Meerut: The Workers Theatre Movement play
The players use six poles to make prison bars, and between them support these in such a way that three are held vertically and three horizontally. The 'cell' should be made quickly, after running on. This needs much rehearsal. This is a highly dramatic sketch, and the intensity must not be lost for a moment. Those players not actually speaking must look dejected, indignant, as occasion demands, but never relax.
ALL: Murder! Murder! MURDER! MURDER!
FIRST: In every state in British India, police and troops are out,to crush the rising tide of revolt against our vile conditions - long hours in the mines and mills! Exhausted by our labours! Our British taskmasters stand over us with whips to drive us harder - and for what? The average wage for all workers and peasants is less than a shilling a day in India -the brightest jewel in Britain's crown.
SECOND: In Bengal mines are 35,000 women, working UNDERGROUND - forced to take their children with them from their hovels of sun-baked mud - to die by their sides as they work. Their parents are forced to sell their children into marriage - to sell them into prostitution to contract venereal disease - to sell them into death! In British India 10,000,000 workers and peasants die yearly of forced famine, forced starvation, forced disease. The race is dying under British rule.
ALL: MUST WE NOT REVOLT?
THIRD: The Government denies us education, and when, as in England, in Germany and France, in America - in every capitalist state in the world - they sought to drive us harder by wage-cuts and speed-up, throwing more and more of us on to the streets -
ALL: WE REVOLTED!
FOURTH: They foster our religious differences in order to divide us, so that they can extract their millions yearly in profits and taxation.
SECOND: They send you here with arms, saying it is to stop us from flying at each other's throats.
FIFTH : They tell you we are religious maniacs.
ALL: COMRADES, THEY ARE LIARS!
THIRD: In Peshawar they brought out our HINDU brothers, the Gharwali Riflemen, armed to shoot us down - a peaceful MAHOMMEDAN demonstration. They refused to be used to butcher us. THEY WOULD NOT SHOOT! They showed their class solidarity with their brothers of another religion. They handed their rifles over to us - and the hypocrite Macdonald has jailed them for refusing to fly at our throats.
ALL: ALL HONOUR TO THE GHARWALI RIFLEMEN -MORE POWER TO THEIR REVOLT!
FIRST: June 1928, 20,000 workers struck on the East Indian Railway for six shillings a week and the simple right to organize into trade unions. They shot at us as we lay across the lines to stop their blackleg trains. They broke our strike.
ALL: IN BLOOD AND TERROR!
SECOND: Order was maintained for His Majesty the King Emperor, and the strikers went back to even greater misery.
FIFTH: 150,000 workers in Bombay, against a 71/2 per cent wagecut and the speed-up, April 1928.
ALL: A STRIKE!
FIFTH: 150,000, and only 6,000 organized in a trade union, whose leaders tried to betray them. But they built in struggle their own Union, the GIRNI KAMGAR - the RED FLAG UNION, 60,000 strong.
FIRST: The police shot at them, their brothers in the Indian Army were forced to shoot them - your brothers, your HUSBANDS - YOUR SONS - were sent from England to shoot them, to massacre them, to break their strike.
ALL: IN BLOOD AND TERROR!
FIRST: Comrades, YOU let them go. Comrades, THEY ARE STILL GOING. COMRADES, STOP THEM!
ALL: (straining one hand each through the bars) COMRADES, HANDS ACROSS THE SEA! COMRADES, SOLIDARITY!
SECOND: Against the terror they stood out for six months. The Government saw they could not be beaten that way. To gain time the Government set up a Commission to enquire into their conditions. In March 1929, three days before the Commission reported, the workers' leaders ah over India were arrested
ALL: AND THROWN INTO MEERUT JAIL.
THIRD: No bail allowed; filthy food in the stifling heat of the Indian summer. Cholera broke out, and two of their fellow prisoners died before their trial had commenced. In Indian jails, bar fetters are used. In Indian jails, hall chains are used. In Indian jails are 60,000 political prisoners, rotting under British rule.
FIFTH: In Meerut jails were the real leaders of the Indian workers and peasants.
FOURTH: Fighters for the freedom of the Indian masses - not hypocrites like Ghandi, who tells us to be patient, for God is watching!
SECOND: Not like Ghandi, who led us in peaceful demonstrations to be shot at and butchered; but comrades who showed us how to fight, how to organize, how to break the bonds of British tyranny.
FIRST: Charged with 'Conspiracy against the King' they were flung into jail by a Conservative Government. The Labour Government kept them there - refused passports to witnesses for the defence. The National Government prolonged their agony. For nearly four years their trial was dragged out.
FIFTH: Comrades, their trial was a mockery - their trial was a farce - to perpetuate the reign of
ALL: BLOOD AND TERROR!
THIRD: Their torture is now crowned with the most revolting sentences. Transportation for ten years - for twelve years! Transportation for life! What does this mean?
ALL: A LIVING DEATH!
FIRST: AII the horrors of Devil's Island, alt the brutalities of the American chain gang - are as nothing compared with the horrors of India's penal settlements.
SECOND: Thus do the bosses hope to terrify India into submission. Just as the Tsar tried to crush the Russian workers and peasants.
ALL: THE TSAR FAILED - AND THEY TOO WILL FAIL.
