facing difficulties. Nevertheless, there is nothing to be afraid of. This is all the white man's doing. Let us try to help each other financially."

Friday, January 5, 2018

World Federation of Democratic Youth Delegates in 1947 May Day Celebration

This will be my first posting for the year 2018. I have made resolution for the year that I will post at least one posting weekly.

Many would knew during the post war period, the leftist organisations in the country mainly Malayan Democratic Union and Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions established connections with China and India. In fact, history stated the political changes and development in China have induced the Chinese leftists to travel to Singapore and Malaya to form the Nanyang General Labour Union (NGLU) in May 1926. Later NGLU took the form of Pan Malayan General Labour Union (PMGLU) and later evolved to Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU) in 1947.     

But not many would knew that a female representative from Russian visited Malaya during May Day celebration in 1947. The Straits Times dated April 28, 1947 reported three member delegation from the World Federation of Democratic Youth - Olga Tchetchetkina, a Russian journalist, Rajko Tomovic, a representative of the Youth Organisation of  Yugoslavia and M Jean Lautisser a leader of the Union of Republican Youths of France arrived in Singapore to take part in the May Day rally in 1947.

It also reported the delegation came to study and report on living conditions in Malaya with particular references to the youths in Malaya.

In a function held to welcome the delegation at 331, North Bridge Road organised by Malayan Democratic Union and 40 other organisations including SFTU and New Democratic Youth League, the Vietnam Youths and Malay Women Emancipation organisation, Ms Olga called for unity among the youth to ensure success against fascism and aggression.

The Malayan Tribune dated May 2nd, 1947 reported that in the May Day rally, Olga greeted the local workers and she thought of the parade at the Red Square. She said there were many people to whom promises, which were made during war had not yet been realized, but first of all, the world peace must be obtained.

"The Soviet Union will not forget that the Chinese, Indians and Malays in this part of the world had also contributed their share when the USSR were fighting five years ago to over power Fascism" said Olga 

In the rally, a silver shield was presented to the PMFTU by Tuan Dj. Shahruzah representing the All Indonesia Central Oraganisation of Trade Unions.

There were banners carrying slogan "Eradicate Contract Workers," "Sunday Rest With Pay," "Democracy Instead of Constitutional Proposal for Malaya," "Equality for All Races of Labour" carried by workers forming one of the longest processions seen in Singapore and wended its way over a three-miles route along main streets of the city.

So, we can see here the left inclined international links that MDU and PMFTU may had possess threats to the colonial British government. Thus, due to these connections we saw many international trade unions representatives condemned the British government when Ganapathy and Veerasenan were executed. 

Malayan Tribune 2nd May 1947

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bukit Sembilan Incident - Police Killing Was Justifiable said Coroner

More on Kedah Riot 1947- The Straits Times dated 1st April 1947 reported that the Coroner who judged the Bukit Sembilan case of police brutality found the killing of a labourer during labour protest at Bukit Sembilan Estate as “justifiable killing"

Police Killing Was Justified

From Our Correspondent

Penang, Monday

Stating that there was no evidence of gross negligence on the part of the constable who struck deceased, the Coroner Mr. A.M Austin today returned a verdict of justifiable homicide on Samy, an Indian labourer, who succumbed to injuries received when a police party attempted to disperse a crowd of labourers at Bukit Sembilan Estate on the afternoon February 29.
Mr. Austin, in delivery his finding, added he was satisfied that the injuries were incurred by deceased when police took lawful measures to disperse an unlawful assembly.

The inquiry opened on Saturday, when after recording evidence from the Kedah Police Commissioner Mr. A. C Maxwell and other witness, the coroner reserved his verdicts. 

Ganapathy Threatened Malaya Wide Strike - Kedah Riot

The Thondar Padai - The Volunteer Corp played a huge role in the labour strikes in Kedah which is also known as “The Kedah Riot” in 1947. Armed police forces were used to suppress the labour uprise. The Thondar Padai, under the leadership of A.M Samy was well organised.

One of the strikes which involved Thondar Padai was the Bedong Toddy Shop Protest, where it was reported widely that some 300 labourers (including women and children) gathered in front of the toddy demanding it to cease its operation. It was a peaceful demonstration as protester did not carry any weapon with them.

Instead of resolving the matter amicably, the police forces displayed huge brutality resulting in the death of a young man, Swaminathan, who was bludgeoned to death.

Nine labourers were injured. Many were arrested and sentenced to vigorous imprisonments.

Meantime, S.A Ganapathy demanded the release of the labourers and threatened that a Malaya wide strike will be called if appeal to release the arrested labourers fails.     
Singapore Federation of Trade Union “strongly condemned the action of the Government of the Malayan Union in using armed police to break the strike and interfering with the peaceful picketing of toddy shops” and requested the Government to release the arrested workers unconditionally.  
Morning Tribune – 7 March 1947

Malaya Wide Strike Fear
Demand for Release of Kedah Labourers
A general strike of all labourers throughout Malaya is feared should an appeal against the conviction of 83 labourers in Kedah who have been sentenced during the pas few days to various terms of imprisonment for unlawful assembly fail.
Our Penang correspondent telegraphing just before midnight stated that a meeting of labourers’ representatives in Kedah last night decided to appeal in the case of those strikers who have been sentenced.
Should this fail, it is thought likely, says our correspondent that an appeal will be made to all labourers in Malaya to support the case. This carried the implication of general strike.
Mr. S.A. Ganapathy. Chairman of Pan Malayan Federation of Trade Union saw Mr. J.T Rea, Deputy Commissioner for Labour, Kedah yesterday. He said he was not satisfied with the latter’s opinion on the situation. He had also spoken to representative of the labourers.
Two members of Kedah Federation of Trade Union Mr. A.M Samy and Mr. Teoh Cheong Hoon asked Mt. J.T Rea yesterday whether it was legal for people to strike. Mr Rea replied that the present trouble arose from the lawless acts of youth voliunteer corps.
The United Kedah Planters’ Association yesterday issued a statement to the press in which it says: Briefly the history of the labour trouble in Kedah is one of political agitation by subversive elements coupled with intimidation and tension.”
The Association believes that three prime requirements and necessary before any attempt can be made to ameliorate the grave situation.
Firstly,  order must ne re-established and the laws of the country maintained.
Secondly, organized labour must free itself from external dictations and organise from within to elect its own legal representation.

In Singapore last night, the Singapore Federation of Trade Unions, Short Street, issue the text of resolution put before a recent meeting of president and general secretaries of branch unions of the Indian section of the SFTU, one as which “strongly condemned this action of the Government of the Malayan Union in using armed police to break the strike in Kedah, and interfering with the peaceful picketing of toddy shops” and requested the Government to release the arrested workers unconditionally.   

Challenging Colonial Power – Indian Labour Struggle Indian Migration - Janarthani Arumugam

I am so honoured to have an avid researcher on Malayan labour movement struggle, Janarthani Arumugam, contributing to this blog. I drive ...