Referring to a performance by the Manchester street theatre group the Red Megaphones, Eddie Frow wrote:
"...it was a meeting called by the League Against Imperialism and the whole question of the British and British Imperialism was raised by the secretary Reginald Bridgeman...
So this sketch, Meerut, was performed at this meeting in January 1932... an indoor meeting at Caxton Hall.
Meerut was about the fact that in India there were a number of Indian trade unionists put on trial for organizing trade unions and among them were three Englishmen including a man called Lester Hutchinson who later became a member of parliament in Manchester after the Second World War.
And his mother, Mary Knight was a Labour Councillor who later became a Alderman and it was Mary Knight who came to this meeting and her son Lester Hutchinson had sent her a badge from India, and she came up to the platform, she pinned this badge onto one of the players as a thanks for what they'd done for the Meerut prisoners in performing this play and having so vividly brought home to the audience what was happening in India, a long way away".
For the Meerut prisoners - Against Imperialist Terror
by Romain Rolland (Preface from Meerut conspiracy case specially written by a Barrister at Law)
The world today presents the spectacle of an inferno. The man who detaches himself from the narrow circle of the privileged nations, and within these nations, from the classes, and within these classes from the privileged castes, sooner or later discovers that every civilisation in which he rejoices and of which he is proud rests upon the atrocious, degrading and murderous exploitation of nine-tenths of the peoples of the earth. When this revelation has penetrated his being, the joy of living dies within him till the moment when he resolves to do battle to destroy this canker, even though in the combat himself must be destroyed.
Those who renounce the struggle in advance, the great herd of the subservient and the passive, strive to content themselves with the miserable excuse for not acting, that what is has always been and that one cannot change it. This is false.
Truly the history of humanity has always been that of the oppression of peoples, of classes and of castes, and of the desperate effort of the oppressed to free themselves, but never has the crushing of nine-tenths of the inhabitants of this planet reached such a degree of deliberate organisation as in this last half-century. The great oppression of to-day is no longer imposed by one or more individuals, groups or states, but by a system which extends to all the great exploiting states, by an Imperialism of money, which transcending all the national antagonisms and conflicts, dominates the international policy of the great Empires. Menaced by the trembling of capitalist economy, which in its difficulties plunges to madly destructive courses, shaken by the revolts which to-day like earthquakes stir the enslaved peoples, this hideous oppression manifests itself yet more brutally, employing to an extent and with a rigour unexampled, the most monstrous means. Even the semblance of legality with which the modern States hitherto sought to mask their abuse of power, has fallen. Imperialist civilisation now reveals its true face; the law of the fiat, the "Faustrecht," the "Sit pro ratione voluntas." By terror it was established and is maintained.
This terror which now weighs on every part of the earth delivered over to capitalist exploitation, has assumed gigantic proportions in the great territories of India and of the Far East, where it sucks the blood of millions of human beings. It is inherent in the fatal character of the crime that the blood-suckers cannot release their victims without perishing. England has subsisted for a century upon the body of India, bled white; her prosperity already tottering, would collapse in the very hour that her prey should escape her. The corpulent ease of Holland rests in the same way upon the substance of the Dutch Indies which nourishes her. France has made of her Empire of Indo-China not only a source of super-profits, but a bastion of war which her proconsuls of armed finance, like those of ancient Rome, of the Republic of publicans, have made their base of operations for the forthcoming struggle in the Pacific, now preparing, and for the partition of China. This is why a state of siege reigns secretly or openly in Bengal as in Annam, in Batavia, at Hanoi and at Peshawar. This is why thousands have been condemned, or have rotted for years without trial in the jails and concentration camps. In May 1932, there were 80,000 prisoners in British India, whose only crime had been to follow the watchword of non-violence of Gandhi and of the Indian National Congress.
In French Indo-China on January 14th, 1933, there were 2,970 political prisoners, out of a total of 6,897 convicted since the Yen-Bay affair (official figures), of whom a large number were old men, women and children, guilty only of having pleaded for a reduction of taxes, the abolition of corporal punishment by private employers, and universal suffrage. In the Dutch Indies on January 1st, 1932, there were 10,000 political prisoners; in China 50,000 without account of the hecatombs of massacres; in Corea 35,000. This list makes no mention of the thousands who have been arrested, tortured and condemned in Japan, of the thousands of victims in the Italian, Belgian and Portuguese colonies, and in South Africa. It leaves unrecorded the victims of the diabolical American imperialism, that compound of hypocrisy and cruelty, which makes its churches the commercial travellers of the Standard Oil Co., which makes itself the abettor of the corrupt marshals of the Kuomintang and of the assassins of Cuba, which restores independence to the Philippines the more easily to encompass their new economic enslavement, and which in South America stokes up the fire of war and sanguinary dictatorships.