FOURTH: Bombay textile workers have already taken their stand, and the workers of Seven Mills have struck -
FIRST: Without strike pay, without support of any kind, the heroic Bombay mill workers have struck - to demand
ALL: THE RELEASE OF THE MEERUT PRISONERS.
THIRD: Workers of Britain unite your power with the Indian toilers. This is your fight. Those who have jailed the workers in India are the men who cut wages and enforce the Means Test in Britain.
FIFTH: Factory workers
FOURTH: Trade unionists
FIRST: By resolutions
FIRST: By strikes.
ALL: FORCE THE RELEASE OF THE MEERUT PRISONERS (With hands through the bars) - COMRADES, HANDS ACROSS THE SEA! COMRADES, SOLIDARITY!
(Swaying from left to right with the rhythm of the appeal)
COMRADES- COMRADES- COMRADES- COMRADES- SMASH THE BARS!
(As they say this, they fling the bars down)
How to produce Meerut
It should not be necessary to give reasons advocating the desirability of performing the Meerut sketch wherever practicable during the campaign for the release of the prisoners, and the new revised version brings out the class message directly and powerfully.
Four, five or preferably six members can perform this sketch excellently; but despite the sameness of position throughout, an unusually high degree of emotional intensity is necessary. Alt the members should be strong, vibrant and capable of expressing intense feeling, because of the limits placed on them in regard to lack of movement, change of position, etc. Ibis means that the whole of the response must be obtained by sheer power of emotional appeal through the voice and facial expression - a task calling for the highest degree of acting ability. The sketch is not an easy one and should be tackled only by experienced troupes.
You cannot convey the impression of rigid resistance to imperialist oppression by a weak-kneed effort, however sympathetic the actors may feel. Pretty girlish voices must be cut right out, but a strong feminine voice vibrating with the conviction of the message can be just as effective as a masculine one.
It is important to erect the 'prison bars' in the least possible time. Rehearse this part thoroughly. Let every member have his bar and all line up off stage in single file. When they come on, each takes up his position immediately and knows exactly where to place his pole - so, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and the bars are up. And the bars must not be moved from position one inch until the time comes. Wobbling bars look like a prison that is as farcical as the trial. It doesn't matter about the space between the bars being large, as long as the effect is symmetrical. You are not portraying a jail, but symbolizing imprisonment.
Make an effective 'picture' by grouping properly - two kneeling, one half lying, perhaps two standing, but alt close together and bursting to get the message through. The mass speaking where it occurs must be as perfect as possible. The sketch opens with the word 'murder' repeated four times. Don't blare this raggedly. Let the leader count four in whispers, then all come in together - softly at first then in crescendo until the last 'MURDER!' really sounds líke it. Do this well and you will grip the audience from the beginning, and if this sketch is done properly you won't hear a breath from the audience all through it.
Inflection of the voice is most important. Bitterness, oppression, resistance, triumph of class solidarity, and nearly every emotion is called for in the right place. This sketch offers most unusual opportunities for voice-acting. Take the first speech for instance. Mere statement of fact is not enough. The voice must be pent up with repressed emotion so that the audience feels what is being described. And the bitter sarcasm of 'in India - the brightest jewel in Britain's crown' must be made the most of ... but not overdone.
The tempo all through the sketch must be quick. As each player finishes his speech the next comes in at once - there is no time to waste - act - act - act - is the message. Mass speaking, as nearly always, must be staccato and clear. Clip the syllables short and the aggregate effect will be words that can be understood.
Get the utmost out of the words - these and your faces are your only means of expression. Understand the full political meaning behind every passage. Mean it. Get it over. Not just by speaking loudly, but by intensity, conviction. If this makes you speak loudly - and it probably will - that's all right in this sketch. But remember contrasts and inflections are much more powerful than one long shout.
When it comes to the mass-speaking line 'and thrown into Meerut Jail' the bars should actually tremble under the bitter emotion of the actors. But don't obviously shake them. Grip them hard and the very intensity of your feelings will do the trick. The same at the finish. 'Comrades - comrades - comrades - comrades- SMASH THE BARS'. As the word is repeated (half an appeal, half a demand) the bars sway ever so slightly from side to side till at the word 'smash' they are flung down. (All the same way, please.) It is a bad mistake to sweep several feet to the left and then to the right. The audience then guesses what's coming and half the dramatic effect of the ending is lost. Just a slight inclination one way and then the other, hardly inches, is all that is needed. If you are tense the effect of strain is conveyed much better this way than by giving an impression that you can do what you like with the bars anyhow. As the bars crash, stand up in a straight line shoulder to shoulder for two or three seconds before going off.
A good effect at 'Comrades - hands across the sea; comrades -solidarity' is to release one hand and put it appealingly through the bars towards the audience. But do be careful to rehearse this sufficiently so that the bars don't topple down when you let one hand go.
AII through the sketch, which is quite short, the main things are tempo and emotional intensity. Remember your two media are words and faces. Facial expression is just as important as the words. While one prisoner is speaking, the others must be acting alt the time - reflecting the words. Tense, haggard, anxious, determined and other expressions suggest themselves, as the limes progress. Feel the sketch, mean it, and you will convey the message of it in a way that will strike home to class-consciousness that is latent in even the most reactionary member of your worker audience.