P and T Trade Union Movement in India during II World War and thereafter (1939 – 1954) ( by B.N.Ghosh ) CHAPTER – 4
The general condition in Bengal and Assam was one of restlessness and dismay. We were having occasional siren warning of possibility of bombing and for months together complete block out going on in Calcutta City and other towns and the cost of living was daily going up.
It is worth noticing that inspite of all these difficulties and uncertain political situation in the country and acute anti-British feelings, a progressive force of working class and middle class intelligentsia was rapidly growing against fascist war which indirectly helped the war efforts of the Government of India.
Inspite of the vow taken by me, I was not spared and had to be at the helm of Postal and RMS Union of Bengal and Assam. On the 24th day of my arrival at Calcutta, I had to address in Minerva Hall a largely attended union meeting where in the presence of Mr. Krishna Prasad, PMG Bengal and Assam I called him a “Coward Krishna Prasad” who had not the courage of visiting Assam though he was Post Master General of Assam and had asked the audience to give farewell to the P and T Welfare Officer of Bengal and Assam who was present at the meeting and who too had not gone to Assam to look after the welfare of P and T workers there, who were working in an area exposed to danger.
The city of Calcutta was heavily bombed during X’mas of 1942, and thereafter the transfer of non-essential P and T Offices from Calcutta was ordered. The Dead Latter Office which was catering to the needs of Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Assam, was, as a result, shifted to Patna. Attached as I was then to D.L.O., Calcutta I left for Patna on 9-2-43 and ceased to be the General Secretary of All India Postal and RMS Union Bengal and Assam Provincial Branch. Both Mr. Schoobert and Mr. Krishna Prasad had requested me not to leave Calcutta at that critical time. I agreed, but circumstances, which are too nasty to be disclosed here, compelled me to change my opinion and I proceeded to Patna where I had to be up to 3rd September, 1943.
The year 1943 was a distressful one for India. There was scarcity of food stuff in whole of East India, and general prices of cereals and grain had gone up beyond limit. The pecuniary hardships of the fixed paid wage earners were ever on the increase. By the middle of 1943 the average cost of living index of the working class on all India basis had gone up to 280 taking 1939 index as 100. The maximum hardships were experienced in Assam, Bengal and Bihar. During the second week of February, rice was selling at Rs.8/- per maund at (Chitkora hat) Patna, but by the middle of March prices shot upto Rs. 30/- per maund.
The following table will show the rice position in India in September, 1943:-
Prices per maund
Assam Rs. 60/- (if available)
Calcutta Rs. 50/-
Purnea Rs. 32/-
Patna Rs. 30/-
Banaras Rs. 16/-
Nagpur Rs. 10/-
Karachi Rs. 8/-
Larkana (Sindh) Rs. 6/-
The cost of living index of the working class was as follows (Taking 1939 figure as 100).
From the beginning of 1943 the Government had ordered purchase of entire foodstuff in Bengal and Assam and later on in Bihar. This shortage was for feeding those who were in the army and others in war services. At the end of 1945 one crore of men were found employed in war service. The army-men under South East Asia Command were located in different parts of Calcutta and others stationed in Bengal and Assam. An American soldier was found in Calcutta paying Rs. /- for polishing a pair of shoes.
In addition to this, Great Britain had been purchasing war materials in India on credit for which Government of India was paying through currency notes against which there was no gold reserve and the circulation of notes was rapidly increasing and that is why India Government had, at the end of 1945, one thousand five hundred crores worth notes circulation as against 228 crores at the beginning of war. All these factors created higher inflation of the market causing untold miseries and hardships to the people in general and P and T workers in particular.
According to the report of Woodhead Committee, thirty five lakh of people died of starvation in Bengal due to the Government of India made famine. The middle class people and the working-class who could survive were half clad and half-starved and through constant struggle against poverty, lost their longevity and became permanently diseased. There is no denying the fact that the P and T workers in those days with their family members could hardly manage to have two square meals a day. As the intensity of the war was increasing, hardships of the P and T workers were also on the increase. The historic struggle of the P and T workers in India and in Bengal, Assam and Bihar in particular, was nothing but a last attempt on the part of the drowning man to survive. (To be continued).