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India (Murdered British Subjects)

Volume 462: debated on Thursday 3 March 1949

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42.

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations if he will make a statement on the murder by Communists of three European British subjects near Calcutta.

43.

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what representations he has made to the Indian authorities regarding the loss of four British lives in the recent attack on a factory near Calcutta; and whether he will make a statement.

On 26th February, three British members, and one AngloIndian member, of the staff of Jessop's Engineering Works at Dum Dum, were killed by armed assailants. Three other British members were assaulted and injured. On that day, attacks were simultaneously made at three points by small armed gangs, with the apparent object of seizing arms at the Airport and munitions factory. The attack on Jessop's Works is thought to have been a diversion to cover the other two. In the pursuit of the raiders by the police, a number of arrests were made but some members of the police were killed. The Prime Minister of India has said that the arrested men belong to the Revolutionary Communist Party of India.

I deeply regret this tragic event, and the House would wish me to express our sympathy with the relatives of those who lost their lives. But I am glad to assure the hon. Members that, so far as we can tell, no anti-British significance should be attached to the attacks. Our representatives in India have, of course, maintained the closest contact with the authorities throughout. There have been no further disturbances, and the situation is at present quiet.

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is true or not that these three unfortunate men were thrown alive into a furnace? Further, is he satisfied that this was not in any sense an attack on Europeans, and that no special precautions need be asked for to protect Europeans?

I am afraid that I cannot confirm what the hon. Member says as to how the men died; I am not informed. As to the second point, I think that there was no anti-British significance in these attacks. Our High Commissioner is quite clear on the point. Thirdly, the responsibility for protecting British subjects in India lies, of course, with the Indian authorities, who are fully alive to it, and have done their best, and who, as I have said, already suffered fatal casualties among their police in these affrays.

Has the right hon. Gentleman satisfied himself in any way that the protective measures will in fact be sufficient? He has told us that effective measures are being applied. Is he satisfied that they will be sufficient? Further, while compensation is a poor recompense, has any offer of compensation been made?

The question of responsibility must first be looked into. I do not think that it can possibly be held that there was any negligence in any way. These were attacks planned against the Government, the authorities and the public order of India, planned, as it is believed by the Indian Prime Minister, by the Communists—carefully planned and a moment chosen when the police were holding sports in Calcutta. It is very difficult to lay blame upon anybody for what occurred.

In view of the last remark of the right hon. Gentleman about the Communists, may I ask if it is not the case that these raiders, while they may have used a particularly high-sounding name, have no association whatever with the Communist Party of India, and are completely repudiated by the Communist Party of India?

I am prepared to accept the word of Pandit Nehru, and I think that his evidence is confirmed by that of events in Malaya and in many other parts of the world.

Is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to give a reply to the second part of the question put by my hon. and gallant Friend as to the possibility of compensation for the families of these unfortunate men?

I am afraid that I cannot give any answer now. I will certainly look into the matter and let the hon. and gallant Member have a reply.

While being in the fullest sympathy with the questions put, may I ask as a matter of information whether the internal affairs of a Dominion such as India, Canada or Australia, can properly be discussed across the Floor of this House.

I have been asked about what happened to British citizens, and it is perfectly right for me to answer about what has happened to people who are subjects of His Majesty in this country.