So long as the oppressed reacted against the oppressors only by intermittent and piecemeal spasms of revolts, coercion prevailed against them swiftly and noiselessly. It only began to lose all measure of restraint when it found itself confronted by immense organised masses, like those of the Satyagraha Gandhi movement in British India. But this great wave, which the genius of one man holds in leash, static within the limits of non-violence again reassured the reformist bourgeoisie, anxious to preserve the existing social order at the price of some concessions. It required the stubborn obstinacy of a viceroy, and of an obsolescent and narrow-minded caste, to drive to desperation this magnanimous opposition which would have sought to conciliate the interests of England with those of India.
All is changed since, in these latter years, the working masses and the peasants have realised the need to organise themselves in a fighting revolutionary bloc, resolved to transform the social system. A new era has opened in the revolt of the oppressed world. In British India it dates back hardly more than five years to the Bombay textile strike of 1928, and to the formation of the Girni Kamgar Union. In Annam its commencement was still more recent: in February 1930, when the Communist Party of Indo-China was founded at the same time as the Viet-Nam-Quoc-Dan-Dang (the Indo-Chinese Kuomintang) which carried out the nationalist insurrections of Yen-Bay.
Repression followed, immediate and implacable. In Indo-China was set up a special permanent Court, "The Criminal Commission" of Saigon, which tries cases in secret, the defending Counsel officially nominated and denied the right to examine the documents material to the case "should the safety of the State demand." Up to July 1st, 1932, this Court had passed 1094 sentences, 83 of death, 160 sentences of penal servitude for life, 420 of deportation. On May 8th, 1933, it sentenced 8 Indo-Chinese revolutionaries to death, 18 to penal servitude for life, and 100 others to 900 years imprisonment. The majority of these had been in jail for 3 years.
In British India the judicial machinery is heavier, clumsier, more antiquated. It endeavours solemnly to falsify legality, instead of strangling it, as in Indo-China, behind closed doors. It has closed by the scandalous judgement at Meerut, a monstrous trial. For four years, from June 1929 to January 1933, this process dragged itself out, under a mountain of paper, comprising more than 2,600 documents and tens of thousands of printed pages. The cost, stupidly in these times of economic ruin, amounted to more than £120,000 sterling. The sentences are of such revolting injustice that even the liberal opinion of moderate English people has been dismayed and is endeavouring to utter some timid protests.
But it is necessary to arouse the opinion of the world; for this trial is not merely the trial of 27 condemned persons; it is the trial of the system of government which has passed judgment upon them. As one of the condemned, R. S. Nimbkar, General Secretary of the All-India Workers' and Peasants' Party, has clearly established, English liberalism is not only powerless to repair the verdict, it is even incapable of conceiving either the illegal proceedings which have become current or the exceptional laws which the imperialist terrorism of Great Britain applies to six-sevenths of the people of its Empire, to one-sixth of the population of the world.
The Labour Government which knowingly made use of these methods, or at least permitted them to continue under its auspices, became itself the prosecutor of this trial. It thereby trampled under foot all the doctrines of middle-class liberalism of which the Labour Party was the outcome. More serious still it deliberately speculated on the passivity of the workers' movement in England, and wittingly pandered to this passivity, making of it an accomplice, in order to exterminate the movement of the Indian workers who form six-sevenths of the British Empire. Such is the shame of which the workers' movement in England and in Europe must cleanse itself. The weight of this shame will fall fatally upon the workers' movement, if it does not at once arise and react against the criminal laxity of its officials.
The Trade Union Congress is at this moment making a great stir about the coming celebration of the centenary of the martyred labourers of Dorchester who, in 1834, were transported for having committed the crime of forming a Trade Union, and who are commemorated today as the founders of British Trade Unionism. Three generous Englishmen, Philip Spratt, B. F. Bradley, and Lester Hutchinson have associated themselves with the Indian workers in the spirit of brotherhood, and have been tried with them at Meerut. After four years imprisonment, during which one of the accused died, the Trade Unionists of Meerut have been sentenced to transportation under murderous conditions, one for life, the others for twelve years, ten years, seven years and five years. Their only crime is that of laying the foundations of an independent Trade Union organisation in India. The aim of British Imperialism is to nip in the bud every effort, every chance of the millions of Indian workers, who are struggling in an inferno, to band themselves together in their own defence. Will the world of labour allow this to be accomplished? Will the world of intellect remain silent?
We appeal to both, to the workers, and to the intellectuals. We denounce the fearful exploitation of Indian labour, which keeps the peoples in a state of under-nourishment and of exhaustion, which makes them sweat out with their blood the gold which is lost in the bottomless coffers of the British Empire.
We denounce the arbitrary arrest of the men whose hearts desired to put an end to these crimes, against whom, as was admitted by the Government of India itself in the Legislative Assembly on March 1929, no unlawful action could be proved. - They are for us the living symbol of those thousands of victims in the great combat which to-day is being fought throughout the world to break the yoke of imperialism. All those victims make a victory, for they bear witness to the iniquity which is crushing them, and to the irresistible rising of the new revolutionary forces which are awakening mankind.
Nothing henceforward will arrest them.